We first met Tok Kise while traveling through Japan a few years ago. We had heard about him and his company, Truck Furniture, through our friends Stephen & Beks, and decided to make the trip from Kyoto to Osaka just to visit. Our friend Christy was with us, too!
We arrived at Truck before it opened, strolling through a quiet residential neighborhood in a suburb outside of Osaka to get there. Sitting on a bench outside, a sense of wonder began to emerge: what was this little world? Upon being greeted with Tok’s friendly smile, we began to see.
On its own, the Truck Furniture store is gorgeous. Flooded with natural light, filled with beautiful hand-crafted furniture and all kinds of thoughtful touches and quality objects. But there’s an overarching intangible quality, a warmth, a brightness, and a sense of ease that permeates the space.
As Tok showed us the workshop where all the furniture is made, then his office, then Bird, the coffee shop and restaurant they opened in tandem with Truck, and finally his home in the back of the property, we began to understand a measure of the depth from which all of this came. Finally, to complete the picture, Tok handed us a copy of “Nest,” the book he and his wife Hiromi had made documenting their whole journey from the very beginning.
Nest, on its own, delivers a beautiful depiction of the story of Truck. We find it heartwarming and inspiring every time we open it, because it conveys the honesty and wholeheartedness with which Tok and Hiromi (and their dogs and cats!) went about bringing this idea to life.
And now, a small part of that idea has made its way, in physical form, to Los Angeles, where Truck has a new showroom and living space.
Early on a September morning, we drove downtown to visit Tok and have coffee before his flight back to Japan. Our friend Justin Chung, who also shares a friendship with Tok, joined us and took the beautiful photos in this post.
We hope you enjoy!
Do you have a daily morning ritual?
I always have a glass of water right when I wake up, but I don’t think that I have any particular must-do “morning ritual.” I’ve always woken up early. In fact, I’ve never woken up after 7am in my entire life. Maybe I was just born old.
Nowadays I wake up at 5am and study English for three hours from 5:30. I start early because I want to finish it first thing and it’s important for me to study every day and get better at English so I can get better at communicating with more people. After I finish studying, I make two cups of coffee and eat my breakfast while reading the newspaper.
Between your business, your family and your home, you’ve created such a warm and beautiful world. What is at the heart of the things that you do? Is there a driving force?
Thank you for saying that!
I don’t think that what “drives” me is a complex or lofty motivation. It has just always been my intention to make a space for myself that felt comfortable and made me happy. And what exactly “comfortable” is for me is hard to explain. Each person has their own different preferences for what kind of environment and things make them feel good.
I have a friend who is a renowned florist at his shop in Kobe. Once, he said to me, “You’re so meticulous, it must be hard to keep that up. Don’t you ever get tired?” I didn’t understand why he asked me that, and it took me a few seconds before I got what he meant. For him to keep going at 100% and giving his all tires him, but for me, I have no choice. I have to do it because if I don’t, I’m not satisfied, and so it’s easy for me to work at that pace.
It seems like when you get into something new, you really go all in. You’re known as a designer and woodworker, but you’ve also picked up and developed new interests like surfing, playing guitar, and painting (to name a few) throughout your adult life, without any reservations! What moves you to continue learning? Where do new ideas and inspiration come from?
I start something new simply because I want to. It happens suddenly. Like with painting, I had been wanting to do it for a while and one day I just went to the store and bought a few supplies and started.
New challenges force me to stay focused and undistracted, and in that way they’re really satisfying. When I do something new, I have to concentrate on that thing and only that thing. Like when I started lathing wood, I had no idea how to do it but I was trying earnestly to teach myself and get it right. I had no time to think about anything else because I had to focus on the lathing.
What do you hope to inspire in other people?
That isn’t really something that I think about. I just do what I like, how I like, for me. If people are inspired by what I do, that’s great, but it’s never been my intention to inspire others. Everyone can do whatever they want, and so I have never thought of myself or what I do as inspiring.
We’re so excited for you to be branching out to Los Angeles. What prompted you to set up your showroom here, and why California?
Like everything else so far, it just happened. I’m not a typical businessman in that I didn’t take the loft because I wanted to grow our sales or expand. My wife and I hadn’t even considered expanding in Japan, let alone abroad. I’m good friends with Stephen Kenn, another furniture designer who TRUCK has collaborated with, and his wife Beks, and they live here in the same building as my loft. I just liked the space and liked them so I went for it when the opportunity came. Only after getting it did I think that maybe it could be used as a showroom or something.
What are you most proud of with regard to Truck?
I feel more lucky than I do proud! I’m lucky to have been able to make my living for the past twenty years by making things that I want and doing the things that I want.
In regards to TRUCK, it’s a rare thing to keep things the way they are without having to change as we have. I think we’ve been able to do that because what we do is quite simple – we make things. It’s mostly furniture, but sometimes we make things like drink glasses, lint rollers, or jackets, and that’s only because we want them, not because we think we should or have to.
I also feel lucky that I was able to find people to work with who support that and share the same ideas about the things that we make.
What are you excited for in the future?
After most of the furniture was set up in the loft in LA, Stephen invited some designers from the area to come and check it out. None of them had heard of TRUCK before and it was interesting to see and hear their reactions. It isn’t and has never been my goal to “sell more,” but I am excited that there are now lots of new opportunities to share what we do and to meet all kinds of different people.