japanese art, design and culture

Posts from — June 2012

Spout funnel by Atsuhiro Hayashi

Spout funnel designed by Atsuhiro Hayashi. A funnel shaped like a splash of water, that doubles as a drying rack. Clever!

It was recently commercialized by Toyo Alumi and went on sale for 945 yen. Get it here in Japan or here abroad.

June 29, 2012   Comments Off

Kofunaki House by ALTS Design Office

photos by Yuta Yamada | click to enlarge

Bringing the outdoors, in is something Japanese architects excel at. Numerous theories – land constraint-mandated lack of gardens, historic revere for nature, etc. – collectively explain the phenomenon. But a recent trend in architecture has taken the concept of subtly blending barriers and thrown it out the window. Instead, architects are ditching potted nurseries and, instead, planting gardens right in the heart of living spaces. We first noticed the trend last year with this house that incorporates a rock garden into the living area. And several others followed, which tells us that home-owners are warming up to the new definition of indoor gardens.

And the latest home to emerge is certainly a beauty. “Kofunaki House” was completed in March and is the latest residential project by Shiga-based ALTS Design Office. The Studio, which is headed up by Yoshitaka Kuga and Sumiou Mizumoto, are known for their relaxing, open spaces that emphasize nature as a means to a richer lifestyle. And Kofunaki House is no exception. Nestled within an eco village nearby lake Biwa, the home, with its nature-filled interior, is a kickback to traditional Japanese homes (minka) that often incorporated a dirt floor (doma). And using wood as the primary material within the home, the architects succeeded at creating a rich environment that blends rural and modern.

source: submission

June 28, 2012   1 Comment

Terunobu Fujimori’s latest tea house is a Trojan pig

photo courtesy Museum Villa Stuck

Architect-extraordinaire Terunobu Fujimori currently has a retrospective at the Museum Villa Stuck in Munich. There, amongst a comprehensive documentation of the architect’s work since 1986, rests the mobile tea house “Walking Café.” Fujimori’s latest structure remains strongly affixed to his fascination with the tea house, but with a European twist, hence the name. And in an interview with DETAIL Magazine he talks about the unlikely inspiration for the piece.

photo courtesy DETAIL

It’s a place with strong personalities, says Fujimori, speaking about the state of Bavaria. The use of shinglings and copper armor was very much an homage to the traditional local architecture. Fujimori, with the help of local craftsmen, students and children, sourced only local materials. But he also had some help from a famous painting, housed in the local Alte Pinakothek museum, a historic gallery known for its collection of Old Master paintings. “The Land of Cockaigne,” painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in 1567 depicts a mythical land of excess, but in a very unflattering way. In the painting, men are passed out after a feast while a half-eaten egg, a chicken and a roasted pig run about.

“The Land of Cockaigne” (1567) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder | image courtesy wikimedia commons

Fujimori’s tea house is somewhat of a dichotomy – a structure meant to encourage moderation and, in some cases, even asceticism, being constructed in the symbol of gluttony and sloth. However, it’s important to remember that in the case of the Trojan horse, it’s not what was on the outside but what was on the inside that mattered most.

photo courtesy DETAIL

If you’re interested, check out our article on Japanese designers and tea houses, which of course features the work of Fujimori.

Photo by Bernd Schuller

June 27, 2012   1 Comment

An artistic view of electric power wires

Electric power wires – a neighborhood boon or blight? That was the question artist Eiji Sumi was trying to ask when he installed “Densen/Plus a” at Koi Art Gallery in Bangkok last month. The installation featured a mix of still life paintings, drawings, sculpture and photography that created an electrifying space within the gallery. And indeed, in Japan and other countries there have recently been calls to bury underground the electrical lines that cloud skylines and disrupt otherwise clear views. In Japan especially – a nation prone to earthquakes and falling cable lines, one wonders why the task hasn’t been completed already.

As it turns out, the “No Wire Movement” has slowly been progressing throughout Japan. But not only does the infrastructure project come with a hefty price tag, but some argue that it’s actually better to keep them within reach, instead of burying them in hard-to-reach places. When the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck Japan in 1995, power was restored relatively quickly because most electric poles remained standing and it was easy to patch the wires back together. But if the wires had been buried under rubble it could have taken much longer to dig them out and then repair them, potentially stifling the recovery.

Visitors will undoubtedly be turned off by the ubiquitous cables that are almost impossible to hide from. But for those who have spent many years in Japan, this may not be the case. For me personally, electric power wires have become so engrained in my psyche that I find them rather nostalgic, if not downright comforting. What do you think? To bury or not to bury?

(thanks for the tip Masako!)

June 27, 2012   2 Comments

g,a,r,d,e,n 2012 by Norihiko Terayama

At what point does stationary become art? Or, more specifically, at what point does a ruler become art? I’ll let you answer that question but in the meantime, have a look at what is possibly the most gorgeous ruler ever designed. Created by Norihiko Terayama of Studio Note, “g,a,r,d,e,n 2012” is a remix of an older product but this time using various wild greens found in your garden.  You can know carry around a garden in your pocket.

Each herb or wildflower is set in acrylic at 1cm intervals creating a poetic garden that is also a 30cm ruler. Stunning!

Because each piece is made-to-order, it can take several months for orders to be fulfilled. But it’s certainly worth the wait! If you’d like one for yourself, White Rabbit Express can assist with your order.

