March 15, 2018 / 9:12 PM / in 8 months

From trash to treasure for globe-trotting Japanese cardboard artist

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” has been the mantra motivating Japanese artist Fuyuki Shimazu to go on a global dumpster diving adventure to prove the point.

Japanese artist Fuyuki Shimazu, who travels the globe looking for cardboard to turn into items such as wallets, appears in Austin, Texas, U.S. March 12, 2018 where a documentary called “From All Corners” about his work premiered at the South by Southwest film festival. Picture taken March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Sachi Jenkins

Shimazu, 30, a collector of cardboard, has traveled to 27 countries to pick up boxes destined to be discarded. From the refuse, he crafts wallets, business card holders and other products that have fetched praise from design critics and enough cash in sales to send him searching through bins far afield.

“I really cherish the moments when I encounter cardboard boxes that are only used in a specific country or that cannot be found at any other place,” he said in an interview this week at the South by Southwest Film Festival in the Texas capital of Austin, where a documentary about him called “From All Corners” made its world premiere.

What he does is called upcycling, the creative reuse of unwanted items and materials destined for the dust-heap.

The journey has taken him from Spain to Greece to India to Cambodia, with a memorable visit to Israel, where he picked up intriguing cardboard and was held at immigration for about four hours to explain the purpose of his trip in search of the perfect box.

“The ones that are beat up, have signs all over, show duct tape traces, and are scratched on the bottom … those are the ones that I enjoy imagining the stories behind them,” he said.

Director Ryusuke Okajima, follows Shimazu as he tracks down the original designer of a light yellow-green cardboard used to ship southern Japanese potatoes that he fell in love with when he stumbled upon it at a market in Tokyo.

His fully functional items burst with colors and embrace the designs used in packaging.

Shimazu sells his wallets for as much as about $100 and this year has had an exhibition at the National Art Center, Tokyo.  

His mission is to promote upcycling, sell more goods and find the next cardboard box that warms his heart.

“When you have one thing you love, it makes your life fun,” he said.

Reporting by Sachi Jenkins; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Lisa Shumaker

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