Smoking Tools Woven Together by Designers and Craftsmen


Learn Design from Nature


We had an interview at Mr. Nobuo Inoue’s office in Roppongi, Tokyo.


Urayama: Why did you come to design a cigar cutter and cigar ashtray?


Inoue: Because for more than 20 years of smoking cigars, there was never an ashtray or cutter I was satisfied with.


Urayama: I agree, I have always thought that for ashtrays to work for cigars of any length and thickness, it was natural for it to be in a large plate form, and that cutters were to be changed in accordance of the thickness of the cigar as well.


The shape of the hand that scoops and drinks water is oval. The ashtray is also oval, following nature


Inoue: Yes, it is a man’s world. However, women also smoke cigars.
It felt strange to me that all the cigar tools were grand and majestic.


Urayama: Did you come up with the form of an oval as a feminine form?


Inoue: Hmm, that too, but it’s more “learn from nature”.
The basics of design are circle, square, and triangle.
However, the primitive shape is an oval.
The orbits of the planets in the solar system are an oval, aren’t they? When humanity first scooped and drank water, the two hands combined should have formed an oval as well.
Cigars are 100% natural tobacco (cigarettes contain a mixture of compounds and burning explosives), so I decided to make a design returning to nature.


Nobuo Inoue holding the original cigar ashtray design


Urayama: So, the deep oval plate shape of the ashtray came from the palms of a person scooping water to drink.


Inoue: And the bottom of a ship, I suppose.
The dock is where a ship belongs. A cigar’s location is also a dock.


Urayama: I see “Katana” is engraved on the cutter.


Inoue: Yes, Japanese hair-cutting shears are a world-class sharpness.


Urayama: The place holder is an oval shape. Is this for uniformity in design?


Inoue: If the cutter were a katana, the place holder would be a katana rack.
Scissors are a high precision machine.
I went to a cigar bar one day, they said, “customers are asking me to repair it because the edges have come to hit each other.”
The cause is they are obviously dropping it.
Even an offset of a few microns will cause the blades to hit.


Nobuo Inoue says scissors are a high precision machine as he takes the “Katana” in his hand


Urayama: Yes, even a well-known cigar bar throws its cigar cutters in a pencil holder.


Inoue: That is what I didn’t want, and to avoid it, I thought of the place holder.
This acrylic stand is simply a base, and once you use it, you put it back. By doing so, the function and performance of the scissor are maintained. It is also a design as well.


Urayama: Are the fulcrum, load and effort calculated so that it can be cut with no stress?


Inoue: Even before thinking about that, there was no whetstone that could sharpen a 28R (curvature units are displayed by R) blade, so it took half a year to create a whetstone.
Everything started from scratch. Every time the craftsman told me “this is not the tradition. It’s impossible,” I pleaded for them to make it.
That’s what usually happens when creating things from design.


“Katana” is designed to be stored in a dedicated scissor holder


Urayama: Do you mean that craftsmen that follow traditional technique do not create ideas from scratch?


Inoue: I’d say hardly not.


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