japanese art, design and culture

Posts from — June 2011

Shintaro Ohata | Everyday Life

all photos by Masaharu Makuuchi | click to enlarge

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When I first saw the artwork of Shintaro Ohata it immediately transported me back in time – 20 years ago – to when I was a child growing up in Tokyo. Incorporating a mix of landmark and ubiquitous landscapes, the paintings, which sometimes brilliantly merge with 3D sculptures, capture a young girl on the streets of Tokyo, frozen in a particular moment. They are both familiar and comforting but at the same time, isolating and lonely. Tokyo is a lonely city and these paintings remind me that I’m okay with that.

The images are all from a solo exhibition titled “Everyday Life” held earlier this month at Yukari Contemporary Art.

source: ex-chamber museum

June 30, 2011   Comments Off

Hello Moss Kitty by Makoto Azuma

click to enlarge

Botanic artist Makoto Azuma is on a crusade to cover everything and anything in green. Soon after covering an iconic Herman Miller chair in astroturf, Azuma has now set his sights on Japan’s favorite bobtail cat.

Collaborating with Swarovski on a month-long exhibition to raise money for disaster relief, Azuma, along with 9 other artists/designers/celebrities including Rikako Nagashima and Ai Tominaga, have designed one-of-a-kind Hello Kitty figurines to be auctioned off for charity. The exhibition is on display to the public through July 10th in Omotesando Hills. More coverage on the show here.

source: Makoto Azuma’s blog

June 30, 2011   1 Comment

Animal Balloon Typography

click images to enlarge

Ever have that urge to spell something out, not just in balloons but, in animal balloons? Now you can thanks to the Animal Font iphone app. It comes with a message function, which lets you write out a message and send it to friends via email, as well as an interactive “shaker” function that lets you create ambient sounds based on different letters and words.

U is for unicorn! | click to enlarge

But embedded within its childish playfulness is a slightly more serious theme. By using an inherently delicate medium such as balloons, says Takashi Kawada – who created the app last year – I wanted to remind people that there are ecosystems that are undergoing severe changes and, in some cases, facing extinction, due to climate change.

The balloon art was created by Rie Hosokai while the sounds were done by Tokyo-based composer Leo Sato. Through September they are donating 100% of sales from the app to disaster relief. Get the app here ($1.99) or here (¥230).

pray for Japan

source: Hitspaper

June 28, 2011   2 Comments

shikisai for pooch!

zukku t-shirt

We’ve featured the 3D shikisai t-shirts before, by the husband and wife designer-duo Noto Fusai, but I wanted to update you with some new designs they’ve come up with and matching t-shirts for your dog (or large cat).

T-shirt - zukku
t-shirt | click images to enlarge

dog t-shirt

kaska shirt
t-shirt | click images to enlarge


dog t-shirt

The (human) t-shirts are available from their store (Japan only) and through novelax (internationally). And the dog shirts are available in the US, at$30 from Everyday Studio based in San Francisco.

source: shikisai | noto-fusai | Dog Milk

Bonus: my favorite design -

June 28, 2011   1 Comment

The Moon by Nosigner


The so called Supermoon – the lunar occurance on March 19th in which the moon appeared 14% bigger and 30% brighter – was both an event and a non-event. What it didn’t do, as many have hypothesized would be a result of increased gravitational forces, was cause large-scale natural destruction. What it did end up doing, in an ironic turn of events, was shine down beautifully on the people of Japan, inspiring them to believe in and have hope for rebuilding what they had lost just over a week ago.

The moon, whether it’s in age-old fairy tales or modern-day anime, has held a revering spot in the Japanese psyche. And in all its glowing symbolism it did something else: it inspired Nosigner to create a topographically-accurate LED light simply titled, “The moon.” It was created based on data retrieved from the Japanese lunar orbiter spacecraft Kaguya, appropriately named after the legendary Japanese moon princess Kaguya-hime. Stunning, is it not?



source: twitter | newsletter

June 27, 2011   12 Comments

ashiato by kiko+


Came across this super cute and fun ‘ge-ta’ (Japanese sandal) footwear for kids, just in time for the summer! These sandals are available in five different footprints: cat, gecko, owl, monkey and zaurus.

ashiato - footprint

ashiato - cat

ashiato - gecko

ashiato - monkey

kiko+ brand was launched this May by Osaka based Kukkia Design, an interior design firm that started dabbling in toy design. The brands theme is simple, “Forest and children, children at play, play and art.” kiko+ specializes in “wooden toys and plans for kids” that will draw out the creativity, design and character of the child through play.

