japanese art, design and culture

Spoon-Tamago

Sushi-Roll Artist Tama-chan is back with a new book

The last time we wrote about Tama-chan’s unique sushi rolls was only a few months ago. In the meantime, her ephemeral art grew in popularity over the world. She went on to compete in a contest by Innovation Norway with this “The Scream” video, and appeared on German TV program Galileo.

Tama-chan – also know as Takayo Kiyota – is now releasing her new book, Smiling Sushi Roll. It contains exclusive work as well as recipes for some of her famous sushi roll art. If you are a fan of edible art as much as we are, be sure to get a copy (3,400 yen) at the publisher’s website.

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In the meanwhile, those of you who are in Tokyo and want to learn all about Tama-chan’s techniques, hurry and book a seat at her very own workshop next month at Time Out Café. You can also check her Facebook page (Japanese) to know when she plans to hold her next makizushi-making events.

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The age of the Dinosaur – one of Tama-chan’s new work

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The Hoshi-Wajo Buddha

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The Japanese Salaryman

Here is a sneak peak into Tama-chan’s kitchen:

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Bonus: a sushi roll eating … a sushi roll. From Tama-chan’s Pechakucha presentation

Source: Little More Books

April 24, 2014   No Comments

Veil | fog artist Fujiko Nakaya to stage installation at The Glass House

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photos by richard barnes | courtesy the glass house

“Startled, uninvited visitors tramp about to view the results with mingled expressions of awe, wonder and indignation. They agree that nothing like it ever was seen in these parts,” wrote the NYT in 1948, reporting from Connecticut where workers were putting the finishing touches on what would become a modernist classic. The Glass House was designed by the influential architect Philip Johnson as his own residence, and with its structure, cemented the architect’s reputation. But now, 65 years later, a similar scene is likely emerge when fog artist (yes, that’s a thing) Fujiko Nakaya stages her temporary installation titled “Fujiko Nakaya: Veil.”

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Fog makes visible things become invisible and invisible things—like wind—become visible.

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Nakaya, whose father is credited with making the first artificial snowflake, is credited herself with making the world’s first fog sculpture. Nakaya, with her deep understanding of the properties of moisture, has since created fog sculptures all over the world from Spain to Australia. Beginning May 1, the 81-year old artist’s work will envelop The Glass House in a veil of dense mist. “For approximately 10 minutes each hour, the Glass House will appear to vanish, only to return as the fog dissipates,” writes the historic National Trust Historic Site in a press release.

Here’s Nakaya describing what we usually consider a hazard, especially on the road:

“Fog responds constantly to its own surroundings, revealing and concealing the features of the environment. Fog makes visible things become invisible and invisible things—like wind—become visible.”

Tickets for tours ($30) are available through The Glass House website. You can also catch Nakaya at the Japan Society, where she’ll be speaking on May 13.
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April 24, 2014   No Comments

Beautiful Laser-cut Seaweed for Picture-Perfect Sushi Rolls

More than anything, Japan seems obsessed with creating beautiful meals. From whacky bento meals to arty sushi rolls, hours of practice are necessary to make beautiful food. For those of us who don’t have the culinary skills yet, I&S BBDO and Umino Hiroyuki found a way to create picture-perfect dishes.

The laser-cut patterns on the Design Nori come from traditional Japanese art. Made in the wake of the 2011 tragedy, each one represents a wish for the future of the disaster-struck areas of Japan: Turtle Shells for long life, Hemp for growth, Water Drops for luck and Cherry Blossoms for beauty.


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The initiative was launched in 2012 by 3rd-generation seaweed seller Umino Hiroyuki and the creative agency I&S BBDO. Umino is now leading the project on his own and trying to produce Design Nori on a larger scale. You can have a look at the Facebook page of his shop (Japanese) to know when you can get your hands on the precious Nori.

