YHBHS Interview: WAKA WAKA, aka Shin Okuda

"“I waka waka waka – I go many places...."
"I walk; I march; I go many places."

Shin Okuda of WAKA WAKA, and Kristin, of IKO IKO live and work in the neighborhood. Kristin's intimate store is packed with books, ceramics, clothes, minerals, Apartamento (and other magazines), jewelry, photography, and WAKA WAKA furniture. It was here I first saw Shin's work, the cheese tables/shelves. If you haven't checked out Kristin's store, the time is now! They just returned from Japan with new goods for the Fall / Winter 2010.

IKO IKO 1298 Sunset Blvd Los Angeles,
CA 90026 Tues-Sat 1-7, Sun 1-5

the cheese inspired table...

What's the history of WAKA WAKA, and how long have you been making / designing furniture?

I moved to LA from Japan in 1999. I had many different jobs over the first two years here and then began working for a sculptor who also did furniture pieces. I absorbed a lot at his studio through various designers and wood-workers and during that time I started making pieces on my own--furniture pieces for myself and for my sister--from scraps at the studio. After 5 years I left the studio and have been doing freelance work for a few years now.

A year ago, I met Kristin at IKO IKO and she asked if I would want to make a table for the store. I made the cheese tables as a triangle concept (a strong IKO IKO motif) and then needed a name for my work. We happened to be listening to Fela Kuti a lot and the song WAKA WAKA suddenly stood out. It basically means "I walk; I march; I go many places." We decided it was a fitting name for my furniture pieces.

As a kid, you wanted to be ------------------ when you grew up?

A musician. I thought it was the perfect way to balance your mind, your physical body and your spirit/feelings to relate your work.

Any favorite wood to work in? Where is WAKA WAKA made?

It all depends on the project. I've recently done a few pieces out of redwood and like how light it is. The grain and color are beautiful, too. I have a small work space at my house.

When I was at IKO IKO, you mentioned designing the interior of a sushi restaurant on the west side of Los Angeles. Any other interior projects you are working on?

I don't have any full scale interior projects at present, but I have some bedroom and outdoor furniture pieces underway.

Favorite way to kill a lazy afternoon in Los Angeles?
Sitting outside eating popsicles.

Designers or Artists that inspire you?

Bauhaus architecture, Gerrit Reitveld, traditional Japanese architecture--sukiya and teahouse styles, the painter Soga Shohaku, Japanese shrine furniture

What is Japanese shrine furniture?

Japanese shrine furniture is furniture typical to shinto shrines. Sometimes the benches on the exterior are the most interesting--all one of a kind and very handmade.

Future plans for

I'd like to keep expanding my body of work as mini collections and would eventually like to incorporate different materials to projects aside from wood--metal, glass, ceramic, etc. I hope that my pieces are used in someone's personal space and that they also reflect a personality in that space. I want to continue making pieces that can have a longevity, can function in a variety of interiors over someone's lifetime.

Where can we find WAKA WAKA furniture?

I have it at IKO IKO. I also work directly with people for custom pieces.

Which musicians calm your mind?

I have been listening to Ennio Morricone, Krzysztof Komeda, Studio One's Rocksteady, Madlib, Arthur Russel, Simone..... I like to listen to Monk and Dolphy and that calms me down.

Does Japanese tradition plan a role or a part in your creative process?

Yes very much. In my work I aim to reflect simple forms and subtle detailing which I think is drawn from my environment growing up in Japan.

Do you miss living in Japan?

No, but I miss the food a lot.....

Contact Shin at:
shindig616 at yahoo dot com
or visit IKO IKO, in
Echo Park, Los Angeles.

IKO IKO 1298 Sunset Blvd Los Angeles,
CA 90026 Tues-Sat 1-7, Sun 1-5