When I first came to Japan, I would ride my bicycle up a long river path, past calm waters with ducks, small fish, and blue herons. In all of that natural beauty, my eyes would often be distracted by the stones on the bank of the river. Not just any stones, but oddly-shaped stacked four, five, or sometimes six stones high. This custom of methodically stacking stones was the inspiration for one of Nara’s most original products, the “tumi-isi”.
Designed and manufactured in Nara’s Higashi Yoshino Village, Tumi-Isi are pieces of wood cut into random shapes that you can stack like those stones. Though every piece is different in shape and size, they have a variety of flat surfaces that make them a little easier to stack. Part of the beauty of Tumi-Isi is that there is no correct way to use them or play with them. Adults find themselves unable to stop trying to stack them in different combination, and children find even more creative ways of using them. For me, it’s a nice break from staring at a screen and checking my mail. It is a chance to re-connect with myself and unwind after a long day. Since they’re so fun and relaxing, I often see them in cafes, restaurants, and bookshops for customers to use as they like.Tumi-Isi are made by local woodworkers using local Yoshino wood, a tribute to the forestry industry that has continued in this region for over 500 years. In these stressful times, taking a few moments and stacking stones can be very relaxing. If you’re stuck at home and can’t come to Nara, Tumi-Isi are a small piece of Nara that you and your close ones can hold in your hands.
If you’re interested, be sure to check out their official store, and there are many imitation products with a similar name around the world.