Contemporary products from Japan’s 30 distinct regions recently were on display in New York as a test to see which had the mojo to make it in the West. Most of these products had never been seen outside of Japan. But the ones that garnered the best audience reception are likely to eventually find themselves on a store shelf near you. Here’s a first look.

A product of the Chugei region, which is famous for its forests, the cedar handbag by Ecoasu Umajimura, is a very lightweight bag made from abandoned lumber leftover from forest thinning.

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“Yamagata-kobo” is a group of products that synthesize Japanese tradition and modernism, infusing a Zen spirituality to products from the Yamagata Prefecture. The craftsmen in this region, which overlooks the Sea of Japan on northern Honsu Island, are looking to create “modern vintage” usable art for the world market. They’re famous for textiles, metal casting, and now woodworking, which combine plywood molding and wood-bending techniques.

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The port of Otaru is known as Japan’s “town of glass,” a sort of Murano on Ishikari Bay. Indeed, the town of Otaru houses the Kitaichi Venetian Art Museum with glass art from Venice. Most of the glass–which ranges from dishes and vases to more artistic stuff--is blue or green, reflecting the glass buoys that were the original, functional products developed here for the local fishing industry.

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For 400 years, the craftsmen of Yamanaka, a town near the Sea of Japan noted for its hot springs, have been producing lacquerware. The trick facing the local manufacturers was how to update that ancient art for a new age. The Nussha lacquerware combines traditional techniques with a modern sensibility and design, stemming from the company’s Milan-based design director. They’re even dishwasher-safe!

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Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan, is home to sophisticated craftsmen who use the city’s traditional skills of dyeing, textiles, and craftswork to produce innovative new designs, showcased through an organization called the Kyoto Premium Project. Some of the most interesting include cushions made with enshuku-bai shibori, a Kyoto silk-dyeing method that produces a 3D pattern.

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Long ago, Japanese families would plant a Paulownia tree when a baby girl was born, so that its wood could be harvested for a chest of drawers as a wedding present. Paulownia is native to Kamo, and is light and soft. It absorbs moisture well, and has low heat connectivity, which means if there’s a fire, the wood will stay intact, protecting the garments–including precious kimonos–inside.

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Cooks will love Kawaguchi i-mono cast iron pots both for their design and their functionality. They’re super-strong industrial cast metal, but relatively light weight. The name i-mono is a play on words: it can refer to “something good’ or “cast metal” depending on which Chinese character is used for “I” (pronounced “e”).

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Shibori is a traditional Japanese tie-dyeing method that often uses indigo, and results in a distinctively crunched or crinkled fabric. This technique makes for some exotic scarves and, of course, the fiendishly expensive garments by Japanese master Issey Miyake.

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Japanese glass cutters from Kagoshima developed their unique technique back in 1852, but stopped producing their crystal when war broke out in the region. In 1985, they revived the process, and introduced ebony glass, a deviation from the traditional practice, which had centered on radiant colors. But the black is now a signature color, and combined with the cutting process, called “bokashi,” distinguishes crystal from the Satsuma Domain.

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“Enn” tableware grew out of Tsubame City’s native nail industry, and has blossomed to include other Japanese elements such as lacquer and patterns that reference nature. The brand name "enn" is a Chinese pronunciation of the Japanese character for Tsubame. It also symbolizes Japan as a circle (pronounced 'en' in Japanese), just like the rising sun in the national flag.

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Inshu Japanese paper has a 1,000-year long history. Traditionally used for calligraphy, the ancient material has recently found new uses as wallpaper, lampshades, and word processing papers. But in the hands of Japanese designers, the paper is being used to even more elegant effect, in lighting fixtures and other interior goods.

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The artisans in Tosa have been making hand-forged knives for 400 years. In the Tosa dialect, the furnace used to heat the iron is called “hokubo,” hence the name of the company that crafts this sleek cutlery. Each handle is polished and finished by a skilled lacquer artist.

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Americans may never have heard of the Japanese eyeglass company Sabae, or its head designer, Kazuo Kawasaki, but they know the company’s work. A pair of their frames–perched on the nose of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin--set off a frenzy last September when myopic fashionistas tried to duplicate her look. The frames are currently distributed in the U.S by a company called Italee and start at $375–before lenses. Colin Powell, David Letterman and Whoopi Goldberg have all worn similar versions of the frames. Sabe City, Japan produces 95% of the country’s eyeglass frames.

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15 Japanese Designs That Could Go Global

Contemporary products from Japan's 30 distinct regions recently were on display in New York as a test to see which had the mojo to make it in the West. Most of these products had never been seen outside of Japan. But the ones that garnered the best audience reception are likely to eventually find themselves on a store shelf near you.

Contemporary products from Japan’s 30 distinct regions recently were on display in New York as a test to see which had the mojo to make it in the West. Most of these products had never been seen outside of Japan. But the ones that garnered the best audience reception are likely to eventually find themselves on a store shelf near you. Here’s a first look.

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