June 25, 2012   Comments Off

Flash Sale #002 – Coffee Measure House

Coffee – the quintessential engine for every morning. Whether you grind your own beans, have your own favorite french press or prefer to just press a button, coffee lovers will agree: to each his own. But here’s a lovely little tool that can be worked into almost any routine. This adorable Coffee Measure House was designed by Takahashi Nakabayashi and is as good looking as coffee measurers come. It’s adorable shape will make you want to stand it up on its own, instead of tossing it back in the bag.

Each one is made by an artisan in the coastal city of Odawara. Holding just about 10 grams, it was carved from walnut wood – a material selected for its compatibility with coffee beans. The packaging was designed by Koji Fujiwara and Yuka Hioki of the design unit pomme desssin.

Sorry, this flash sale has ended. But you can always order one for yourself through White Rabbit Express.

June 25, 2012   2 Comments

Translucent ceramic lamps

In the last 2 or 3 years I’ve seen a lot of Japanese designers experimenting with translucent ceramics. But this translucent ceramic lamp is a stunning example of the potential for this material, when applied to product design. I love the stark contrast between appearances when the lamp is turned on and off! Hat tip to designer Hikaru Yajima, who just recently announced the launch of these TOU-LIGHT pendant lamps.

I’m not sure how compatible they are with overseas voltage and whatnot, but the lamps are available in Large (24,150 yen) and Small (19,950 yen) sizes. If you’re interested White Rabbit Express can assist with your order.

source: Hikaru Yajima

June 21, 2012   Comments Off

Pots made from radioactive soil collected from within the Fukushima exclusion zone

Hellström’s radioactive vessels have the potential to inhabit a narrative that goes far beyond its form or function

Young and daring student designer Hilda Hellström unveiled an atomic project for her MFA senior thesis show at Royal College of Art (RCA). She got in touch with Naoto Matsumura, the last man still living within the 12-mile exclusion zone in Fukushima – a place where 78,000 people once lived. In March the Japanese government eased restrictions last March but much of the area remains off limits due to high levels of radiation. Hellström travelled to Japan and met Matsumura, who was eager to assist in her project. Using slightly radioactive soil that she harvested from Matsumura’s farmland, Hellström constructed these rugged “food vessels” – a complex, provocative name that explores the usefulness, or lack thereof, of contaminated land.

What’s fascinating about this project is the powerful narrative embedded with these seemingly day-to-day objects. Their ontext immediately transforms them into artifacts of history. Much in the same way that a piece of the Berlin wall can signify so much and so little at the same time, depending on the audience, Hellström’s radioactive vessels have the potential to inhabit a narrative that goes far beyond its form or function. It’s an excellent example of how an artwork, depending on how we frame it, can vastly increase or decrease our artistic experience.

Below are images of Hellström when she visited Matsumura on his farm.

source: Dezeen | Hilda Hellström

June 21, 2012   2 Comments

Four Seasons of the Heart

Relate to people with the warm heart of Spring
Approach work with the burning heart of Summer
Think with the unclouded heart of Autumn
Face oneself with the stringent heart of Winter

-Teruaki Samejima, “Four Seasons of the Heart”


-鮫島輝明, 『心の四季』

(thanks Elliot!)

June 20, 2012   1 Comment

The Scape(R) | a new coworking space in Tokyo

photos by Masao Nishikawa | click to enlarge

What happens when a starchitect-designed upscale residence gets transformed into a coworking space for freelancers? It’s a tale of architecture, appropriation and a real estate market that thought it could. The year was 2005. The World’s Fair was being held in Nagoya, Prime Minister Koizumi was pushing his postal privatization bill through the Diet and the Japanese stock market was doing just fine. Renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma had just put the finishing touches on The Scape – an ultra-upscale residence in a swanky neighborhood in Shibuya.

But fast forward to 2012 and it doesn’t take an economist to figure out that much has changed. For obvious reasons, demand for over-the-top private homes had tanked, prompting the management company to adopt a strategy to deal with a new economic climate. They closed down their residences and decided to renovate them into coworking studio spaces for a new generation of freelancers and other professionals who were in need of flexible office space. They rebranded themselves as The Scape (R) – R standing for “reborn” – and opened up for business in March of this year.

A young team of architects and designers were brought in to reshape Kengo Kuma’s original vision, while still maintaining the creativity and inspirational forms that the structure had imbibed. The furniture and overall space was designed by Naruse-Inokuma Architects, who most recently, helped create a laser cutter café in Shibuya and a café for tsunami refugees in Tohoku. Landscape Products and CIBONE were also brought on to assist with some of the furniture, while the signage and illustrations were done by Kimiaki Eto and Noritake. The Landscaping is the work of FUGA. To round out the team, Think Green Produce was in charge of creative direction.

The result is a fascinating space that conveys youth and vitality while evoking memories of the hegemony of wealth that once prevailed. In an oddly morbid sort of way, the building manages to generate an awareness of the theatrical nature of magastructures within an urban environment.

You can gain access to The Scape (R) 24 hours a day and rates start as low as 7000 yen per month for morning and night access. But be prepared to shell out 20,000 yen for membership, a monthly utility bill of 4,500 yen and a refundable deposit of 7,000 yen.

June 20, 2012   Comments Off