Iron Man

Craft & Design
Kurata's giant anime robot
Pop iron: About 20,000 fans mobbed the unveiling of Kurata’s giant anime robot.

What do a modern pizzeria, a vintage keyboard, and a giant anime robot have in common? For most of us, nothing at all. But for Kogoro Kurata, they’re pieces of a growing portfolio of unusual things he makes with iron.

A second-generation blacksmith, Kurata has been hammering, bending, and forging iron since childhood. While he’s done his share of building fences and gates to make ends meet, he is best known for his intricate, off-the-wall sculptural creations.

“Iron is like Play-Doh at high heat,” he says. “You don’t need to plan ahead — you can make things up as you go along. Plus it’s much safer than playing with wood!”

The dark, rustic look of Kurata’s ironwork is a far cry from the colorful kitsch that decorates much of his hometown of Tokyo, but that hasn’t stopped Kurata from gaining popularity. At 17, he used iron from his dad’s workshop and made a playable bass guitar. That went well, so he made a violin and a cello, too. The trio of instruments won him an esteemed local design award and a steady following of fans.

Since then, Kurata, now 36, has made dozens of random items using metals, including opera sets, giant flowers, and a wrought-iron workstation for his Mac. His most famous work to date is a life-sized re-creation of the robot Scopedog from the cult classic anime Armored Trooper Votoms.

“I wanted to do something completely ridiculous,” he says. “Scopedog is an anime robot, but it looks like something you could buy from a street vendor.” The sculpture may have been just a fun project for Kurata, but it was cause to celebrate for Votoms fans — 20,000 showed up at its unveiling in 2005.

Commercial enterprises have tapped into Kurata’s talent, too. Seirinkan, a pizzeria in a high-end Tokyo neighborhood, is one of Kurata’s newer designs — opened in 2007, it has an intricate decor with hundreds of tiny, handmade, hinged square windows and a wrought-iron spiral staircase that snakes up its four-story spine.

The building’s camouflage-net-covered façade is an anomaly on the otherwise nondescript one-way street. Kurata was initially hired just to make its gates, but then the owner asked him to revamp the whole place. “I don’t want it to look like an ordinary pizzeria,” the owner said to him. “I want you to let all that Kurata-esque gooey hellishness come out.”

Kurata carefully documents all his work on a blog called Nandemotsukuruyo, which is Japanese for “I’ll make anything.” Each post tells the story of how he made something and why — under “I wanted to live in it so I made it,” he writes about the dome-shaped soccer ball house he designed and built from scratch with $10,000 at the age of 22.

“For me, making is about things you want to try, things you want, things others don’t have,” says Kurata, who’s lived in the soccer ball for over a decade.

“The most important thing is that I’m having fun.”

Kogoro Kurata’s ironworks:

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Lisa Katayama

Lisa Katayama is a Tokyo-born journalist living in San Francisco. She is he author of Urawaza: Secret Everyday Tips and Tricks from Japan and has guest blogged for Boing Boing.

View more articles by Lisa Katayama


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