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Creating Kokekreations: the Japanese Art of Moss Balls

Learn the story of a shared passion to spread a love for kokedama with the community, rooted in friendship, and belief in the importance of cultural appreciation.

A Shared Love of Crafts

Hi there! We’re Kaitlyn Chu and Justin Kawaguchi, two USC Trojan alums, lovers of everything Japanese arts and crafts, and lifelong best friends. We met during our first week of USC orientation and have been steadfast baking companions, gym buddies, travel partners, and everything in between ever since. When COVID-19 stripped us of our senior year at USC and our on-campus commitments were abruptly cut short, we were both led to reconsider what activities sparked the most joy for us.

Together, we reflected on some of our favorite memories together: freshman year nights spent watercoloring over a shared bowl of arare, baking a kabocha pie for Friendsgiving, and, most recently, visiting the Japan House LA Exhibit on kumihimo, or Japanese silk braiding. We realized that the activities that brought us together and brought us the most meaning were those that were rooted in culture, community, and art.

What are kokedama?

As such, our love of cultural crafts met its perfect match when Justin attended a class teaching how to create a kokedama of his own.

Kokedama, directly translated to moss (koke) balls (dama), is a type of bonsai developed from the traditional Nearai method. Rather than placing plants into handcrafted driftwood pieces or pottery, kokedama is a living plant sculpture with a plant’s roots enveloped in a ball of soil wrapped in moss.

Bonsai and kokedama reflect the principles of Wabi-sabi, with features such as simplicity, warmth, irregularity, earthiness, roughness, naturality, and acceptance. All of these combine to reflect the Japanese appreciation for aesthetics and the belief in the imperfections of nature.

kokekreations is born!

Soon after learning how to make kokedamas himself, Justin taught Kaitlyn (spoiler alert: hers was ten times cuter on her first try). Together, we decided that it would be exciting to share our newfound love for these adorable plant art pieces and expose our friends to a traditional Japanese craft.

After a few in-person and Zoom blue-sky thinking sessions, branding workshops, and a lot of Google researching, we created kokekreations, a passion-project rooted in a core mission to create opportunities for the community to come together over a shared appreciation for Japanese culture and craft.

We offer in-person kokedama-making classes for community organizations, friends, and anyone looking to learn something new and create a living piece of art.

In the past, we’ve hosted a 60+ person event for the students of the USC Asian Pacific American Student Assembly. Each attendee walked away with their own miniature kokekreation to decorate their dorm or apartment. Last December, we gathered 12 of our friends for a special holiday-themed workshop. Hosted in Justin’s backyard and featuring a delicious group potluck, we guided our friends through the creation of their very own poinsettia kokedama.

What’s next?

We’ve had the most amazing time turning our shared love of Japanese culture and arts and crafts into a meaningful and exciting passion project. Both of us work full-time (Kaitlyn as a product designer and Justin as a graduate student/incoming management consultant). As recent grads, we’ve realized that community work is what grounds us through the ups-and-downs of young adulthood. We both love spending time with our friends and community, sharing new opportunities, and indulging in a little art-therapy.

As a side-hustle and passion project, kokekreations offers an opportunity for both of us to come together and make something as beautiful as the friendship we’ve developed over the years.

We look forward to expanding our reach to organizations in Little Tokyo and the broader AAPI community.

If you or your organization is looking for a unique and culturally-rooted team-bonding activity, we’re prepared to host workshops this summer! Reach out to us on Instagram and we’d love to make it happen.

Arigatou gozaimasu!

We can’t wait for the future of kokekreations and are so grateful for the wonderful support we’ve received thus far. Make sure to follow our journey @kokereations on Instagram and we’ll look forward to seeing you at a workshop real soon.

Article featured in this issue:
April 2022
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