japanese art, design and culture

Posts from — December 2011

Our 5 Most Popular Posts of 2011

It’s not often that a country and everyone connected to it is tested the way Japan was this year. My family and my wife’s family are doing fine in Tokyo and I wanted to thank everyone who sent along words of thoughtfulness and kindness. Also a big thank you to everyone who read our articles pertaining to the earthquake and tsunami, which made up about 20% of all our writing this year. If you’d like to, you can read them all here.

I’m planning a few changes to the site early in the new year – nothing huge, don’t worry! – that will hopefully enhance your experience. I’m really excited about it and I hope you’ll continue to come back to read, learn and be inspired by all the great arts coming out of Japan. Thanks again and have a great New Year! Now here are the top 5 posts of 2011:

1. Island | Yutaka Sone at David Zwirner

Readers loved artist Yutaka Sone’s Manhattan sculpture painstakingly carved out of marble and weighing in at 2.5 tones. It consists of excruciating detail that was replicated using photographs, Google Earth and several helicopter rides over the city. It was on display at the David Zwirner gallery in New York during September.

2. The Moon by Nosigner

Inspired by the Supermoon – the lunar occurrence on March 19th in which the moon appeared 14% bigger and 30% brighter – Nosigner created this topographically-accurate LED lamp. The project was also in response to the collective force of hope that the Supermoon instilled in the people of Japan who had, just over a week ago, lost 16,000 people in a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

3. Bottle Flower Series by Makoto Azuma

Back in April floral artist Makoto Azuma created a series of stunning yet somewhat disturbing pieces comprised of flowers stuffed into glass bottles like sardines and then filled with water. The flowers, which are shockingly beautiful but also clearly dead, invoke images of laboratory experiments in which body parts are preserved in some sort of embalming fluid. The existential project seeked to isolate beauty in both life and  death.

4. TOTO’s Toilet Motorcycle Will Travel Japan Entirely on Biogas

A Spoon & Tamago exclusive! We broke the news that TOTO was developing a toilet bike that would run on biogas and travel Japan. And because we all love potty stories, the news went viral, getting picked up by Gizmodo, Huffpo, Reuters and more…

5. Polar Ice by Atsuhiro Hayashi

Two silicon cups produce these unique ice cubes that depict a polar bear and 2 penguins standing on a glacier. Once in your drink, they gradually melt away, mimicking a real-life scenario that many arctic animals are currently facing.

December 29, 2011   Comments Off

House Tokyo by Sanpei Junichi

photos by Koichi Torimura | click to enlarge


The abstract, white exterior contrasts nicely with the exposed concrete of the interior. It’s as if conventional urban landscape was reversed.


Even if you only have a 13.5-tsubo (480 sq ft) plot of land to work with, if you are creative you can legally achieve up to 19-tsubo (675 sq ft) of living space, says Sanpei Junichi, architect of House Tokyo. The white, abstract structure was completed in earlier this year and was inspired by an analytical reading of Tokyo – her streets and the relative relationship between the people who use them.

The façade is coated with a thin layer of insulation and all the openings feature a perforated metal blindfold. The intention was not to create a break between interior and exterior but rather to increase the sense of openness from within. The abstract, white exterior contrasts nicely with the exposed concrete of the interior. It’s as if conventional urban landscape was reversed.

I love the concrete table that protrudes out of the wall.


Source: Sanpei Junichi’s website

December 29, 2011   Comments Off

Sakae Restaurant by Yamazaki Kentaro Design Workshop

images courtesy YKDW | click to enlarge

It’s bustling but don’t call it a restaurant. It’s comforting but don’t call it a café. Located in Yokohama, Sakae is a restaurant that was engineered and designed around human interaction an experience. The space, which was designed by Kentaro Yamazaki (YKDW), features a single communal dining table situated right next to the kitchen.

With an emphasis on local, organic ingredients, Sakae offers what they like to call, “something different.” Whether it’s a new appreciation, a new point of view or a new discovery, the space is intended to mix a new ingredient into you daily routine, whether you like it or not.

I’ve always found communal tables idealistic in nature but rather awkward when executed. I can’t say I’m a particular fan of the concept but the elegant and minimal space is tempting me to give it another shot.

The herbs and flowers that appear to sprout out of the table are the work of botanic artist Makoto Azuma and total artistic direction for the space was done by Yu Shigematsu. Although there are events and activities going on during the day, the space as a restaurant usually only functions during the evening. Check out their website to make reservations or plan a visit.

