japanese art, design and culture

Posts from — September 2010

The Case Against Tezuka Osamu

image © NHK

Tezuka Osamu is one of the most prolific artists Japan has ever produced. Animation as we know it today would most likely be something completely different if it wasn’t for Tezuka’s immense body of work, which consists of over 400 volumes of graphic novels – known to many as manga – including memorable titles such as Black Jack, Phoenix (Hi no Tori), Kimba the White Lion, and Buddha.

I was recently rereading his Sci-Fi classic Tetsuwan Atom (which was translated into Astro Boy, a preferable title compared to its literal equivalent, “Mighty Atom”). Just FYI, but according to Rika Ohara, Tezuka decided to write the story of the nuclear-powered, yet peace-loving, boy robot after being punched in the face by a drunken GI (Japan was still under military occupation).

Considering that Astro Boy was written during the early 1950s, a time, in Japan, when the one thing on people’s minds was how to rebuild their country from rubble, Tezuka’s stories were whoppingly visionary. The underlying theme  of the story is the moral dilemma surrounding artificial intelligence, and whether or not robots should be treated as equals.

The simple fact that Tezuka was able to imagine robots as part of society 50 years in the future – the setting for Astro Boy – is quite spectacular. And his cityscapes, as seen in the images above, with their tall skyscrapers and elevated train rails, closely resembles the cities of today.

But Tezuka’s intoxicating vision of the unfettered possibilities of the future come to a screeching halt when his antagonist picks up the receiver of a black rotary telephone. With a cord. Yes, a cord. That is curly! I threw up in my mouth, just a little bit. So, Mr. Tezuka, how is it possible for someone like you, with incredible foresight, often referred to as “the god of comics,” to not foresee the wireless revolution?


PS I’m just playing around with you Mr. Tezuka. I know it was low but it was the only shot I could take considering how genius your work is. I was just jealous.

PPS Did you know that Stanley Kubrick invited Tezuka Osamu to be the art director of 2001: A Space Odyssey? But he was turned down… I always wonder how different the movie would have been if that collaboration had taken place…

September 30, 2010   Comments Off

Ideaco | bookend + letter holder & tape dispenser

click images to enlarge

Ideaco is releasing a lineup of new products and within the mix are these stylish and minimal bookends that double as a letter holder and scotch tape dispenser.

The company, which is headed by Design Director Ichiro Haba and his team of 5 designers, was founded in 1989. The design gods smiled down upon them in 1998 when they released their CUBE umbrella holder, which became a blockbuster product for them and went on to sell of 400,000 units over 10 years.

The letter holder retails for 2,625 yen while the tape dispenser is 3,625 yen

via below the clouds

September 29, 2010   1 Comment

House in Sendagaya by General Design

Here is another recent project by General Design. Completed in January, the luxurious House in Sendagaya is accompanied by a wide staircase and elevator. Unfortunately, what it’s not accompanied by is any explanatory text. And I apologize but I am not in the mood to extrapolate so I will leave you with these images. See you tomorrow!


September 28, 2010   Comments Off

House in Higashiyama by General Design

General Design recently completed House in Higashiyama. The stark metallic and concrete home is accompanied by little text so I will let the pictures do the talking.


September 28, 2010   Comments Off

House with Curved Walls by Studio Velocity

Nagoya-based architecture firm Studio Velocity completed a house, much rather a beauty salon, with curved walls that expand in volume as the structure retreats.

Completed earlier this year, the beauty salon is the result of an extensive study on curvature, and how it can apply to the creative use of indoor and outdoor space. Specifically, the need for an outdoor garden, cloth-drying and parking space, were part of the requirements.

Kentaro Kurihara and  Miho Iwatsuki, the duo behind Studio Velocity, write that the initial idea came from a desire to create a structure that doesn’t blend in with its intimate retail and residential surroundings. They wanted a lasting impression to be imprinted on people who would walk or drive by on the relatively high-traffic street.

via @archiphoto

September 27, 2010   3 Comments


Ten high profile Japanese architects are currently participating in an exhibition at architekturzentrum wien (architecture museum vienna) titled JapanLisztRaiding.

The most eye-catching piece for me was Kengo Kuma’s mit Cube #6, which utilized a translucent concrete known as LUCCON. Straight from the company’s website: “LUCCON translucent concrete is manufactured in large volume top layer concrete blocks with embedded webbed fiber optic cables, making the stone appear comparably massive as well as transparent.”

photos courtesy of LUCCON

Continue reading to learn more about the exhibition and see all the work
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September 23, 2010   Comments Off

Minami Aoyama M House by Takeshi Hirobe Architects

click images to enlarge | photos by Koichi Torimura

Completed in 2010 by Takeshi Hirobe Architects, M House, located in the Minami Aoyama district of Tokyo, looks like a fortress but within is actually an enchanting structure of light, geometry and economics.

left: at the entryway, visitors are greeted by a flood of light from the octagonal staircase. | right: the courtyard

the 1st floor bedroom opens up to the courtyard and spot garden

translucent stairs help disperse light that enters in through a skylight

City living, from an architectural perspective, is constantly imposed by 2 propositions. First is working, and proposing solutions, within the confines of a strict environment that is city space. Second, which is perhaps on the forefront of the minds of clients, is the economics of taking full advantage of the given site considering how expensive land in the city is.

The diagonal walls, the windows & skylights and the courtyards, all  comply with the needs of city life. While maintaining privacy and extracting the full potential of the given site, the home also invites the outdoors, in. Residents are clearly reminded of rain falling from the sky, and of the changes in sunlight from dawn till dusk.

Koichi Torimura

September 22, 2010   2 Comments

Koedo House by Hidetaka Shirako Architects

Hidetaka Shirako Architects recently completed Koedo House, a private residence for a family of 4; a husband, wife, mother and aunt. The land was originally a flagpole site, but additional land was purchased in order to create the distinct L-shaped home.

The challenge was to create a uniform space for 4 individuals who have distinct lifestyles and values.

The solution proposed by the architects was to not simply demarcate space using walls, but to create a long continuous hallway throughout the uniform space, that was not uniform at all. Ceiling height and width evolve as you move through the hallway, which acts as common space but also connects a courtyard with private rooms.

September 21, 2010   1 Comment

Architects House by Sanpei Mitsumasa

images courtesy sanpei mitsumasa

Completed in March of 2010, Architects House by Sanpei Mitsumasa is a good case study for maximizing small space. Located in Tokyo, it belongs to husband-and-wife artists who use the space a a residence, a studio and also a meeting place for clients.

The structure itself takes full advantage of the oddly-shaped 10-tsubo (355 sq ft) plot of land. The architects then proceeded to pull out all the tricks of the trade to create a sense of spaciousness such as vaulted ceilings and variations in floor heights. Luckily the land had considerable greenery around it so by  including various large and small windows they were able to provide different views of scenery as well.


September 21, 2010   Comments Off

Log by Masahiro Minami

Inspired by the growth rings of trees, Masahiro Minami has designed a leather pencil case named LOG that, well, looks exactly like a log. The inside is hollow and a hatch flips open, allowing you to store pencils, pens and other small stationary.

It was manufactured by Heath Japan and depending on the size, will retail for between 7,100 yen and 7,600 yen. That feels like a lot for a pencil case. But apparently the leather rings are very hard to make.

First it was tukkun and then den-den. This period of Minami-san’s life will likely be referred to by historians as his “round period.”


September 20, 2010   Comments Off