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 Nori patterns

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Sources: The Inspiration Room, RocketNews24

April 23, 2014   No Comments

Café Musashi in Ginza Reborn as Cafe634

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before and after: cafe musashi in Ginza

The back streets of Ginza are an urban planner’s nightmare come to life. Streets lead to dead ends and there are no patterns or, for that matter, any coherent design at all. But there is charm to be found, especially behind the Kabuki Theater where hardly-beaten paths are dotted with small cafes, galleries and lunch spots. Along one of these streets in Higashi-Ginza was Café Stand Musashi, a long-standing coffee and lunch spot frequented by office workers nearby.

But it’s building, which once was a printing company, was wearing down and drastically needed a facelift. So in late 2012 the café closed up and their building was torn down. It’s now been replaced and the café has reopened as Cafe634 (which still is pronounced as Café Musashi thanks to Japanese mnemonic wordplay known as goroawase).

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Photos by Takahiko Fuse

Their name isn’t the only thing that’s snazzier. Thanks to architect Fuminori Maemi, the new space, with its greyscale look, is both modern and inviting. Inside, the sleek, minimal interior extends deep into the space where the counter lures in visitors. But it’s not until you climb the stairs that the real gem presents itself – sprawling 18ft ceilings that offer a rare sense of openness within the cellular structure of Tokyo.

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April 23, 2014   No Comments

OLED Tampopo light by Takao Inoue

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If there’s any common weed that could be characterized as Japanese, I would argue it’s the Taraxacum, better known as Dandelion. The flowering plant, in its yellow blossoms that signify the arrival of spring, and its fluffy seed heads that represent natural beauty and transience, are adored across the country by adults and children alike. It was enough to make legendary film director Juzo Itami name his protagonist and his 1985 film, Tampopo (Dandelion, in Japanese). And it’s not a stretch to to see Itami’s camera floating from scene to scene like a dandelion seed.

OLED TAMPOPO (6)So it comes as no surprise that the cinematographer Takao Inoue has designed a household lamp around the dandelion. OLED TAMPOPO consists of an actual dandelion – harvested, carefully, during Spring – that is sealed into a clear acrylic block. A miniature OLED light is embedded into the stem. “Fragility is expressed by an illuminated wavering TAMPOPO,” says Inoue. “It reminds us of our old memories of picking up dandelion’s puff. The mysterious light gives us a moment to release ourselves.”

The lights were part of a stunning installation that was on display at Milano Salone 2014. It’s going to be sold through Tokyo Somewhere, sometime.

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This post is part of our review of  Japanese design at the 2014 Milano Salone del Mobile. All posts are cataloged right here.

April 22, 2014   1 Comment

Shibari | furniture inspired by Japan’s bondage fetish

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photos by Hirotaka Hashimoto

“I view rope as a medium of communication,” wrote an anonymous artist who specialized in Japanese bondage. “Its lexicon encompasses a broad spectrum of emotions and intents: from play to discipline, from tenderness to torture, from abstract visual expression to raw sexuality.” Indeed, the Japanese art of shibari, also known as kinbaku, is an ancient artistic form that dates back to the 1400s, but has made its way into everyday life from the way kimono are tied around the body, to the intricate custom of gift-giving. It is, of course, most commonly associated with Japanese bondage fetish in which bodies are tied up in visually intricate patterns using hemp rope.

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The technique originated as a way of subduing prisoners but, at some point in history, the rope split and one end took an artist, albeit rather erotic, turn. Artists like Nobuyoshi Araki, Jim Duvall and Hikari Kesho lead shibari’s NSFW exploits in photography. But now Jo Nagasaka (previously) has made the jump into perhaps what is shibari’s first foray in the world of furniture. At Milano Salone this year the designer who leads up Schemata Architects has unveiled SHIBARI, a series of black and white foam seats that take their bulging shapes from being tied up by rope. Visually, the tight ropes provide a counterpoint to the smooth curves of the rubber. The pieces of furniture are finally dipped in a rubber coating, alluding to the full-body latex suits commonly associated with the fetish.