Source: YKDW website

December 28, 2011   Comments Off

Nike PR Room by Torafu Architects

Photos by Daici Ano / Torafu Architects | click to enlarge

Last month architecture duo Torafu Architects (Koichi Suzuno and Shinya Kamuro) completed a PR Room in Tokyo for the global sports brand Nike. Comprised of 3 different spaces – entrance,  initiative and stock space – the architects utilized aluminum fins with interchangeable graphics in order to create an flexible environment where display walls coexist with large graphic branding.

Such great attention to detail: the sneaker sole pattern carved into the flooring. Check out all our stories on Torafu.

Source:  Torafu’s website

December 27, 2011   Comments Off

Iconic Industrial Designer Sori Yanagi dies at age 96

Yanagi Sori | 1915 – 2011

Iconic Japanese industrial designer Sori Yanagi (柳宗理) passed away on December 25, 2011 at a hospital in Tokyo due to pneumonia-related complications. He was 96 years old.

here is a clip from a 2007 retrospective of his work that took place at the the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo. The clip features a large chunk of Yanagi’s work, as well as an appearance from the designer himself, who was 91 at the time. There’s even a cameo by Naoto Fukasawa.

Sori Yanagi was known for his unique forms, which brought simplicity and unexpected practicality into everyday homes through his industrial designs in everything from kitchenware and furniture to toys and even bridges. Yanagi never lost sight of aesthetic and artistic ideals. Yet his work was functional and practical, demonstrated by usage in the the everyday household day-in and day-out.

Butterfly Stool | 1954

After winning both 1st and 2nd place in the first Japan Industrial Design Contest in 1952 Sori Yanagi established his own design studio. In 1957 he was invited to participate in the 11th Milan Triennial where his “Butterfly Stool” won the golden prize. In 1980 he became the first designer to hold an exhibition at the prestigious Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Milan, Italy. Yanagi helped open doors as an international artist and paved the way for future designers to display their work abroad.

Elephant Stool | 1954

Bentwood stacking chairs | 1967

Kopf Can Opener | 1970

Stainless Kettle | 1998

Dining Table and Chairs | 1998

Yanagi Flatware | 2002

Sori Yanagi was included in our 2008 primer on Japanese designers.

Source: @HirokoTabuchi

December 25, 2011   Comments Off

My favorite Japanese residential homes of 2011

The title pretty much says it all. Here are my favorite Japanese residential homes of 2011 that, for one reason or another, did not make it to the blog. They’re in no particular order. Enjoy!

1. Villa in Hayama

designed by Kazuyo Sejima


Designed by Shinichi Ogawa

3. Minna no Ie

Designed by Mamm-Design

4. Static Quarry

Designed by Ikimono Architects

5. Outside In

Designed by Takeshi Hosoka

6. House S

Designed by Keiji Ashizawa

December 23, 2011   1 Comment

For the nerd within | measuring jewelry by Aquvii

click images to enlarge

Kyozo Kawabe, the man behind the Daikanyama select shop Aquivii, has recently designed a new line of jewelry for Mass Item (previously). The “Measuring” line includes protractor necklaces and ruler earrings that come in all sorts of different colors. In a pinch many of them can even function as measuring tools!

Prices range between 2,940 – 3,990 yen. You can get WhiteRabbit Express to help you with your Japanese order.

source: mass item

December 23, 2011   1 Comment

Acrylic Sushi Rings

Sushi rings. Cheesy concept? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean the end-product has to be full of said cheese as well. Unlike those lame sushi USB drives, the recent collaboration between designy retail shop novelax and makers of all things resin Toumei, has resulted in a surprisingly good-looking, slightly abstract sushi ring.

The collaboration was just announced this week but hopefully the rings will be available in their web shop shortly.

source: novelax

December 22, 2011   2 Comments

Upcycled painted ceramics by Mina Perhonen

Akira Minagawa’s faux-Finnish design label mina perhonen has collaborated with eco-friendly design shop Pass The Baton to create this lovely series of ceramics.

They’re made from B-grade ceramics. Industrial mass-production of ceramics results in B-grade and C-grade ceramics with slight visual defects like black dots or air bubble holes. They’re perfectly fine but are typically discarded because of their imperfections.

They range between 1,344 – 2,310 yen.

source: pass the baton

December 21, 2011   1 Comment

Zoo Tote Bag

How adorable are these Zoo Tote bags designed by art director Kenjiro Sano (aka Mr Design). They were part of a massive charity tote bag exhibition hosted at Creation Gallery G8 in which 180 designers created original tote bags. Not only were the bags made by artisans in Tohoku, but all proceeds go to earthquake and tsunami relief. You can see all the 180 designs right here.

I also adore this camera tote bag by Moe Furuya

December 21, 2011   Comments Off