The sandals are available starting at ¥2,625~¥2,835. This footwear line is only one of eight products currently offered by kiko+. To see more of their fun and creative products, visit the kiko+ website.

source: Dog Milk | kiko+

June 27, 2011   1 Comment

Ring Around a Tree by Tezuka Architects

photo © Katsuhisa Kida/FOTOTECA | click all images to enlarge

This is making we want to be a kid again. Tezuka Architects recently completed a new addition to Fuji Yochien, a private preschool located in the western suburbs of Tokyo, which they designed back in 2007. Ring Around a Tree (2011), which was built as a designated learning center for English language classes, appears as a structure that winds itself around one of the large Keyaki trees on campus. It was given that name by architect Peter Cook, who visited the site and was reminded of the song, “Ring Around a Rosy.”

photo © Katsuhisa Kida/FOTOTECA

photo © Katsuhisa Kida/FOTOTECA

photo © Katsuhisa Kida/FOTOTECA

Ring Around a Tree was designed to complement the donut-shaped main building, who’s form allows it to be inherently contiguous. One of the primary objectives, says art director Kashiwa Sato, is to nurture an abounding creativity. While acting as the walls to a classroom, the structure, at its core, is a one gigantic jungle gym. Children are encouraged to come up with their own rules without being hampered by traditional styles of learning. It’s architecture that facilitates development and learning through play.

photo © Katsuhisa Kida/FOTOTECA

One of the things I find most fascinating about this structure is that, despite being built around a tree, in no way does it overshadow the tree. In fact, its transparency only enhances the overwhelming force of nature that emanates from the tree.

source: Tezuka Architects website | Fuji Yochien
(thanks to everyone involved for responding to my request for images)

June 24, 2011   1 Comment

Ningengakki turns body parts into musical instruments

Japanese toy maker Takara Tomy has created an anthropomorphic toy that uses conductivity to transfer the human touch into a bass drum, snare, or other musical instrument. You can play with up to 4 people and create your own sound, or pick from one of the 10 preset melodies to jam with.

I can totally see this catching on with NYC subway performers!

There is even a YouTube page set up that features different people experimenting with their bodies.
Ningengakki (literally, human instrument) goes on sale this later month and retails for 3,360 yen.

source: tokyomango

June 24, 2011   Comments Off

Awaglass by Studio Note

awaglass (2011) | click images to enlarge

The poetic and slightly esoteric work of Norihiko Terayama won us over as fans many years ago.  In a day and age when designers are largely subject to the corporate stronghold – designing watches or earphones – there is something admirable about Terayama’s arbitrariness.

Recently unveiled on his website, Terayama’s latest work is Awaglass, an apparent play on the word hourglass. But his work is not just a pun. It’s an in-depth examination of time and its passage via the simple swap of sand for bubbles (awa in Japanese). Whether Awaglass will be turned into a commercial product or remain a pious twinkle in the designer’s portfolio, has yet to be seen. But what is clear is that Terayama remains true to his design philosophy.

f,l,o,w,e,r,s  ruler (2007) | an acrylic ruler with embedded real flowers that are “blossoming” at exactly 1cm intervals

Take, for example, 2 works we have featured in the past: f,l,o,w,e,r,s  ruler (top) and floating flower (bottom). Both are poetic, intrinsically beautiful and stem from a je-ne-sais-quoi quality – interestingness, basically, as defined by Terayama. And yet they both seem to contradict one of the cardinal objectives of industrial design, which is to optimize the function and appearance of a product for the benefit of the user (obviously he has the appearance part covered). I suppose it simply reinforces the detrimental effect of trying to categorize designers as Terayama clearly walks a thin line between industrial design and fine art.

floating flower (2008) | a flower vase that is designed to equally appreciate beauty in the plant’s imminent death, as well as in its life

June 23, 2011   Comments Off

MUJI | Enjoy! ( ) Energy

Two days ago MUJI Labs announced that they had launched Enjoy! (     ) Energy. An apparent response to the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, and the subsequent rethinking of our dependence on atomic energy, the project is a global initiative to get designers and consumers thinking creatively about things we can do to curb our energy consumption.

MUJI Labs asked designers all across the globe to fill in the blank for Enjoy! (     ) Energy. Here are some of the responses:

One of my favorite submissions was by graphic designer Makoto Umebara, who proposed we harness the energy of the 20,000  people who pass through Shibuya Station’s turnstile on a daily basis.

Industrial designer Konstantin Grcic simply proposed we should unplug our iPods and plug-in to the sounds of nature.

Architect Tim Power proposed a solar cloud that captures solar energy by day – doubling as a source of shade – and using that energy at night to light our streets.

Graphic designer (and creative director at MUJI) Kenya Hara proposed an ultra-lightweight fan powered by a solar panel on its base.

Architect Sou Fujimoto proposed we should begin building homes with trees growing out of them.

Last but not least, designer Nosigner proposed a simple label that adheres to electronics; a subtle reminder of how much energy we are about to use by flipping on that switch.

MUJI Labs, an offshoot of our favorite minimal lifestyle brand MUJI, was originally launched in 2009 with the objective of conducting studies and interacting with customers to try and improve their product offerings.

June 22, 2011   2 Comments