The risqué pieces were created for Ichiro Inc., a maker of decorative plywood. It’s rather surprising given that the company is more known for their colorful dollhouse-like desks.

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This post is part of our review of  Japanese design at the 2014 Milano Salone del Mobile. All posts are cataloged right here.

April 21, 2014   No Comments

IDOLS | a series of glitchy portraits by Kenji Urata

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Okinawa-based artist Kenji Urata has created a series of eerie illustrated portraits that appear distorted by glitches. Taking a highly photo-realistic approach, Urata used software like Photoshop and Painter to create his ideal “idols,” which are composite images based on photos of friends, as well as pictures from magazines. Eyes were enlarged and proportions were adjusted – deliberately, of course – to create a blurring boundary between fake and real. The result is a series of unidentified girls who exist only behind the screen.

“The impetus for the project actually came from the unnatural functions of purikura, in which girls enlarge their eyes for photographs,” Urata told us. “Also, the Chinese girl KOKO who’s all over the internet right now.”

Urata’s previous work involved a similar distortion of identities, but by photographing real people. IDOLS represents a continuation of that theme but with a foray into the digital world.

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April 21, 2014   No Comments

Creative Chocolate Ideas from Japan

Forget Easter bunny chocolates. When it comes to reinventing the world’s favorite sweet, Japan does it best. From planetary chocolates to a chocolate-filled paint set, here are my favorite creative innovations using chocolate.

Chocolate Replicas of Your Face

Last year Fab Café in Shibuya held a workshop where participants – using a 3D scanner and printer – created a chocolate replica of their own face.

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100% Chocolate Cafe

If you’re heading to Tokyo’s latest landmark, Tokyo Sky Tree, you’ll also have a chance to satisfy both your sweet tooth and your design tooth by making a pit-stop at 100% Chocolate Café. The cafe features an open kitchen that would make even Willy Wonka proud. Visitors can watch the process of sweets being made through a display of glazed boxes containing ingredients of 56 different types of chocolate.

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Planetary Chocolates

Combining astronomy and good eats sounds too good to be true. But the Righa Royal Hotel sells a chocolaty solar system that includes Mercury (coconut mango), Venus (cream lemon), Earth (cacao), Mars (orange praline), Jupiter (vanilla), Saturn (rum raisin), Uranus (milk tea) and Neptune (capuccino) – sorry, pluto is no longer considered a planet.

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Edible Art Supplies

For the inner-artist in all of us, design studio Nendo created this entirely edible set of chocolate oil paints. The limited edition paint tubes, created in collaboration with lifestyle magazine PEN last year, are made from chocolate while the insides are replaced by various syrups.

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Rewind several years and you’ll find a somewhat-similar project in which the designer created a set of chocolate-shaped pencils. They were commissioned by top-chocolatier Tsujiguchi Hironobu. The pencils are served with a pencil sharpener to grate chocolate onto the desert.

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The Temple of the Chocolate Pavillion

Japan’s Ginkaku-ji in Kyoto is probably the most famous temple in the country. In the hands of artist Yasuhiro Suzuki the “Temple of the Silver Pavilion” gets a silver wrapping and a sweet filling.

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Eye-Catching Easter Bunny Chocolates

If you insist on going traditional, head over to the Peninsula Tokyo’s popular pastry shop, the Peninsula Boutique & Café. The pâtissier will dazzle you with cute chocolate creations made to resemble bunny faces.

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April 16, 2014   2 Comments

How a TV show inadvertently made a miraculous historic discovery

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Sakamoto Ryōma ( 1836 – 1867) was a prominent figure in the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate during the Bakumatsu period in Japan

Totsugeki Atto Home (突撃!アッとホーム) airs every Saturday at 8:00pm. Each week the family-themed show revolves around several households across Japan and the small, intimate inner workings that make them function. One of the segments is called “Family Treasure Hunting,” a sort-of-reverse Antiques Roadshow in which hosts randomly go up to strangers and ask them what their household’s most prized possession is. The show’s producers were expecting to find small mementos of deceased family members, but they ended up finding much more than what they bargained for.

