japanese art, design and culture


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 Japanese design unit YOY (previously) has given new light to what was previously an outdated, dust-covered concept.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

Tokujin Yoshioka’s Gravity-Defying Agravic Table

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It’s “the table of the universe,” states Tokujin Yoshioka, boldly. Indeed, it’s a brash claim that’s somehow excusable when made by one of Japan’s most sought-after designers. “Maybe I just find hidden beauty in things which others have not noticed before me,” says the industrial designer, who has a knack for turning unexpected materials into something minimally exquisite.

This year at Milano Salone, Yoshioka has unveiled “Agravic,” which refers to the theoretical condition of zero gravity. The Agravic table doesn’t exactly defy gravity but rather toys with gravity, poking fun at it in a cautionary, precarious way. A massive marble table (that probably weighs several tons) seemingly floats in midair. It’s made stable only by two triangular prisms that are pinpointing, with exact accuracy, the balancing points that keep the table “floating in the universe.”

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Other than the prototype above, these are, of course, renderings. Below are some actual photos from people who visited the exhibition, which runs from April 8 – 11.

April 9, 2014   No Comments

The Sleek and Soaring Ceramics of Sueharu Fukami

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Yesterday we offered Kyoto as a destination for art, but the arts and culture of Japan’s ancient capital are alive and well in New York as well. In an unprecedented collaboration with the Brooklyn Museum, “Points of Departure” is currently on view at the Japan Society Gallery. The exhibition showcases 2000 years of dazzling, unique, art-making in an attempt to depart from “the myth of a homogeneous Japan.”

An exemplary artist, in my opinion, is the ceramicist Fukami Sueharu. Conceptual and abstract, Sueharu’s porcelain forms are often considered a reaction to Japan’s history of traditional, utilitarian ceramics. The large, soaring forms and curved edges – they’re at times wave-like – are made by injecting liquid clay into molds and then carefully refining the edges. The bluish hues come from a traditional glaze that harkens back to Chinese, Korean and Japanese traditional wares. Fukami recalls an experience by the ocean when he was in his early 20s that was a defining moment in his career:

It was the memory of an encounter I had with a sharp breeze while on the cliff during winter… All the senses in my body felt the pleasure of the strange wind as it stabbed my cheek. This tactile experience is at the heart of my creations.

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April 9, 2014   No Comments

KYOTOGRAPHIE | a photography festival descends upon Kyoto

Cherry blossoms aren’t the only thing blossoming in Kyoto. Beginning next week, KYOTOGRAPHIE, a 3 week-long international photography festival, kicks off it’s 2nd year. A diverse mix of 13 art, fashion, and nature photographers will be showing works themed on humankind’s relationship with the environment and our planet.

What makes the festival special is that the organizers have teamed up with various venues – train stations, museums, galleries and traditional machiya – effectively taking you an a tour of Kyoto as you experience awe-inspiring art. Head over to their website, where you’ll find more information on all the events in English and Japanese.


Barkhanes in the crater zone, from Mars, a photographic exploration © NASA / JPL / The University of Arizona / Éditions Xavier Barral


Diorama Map Kyoto 2003 © Sohei Nishino


CARMEN, early 1950’s © Lillian Bassman


© Daido Moriyama


Headland, Torii on the Cliff © Akiko Takizawa


Silk Drying 2, Kyoto, Japan 1951 © Werner Bischof / Magnum Photos


19 August 1993 Mihama fukui Pref. © Taishi Hirokawa


Royal White Tiger © Tim Flach


untitled, 2012 © Rinko Kawauchi

April 8, 2014   No Comments

Photos from Japan’s 2014 Cherry Blossom Season

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photo by masato mukoyama | Keage Incline (Lake Biwa Canal) at night

This year’s cherry blossom season – thanks to some heavy rains over the weekend – is just about wrapping up in Japan. 2014 was made all the more poetic as “5% parties” bid farewell to the old tax rate and welcomed in the new 8% rate under short-lived, fleeting cherry blossoms.

For one reason or another, this time of year is particularly difficult for me to travel to Japan and, once again, I am here in NY watching Instagram photos appear in my feed and then quickly disappear; transient as the cherry blossoms themselves. Here is a small selection of some of my favorites that I’ve come across recently. And you can see more over on visual aggregation site Bored Panda.

Last year was also special when a seasonally-rare snow made for some pretty amazing pictures too.

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photo by danny dungo | the drainage system of the meguro river never looked so good

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photo by yuga kurita |Mt. Fuji and cherry blossoms

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photo by akio iwanaga

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photo by ryosuke yagi |cherry blossoms in Aoyama, Tokyo

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photo by ta3mam | Tokyo

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photo by torne | a 200m-long slide at Nishihira-hatake park in Kanagawa

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photo by 紅襪熊 | along the meguro river

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photo by noisy paradise | along the meguro river


April 7, 2014   2 Comments

Playful e-ink watches by w0w Tokyo

Those objects do look a lot like Kickstarter-backed Pebble watches, but they were actually conceived two years before the successful crowdfunded project. And contrary to their American counterpart, they do not claim to be particularly smart. w0w, the Tokyo-based design studio behind the project, wanted to create a timepiece that is neither analog, nor completely digital. They chose to combine physical and digital media in a subtle way: its e-ink screen displays original animations that integrate playfully with the physical appearance of the watch. Look at your timepiece and you might see Big Ben, a retro clock, or even a tiny character climbing inside!


The collection was created in a partnership between w0w and Epson, which sells a Moomin version of the watch along with a special edition for soccer fans. Head over to their official page if you want to learn more.



 Image credit: w0w

April 7, 2014   No Comments