Photography by Ye Rin Mok
Shin Okuda is the designer and craftsman behind Waka Waka, a project focusing on wood furniture and functional objects. Shin's work ranges from seating concepts, utilitarian objects and sculptural musings, all of which demonstrate a simplicity in form, subtle detailing and a unique interpretation of proportion. The name of his company is aptly descriptive of Shin's character, “i waka waka waka – i go many places," which is how his furniture transforms your space. (from the song Coffin for Head of State by Nigerian musician Fela Kuti).
We've known Shin since the onset of Building Block and have been lucky enough to be amongst his creative wake. He's the guy whose house we go to for the best onigiri in LA, whose number is on speed dial for relationship advice, and who reliably moves us all forward without ever being in a hurry.
You’ve had many odd jobs throughout your life. What would be your fantasy job, if you weren’t making furniture?
I think I would be an R&B musician or a Formula 1 driver. If I could play an instrument I would want to play it with a group to share in the camaraderie of a band. I grew up in the 70's, so I tend towards bittersweet soulfulness. There’s no 100% happy ending in the scope of things, so harmonizing the extremes to be something smooth and memorable is what I like about a band. In racing, I enjoy observing the rush of being on the edge and how you find the right balance to win. Going too slow you can’t win and taking too much risk you crash. I’ve only done go-karting, but one day maybe I can race Porsches.
Are there any objects or pieces of clothing which you've owned for a majority of your life? If so, describe its / their significance to you.
I have a few Paul Smith shirts from college, a polyester floral lounge shirt and a terrycloth sailor shirt. They remind me of that time in my life and how much I wanted those pieces when I saved to buy them. Clothing is very nostalgic, so it’s hard for me to let go, even when a piece is close to threadbare. I still actually have a pair of DEPT wool pants from high school that still fit and somehow seem relevant.
What about your life now would be most unexpected to your younger self?
That I’m making furniture and I live in Los Angeles with a wife and a son. But even more surprising to me would be if I had stayed in my hometown in Japan because I would likely be running my family’s copper factory, have an arranged marriage, drive a silver Mercedes sedan and play golf with clients on the weekend.
Your day-to-day movement changes so much per project, what’s something consistent you keep in your bag no matter where you are?
A pencil/pen, 3 notebooks, a tape measure, a water jug and my laptop.
Are there any daily rituals you like to uphold?
Matcha tea in the morning, stretching at night, soccer on Tuesdays and Sundays. I like to vacuum every morning before I leave for work. A clean home is a happy home to me.
It was recently your 20th anniversary since moving to the United States! How do you feel?
So many things have happened in these 20 years in the U.S. It feels very abstract how we move through time. How quick your life goes! I think about when I first came to L.A. and had 2 jobs and went to adult English school. I’m glad I did it when I was young and naive because you have the mental resilience and creativity to survive the challenges that come from being a foreigner finding your way in a city.
Any new discoveries lately?
Revisiting Yoko Ono sounds like “Season of Glass.” I just bought “It’s Alright (I See Rainbows).” It’s really honest. A little loose, not too perfect which is refreshing.
What's your favorite thing about being your age right now?
The obvious—feeling more comfortable with who I am. I have a bigger appreciation for life because I understand it better, have made some mistakes, taken some risks, but my life now is with a more mature heart. I think it’s good to have goals and reflect on the markers but having some mystery mixed in allows you to feel that at times there’s some magic to being a human.