japanese art, design and culture


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.



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.



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.



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.


April 16, 2014   1 Comment

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.


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.


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


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.




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

An Indoor Floating Forest by Sou Fujimoto

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Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto (previously) has created an indoor floating forest in which trees and shrubs are suspended from the ceiling. The installation was staged within the showroom of Cassina, the Italian furniture Manufacturer. The trees were each placed in mirrored boxes which were then hoisted above the furniture. The reflections create the illusion of trees growing out of thin-air.

The installation not only acknowledges the intrinsic relationship between trees and furniture, but it also helps highlight the company’s recent efforts in reworking their classics for outdoor use. The floating forest is on display during Milan Design Week, also known as Milano Salone.

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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   No Comments

3D ice cubes let your scotch cool down in style

For 3D on the rocks, its latest liquor campaign, Suntory teamed up with Japanese ad agency TBWA\Hakuhodo to offer the world’s  first 3D-milled ice cubes. Each creation is the result of a time-consuming modeling process, and are carved to the smallest details with a precision drill. They are then placed at the bottom of a glass of whisky for their first and last journey into this world.


The fruit of such time and effort being bound to melt away might remind some of the ephemeral nature of Japanese beauty, while others may see it as pure obsession with Japanese luxury liquors. Either way, the result is mostly a treat to the eyes – we are not sure how easy it is to enjoy a drink with a Statue of Liberty towering over the edge of your glass, or a torch up your nose.


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Subscriptions for the campaign are now closed, but a few lucky participants who submitted their design ideas will have their very own ice cubes milled and served in fine liquor at a secret Tokyo bar. In the meantime, the rest of us can still enjoy pictures of the wild designs created by the agency.

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Correction: April 14, 2014

An earlier version of the article described the ice cube-making process as 3D printing, an additive process where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes. The process is actually milling, a subtractive process that relies on the removal of material.

April 14, 2014   1 Comment

Junpei Tamaki’s Wintry Set of Furniture

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the entire snow collection

I think the majority of us can agree that this year’s winter was pretty brutal. And since it’s been on everyone’s minds the past several months, a winter-induced chill factor has been influencing the design world. First it was fashion. Now, furniture.

At this year’s Milano Salone, Junpei Tamaki is presenting “Snow,” a collection of furniture inspired by cold weather, ice and – finally – the great thaw.

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The “Snowscape” cabinet | hexagonal holes on the sliding doors overlap to create different patterns of snowflakes

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The “Fluffy” dining chair uses wood and cushioning to express new, fluffy snow.

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The triple spiral linear structure of the “Sleet” shelf is designed to reflect the image of fallen sleet.

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The “Thaw” sofa. The softly exposed wood appears to be poking out of thawing snow.

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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 14, 2014   No Comments

A lampshade made from light

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If “clothes make the man,” as Mark Twain once famously wrote, then lampshades definitely make the lamp. And this is not your grandparent’s lamp shade. Japanese design unit YOY (previously) has given new light to what was previously an outdated, dust-covered concept.

The minimal lamp has a head embedded with an LED light. A carved out socket casts a glow of light that’s shaped like a lamp shade that, most certainly, makes the lamp. It comes in two form, a table and floor lamp, and is debuting at the 2014 Milano Salone.

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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 12, 2014   1 Comment

Interconnection | an installation of weightless discs illustrates the unstoppable forces of nature


Designer Nao Tamura (previously) has completed an installation that comprises multiple purple petal-like pieces that hang from the ceiling on threads; each individual element moves in response to the natural flow of air as visitors pass the fixture. “There are forces in nature that are beyond the control of mankind. We have learned how fragile we are in the face of such forces,” says Tamura, referring – albeit subtly – to the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan. “However, we have also learned the importance of accepting nature and learning to live in harmony with it.”




“Interconnected, ” which was designed for Lexus as part of Milano Salone 2014, demonstrates the constant give-and-take in nature, as well as our planet’s delicate balance.

The Brooklyn-based designer Takeshi Miyakawa (previously) was recruited by Tamura to assist in the complex structural design process. “I thought it was a piece of cake but it turned out to be one of the most challenging project I’ve ever worked on,” wrote Miyakawa. The pair were also joined by music composer Aya Nishina, who created an accompanying soundtrack for the installation.


Here are some photos from people who attended the exhibition:

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

April 11, 2014   No Comments

Illustrations that you can touch by Masahiko Sato and Tatsuya Saito

In the ongoing debate about the merits of print versus digital media, one assumption is rarely questioned: graphics on paper are static, and less immersive than interactive media. But Masahiko Sato and Tatsuya Saito want to prove the exact opposite in their exhibition “Putting Finger” at DDD gallery in Osaka.

The two visual designer have a radical message: they want their audience to understand that watching TV, playing video games or browsing the web are activities that are usually performed while forgetting one’s own body. Illustrations, on the other hand, are exclusively consumed in the material world. And by touching an illustration, instead of staring at a screen, viewers can connect with the physical world.

To prove this, the designers created a series of printed illustrations containing empty spaces for the viewer’s fingers. After placing one’s index or thumbs in them, the graphic suddenly feels like it includes the viewer as a part of the scene, and the image takes a whole new meaning. The feeling that the printed image changes and interacts with the viewer is at the core of the Putting Finger exhibition experience.




This subtle trick is hard to reproduce with pictures on a screen, so if you are in the area, you should head to the exhibition at DDD in Osaka and touch the graphics yourself.

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Graphics: Masahiko Sato, Tatsuya Saito and Masaya Ishikasa
Pictures: DNP Foundation, Euphrates News

April 10, 2014   No Comments

A rug that doubles as a chair


photos by yasuko furukawa

There are probably 99 things that double as chairs, but rugs aren’t one of them, until today. Japanese design unit YOY (pronounced yo-ee) have developed a rug with an aluminum center. When folded, it holds its shape, effectively transforming into a chair. An odd design? Not really. Especially coming from the duo who have displayed a knack for incorporating playful illusions into their work, such as the canvas that doubles as a chair.

The rug/chair would actually be perfect for small spaces that don’t always need a lot of furniture. Naoki Ono and Yuuki Yamamoto, the designer duo that comprises YOY, unveiled their new shape-shifting furniture at Milano Salone, going on right now.





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

April 10, 2014   No Comments