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“A letter by Ryoma Sakamoto,” replied Hata when asked if she owned any treasures

A Lost Letter

On last week’s episode the comedy duo Viking were interviewing residents in Yanaka, a neighborhood just north of central Tokyo, asking people to share their family’s treasure. “I have a letter from Sakamoto Ryoma,” offered Yuko Hata, a middle-aged Japanese woman. Laughter ensued from both the show’s hosts and Hata herself as no one truly believed that such a valuable historical artifact – from a major figure in Japan’s transformation from feudal military rule in the 1860′s – was lying around someone’s home in Tokyo. And lying around it was. Upon visiting Hata at her home, the comedic due found that the document in question was haphazardly stored away in a box underneath the family’s coffee table.

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Hata removing the box from underneath a cluttered coffee table. Inside the box is thought to be an authentic letter written by Ryoma Sakamoto.

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The letter, in the form of a scroll. Sakamoto’s unique style of radically shifting character sizes was observed.

An Incredible Discovery

With Hata’s permission, the show’s staff whisked away the letter to have it officially verified, first at the Sakamoto Ryoma Memorial Museum. “I’m extremely surprised,” said head curator Natsuki Miura, confirming the letter’s authenticity. There are about 140 letters written by Sakamoto in known existence and “each year we get several inquiries regarding letters, but rarely have any turned out to be real,” added Miura. Upon closer observation, scholars discovered that the letter was written to Shojiro Goto, a samurai and politician, and detailed Sakamoto’s visit to Echizen Province (currently Northern-Fukui) to recruit Hachiro Mitsuoka into their new government. The letter, it turns out, was written just 10 days before Sakamoto’s assassination in 1867 and may be the last known letter before his death.

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At the Shimonoseki Museum, which houses 11 authentic letter – the most in all Japan – by Ryoma Sakamoto, the show’s producers received additional confirmation. A side-by-side comparison revealed identical strokes and tendencies in characters.

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Proceeding with caution, the show’s producers finally delivered the document to researchers at the Kyoto National Museum. “It’s almost a miracle,” exclaimed researcher Teiichi Miyakawa. “Discoveries likes this happen only once every hundred years.” Not only did the letter back up various speculative historic claims but it also detailed Sakamoto’s hopes and expectations for a new government.

From Trash To Treasure

According to Hata, the letter was purchased by her father roughly 30 years ago. He paid 1000 yen (~$10) for it at an antique shop. The show’s producers asked appraiser Masaji Yagi how much he thought the letter was worth. He assigned a value of 15 million yen (~$150,000).

And just like that, in incredible discovery. And all they had to do was ask. The letter is currently on loan, from Hata, at the Sakamoto Ryoma Memorial Museum for all to see.

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the letter in its entirety

Note: all quotes translated from Japanese to English by the author

April 16, 2014   No Comments

Bloom | embroidered glass tableware by Jun Murakoshi

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Photos by Kota Sugawara

What does thread and blown glass have in common? Both materials embody warmth and tension – two conflicting properties – says Jun Murakoshi. For the Tokyo-based designer, this commonality gave birth to a brand new line of tableware that combines blown glass and threaded patterns. Personally, I never thought that the worlds of glass-making and embroidery would every collide. I was wrong.

The series of glass fruit bowls and flower vases come with grooved edges around the rim. Dreamcatcher-like web patterns are threaded through the grooves to create beautiful “narrow lines” and “unlimited patterns.” The transparency and exquisiteness that each material possess works surprisingly well together.

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This post is part of our review of  Japanese design at the 2014 Milano Salone del Mobile. All posts are cataloged right here.

April 15, 2014   2 Comments