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What does ‘Kokuin’ mean?

Recently, I sent an email to someone telling her about my business venture and the launch of the website. She replied with a congratulatory note and also asked what the word ‘Kokuin’ means. I realized that I had not explained anything about the name on the website, so here goes. ‘Kokuin’ is a Japanese word that means ‘imprint’ or ‘seal’. You may ask why I chose this name for the company. From the time I was a Teaching Assistant in grad school for a course on Japanese art, I have had a deep appreciation for Japanese aesthetics and design. The simplicity of lines, an uncrowded color palette and visual canvas (whether in landscape, ceramic design, painting or architecture), the concept of wabi-sabi (“the acceptance of transience, incompleteness and imperfection” is the quick Wiki definition) were all elements that greatly appealed to me. This appreciation only deepened with every visit to Japan. The Zen gardens are particularly beautiful exemplars of the concept of minimalism. In many ways, this aesthetic tradition was a contrast to most Indian traditions that I was familiar with, which typically included an intense riot of colors and patterns. When I started putting together designs for my own products, I saw myself being drawn to individual motifs from Indian design, particularly the intricate paisley and floral ones. But rather than filling the space (like on a napkin) with these motifs, I preferred a minimal presence of a motif (or a small group of motifs), thereby drawing attention to the intricacies of that one motif. Vintage woodblocks have little nicks and cuts, and when they are imprinted on cloth they have a singular appeal and beauty, offering a physical impress of their journey in the hands of craftspeople.

One of my favorite activities (among a long list of things!) when I visit Japan is to wander down quiet streets and walk into small shops. I am always struck by shops that only sell one type of item – last year I visited a shop which only sold hand-made notebooks. It was run by one person who made every single book in that shop! That kind of a business model is perhaps not for everyone but it certainly appeals to me. So when it came to choosing a name for my company, I wanted to acknowledge these various strands of influence and inspiration from Japan and settled on the word ‘Kokuin’ which translates to ‘imprint’, appropriate for my particular business.

So, here is a rather long-winded (but hopefully not too boring) way of explaining the choice of the company’s name. Thank you for reading through to the end.

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