It’s super rare that the cross stitch master Makoto Oozu does an interview outside of Japan, however, we were able to speak to him one on one to get a glimpse into his world.
A lot of people outside of Japan already know who you are, but the story on how you became a cross stitch master is an interesting one. Can you tell us how you came across cross stitch and how it changed your life?
In my early twenties, when I was working at a liquor store, my friend gives me a book of cross stitch. It was my first encounter to cross stitch too. Normally, cross stitch books are written for women, with designs like flowers or pretty things. But I thought cross stitch is close to 8bit, which I have loved from childhood. Then I started to design original ones. Then a publisher asked me for some books to be published. However, there were two things they wanted. One; it was made for men who like embroidery. Two; mothers who have little boys liked my design. If I had not come across cross stitch, I would be a liquor shop manager.
How and where did you learn you learn how to stitch or sew?
I’ve learned embroidery in a beginner’s book such as ‘Cross stitch A to Z.’ It was completely self-study, so I can have a kind of inferiority complex, but that also works to my advantage allowing me to do anything.
What does cross stitch mean to you?
Both a hobby and a job. I work for clients in most of my work recently, but I always want to create something new in embroidery.
Where do you like to work?
I like to work in my empty studio after everyone has gone home with the radio on.
As a fellow manbroiderer (male embroiderer) how do you look at the market, and what changes are you trying to bring in?
The embroidery market has grown due to the internet. The internet gave us the ability to show, buy, or sell products. I wonder if I just had interested in cross stitch a little bit earlier than other manbroiderers.
How do people respond to you as a male embroiderer?
I’m a tall and big guy, so people assume I’m not into embroidery. Everyone usually surprised.
Over the years you’ve created a lot of cross stitch. What’s your favorite piece and why?
A bracelet shaped like a ROLEX, which is called “OLEX”. (“OLE” stands for “me” or “I” in Japanese, so it has a meaning like my ROLEX). When KAWS came to Japan, he bought it! I could believe my products and the way I have walked is right at that time.
As one of the only well-known Japanese cross stitchers outside of Japan, how do you think traditional Japanese culture influences your work?
I had no idea that I was well-known outside of Japan lol.
I’m 37 years old now. Video games, that I have played when I was a child, influenced my work a lot. And my assistants are methodical, but that may kind of unique to Japan(?).
When you design patterns do you try to create patterns for Japan, everyone, or do you create things you like to stitch?
These days, I work with clients, so themes (patterns) are decided due in meetings with them. I used to create patterns that I liked such as insects, dinosaurs, and cars, kind of boyish patterns.
With that in mind, where does most of your inspiration for patterns come from?
I have no idea. But, when I am traveling, or shopping, sometimes I think “what if I made these things like cross stitch patterns?” those things become great.
What are or were some of the strongest trends and influences you had to absorb before you understood your own work?
Japanese casual fashion between the middle of the 90s to 2000s, when I was around 18 years old. I like Nike Air Jordans, Air Max, G-Shock, Ape, etc… even now.
In 2016 you opened TOKYO PiXEL, and moved slightly away from cross stitch. May I ask why you decided to move away from cross stitch and focus on pixel art?
Cross stitch is one of “pixel art”. And I’ve been a fan of video games. The difference is only one thing; using needles or mice.
Do you intend to open up more stores, and make an Oozu empire? I know many people would be interested in a store in Europe or America…
Talking about TOKYO PiXEL, I really hope that our products are sold overseas from the bottom of my heart. That’s why a shop is near Asakusa where many tourists come.
I hope some company will help us to sell our products overseas as a partner. There are two reasons. One; as a designer, there are many things you can create. Two; I’m not talented enough to sell or manage it lol.
Finally, let’s talk about your new book. After a series of successful books, most of which are super hard to get outside of Japan, you’ve decided to come out with a compendium of your patterns. Can you tell us what makes “Fun Cross Stitch Book” different, and tell us why you were so strongly devoted to making it full color?
Three books that I have published became out of print. I’ve got many requests for reissue. So I add some new designs to these three books as one new book.
I think the full color is easy to view. There was a hard problem of costs printing in full color, but the publisher cooperated with me.
We reviewed Makoto’s new book Fun Cross Stitch!
Any future projects you’re especially looking forward to?
Some big projects are in progress. I think we would release them in 2017. Please look forward to it. I would love to hold an exhibition overseas sometime, please come there at that time and when you come to Japan, Please visit our shop.
Do you have any secrets in your work you will tell us?
I designed 3D embroidery where you wear red and blue 3D glasses, but actually it doesn’t work. lol.
You can find Makoto’s work on his website, or you can purchase his kits, porcelains and geekery on his TOKYOPiXEL store.
3-14-13 Kotobuki, Taito, Tokyo, Japan.
Open on every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Japanese national holidays.
12:00 – 19:00 TEL 03-6802-7870