Industrial designer Oji Masanori has a knack for incorporating traditional craftsmanship into contemporary design that’s both user-friendly and easy on the eyes. One of his latest designs is the wonderful double-decker bento box carved from Japanese magnolia. It was manufactured by Wajima Kirimoto and utilizes the company’s acclaimed makiji technique to create a lacquered finish on the inside that is durable enough to withstand silverware.
June 10, 2013 No Comments
London based Japanese designer Kazuhiro Yamanaka has come up with an ingenious flat piece of paper that, when rolled up, miraculously transforms into a powerful flashlight. The trick is a miniature LED light embedded within a slit. When the paper is rolled up into a cylinder the slit pops out, automatically triggering the LED light source. And when unrolled the light naturally shuts off. Now you can always keep a flashlight right on your desk, as long as it doesn’t get lost amongst the other stack of papers on your desk.
Yamanaka created another minimal light using a piece of paper, but this one is a lamp. It consists of only 3 elements: a wooden laundry clip, a light bulb, and a piece of paper, which can be interchanged with different weighted or colored paper. It can be effortlessly stored away. And when you need it, all you have to do is roll up a piece of paper and attach the clip.
June 6, 2013 No Comments
Summer is approaching. For some us it’s already here. But strong ultraviolet rays and less greenery to shade you poses a problem, especially if you have sensitive skin. Creating a poetic and artful answer to that problem is Fumito Kogure and Shinya Kaneko, a designer duo that respectively come from backgrounds in fashion and architecture. Komorebi is a characteristically Japanese saying that approximately translates to “sunshine filtering through foliage.” Applying that concept to your typical ugly plastic umbrella, the duo have managed to create komorebigasa (3990 yen), a lovely product that can be used in rain or shine.
June 6, 2013 4 Comments
Run by Kazu and Shing, a husband and wife designer-duo based on Fukuoka, “MONOCIRCUS houses a collection of things.” These “things” are often playful, often quirky and always original.
Their latest endeavor is a series of jewelry and accessories utilizing the increasingly popular technology of 3D printing. The bow tie is indeed quite revolutionary. I agree with the designers who claim that this “is going to change the way you put on your Tie!”
The development is not something to go ringing the trend alarm about. 3D printed fashion goes back to around 2010 when designer Iris van Herpen collaborated with New York company MGX by Materialise and artist Daniel Widrig to create 3D printed clothes. “Even though 3D-printed haute couture garments have been gracing the catwalks, the real breakthroughs in printed clothing will come from more practical and subversive quarters,” according to Print Shift magazine. Perhaps this is a glimpse of the practical and subversive they were referring to?
White Metanet necklace
June 5, 2013 2 Comments
On a recent Saturday afternoon we visited graphic designer Kenzo Minami at his home/studio in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It was chilly but in his sun-drenched apartment where he was solemnly working on a 12″ jacket cover for an upcoming album, it felt like early summer. The sought-after designer has been tapped by big names like Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft, Dell, Raf Simons, Adidas, Kidrobot, Ace Hotel and many many more. His stylistically detailed illustrations are mechanical and controlled, yet thoroughly chaotic. We were interested in learning more about him, his work, and what makes him tick as a designer.
Kenzo grew up in Hyogo, a Western prefecture of Japan dominated by heavy industries. His father owned small factory and, partially raised by factory workers himself, Kenzo grew up watching people build things with oily, greasy, machines. A dedicated worker, his dad took only 3 days off out of the entire year during new year’s so on weekends Kenzo and his brother would stay with their father at the factory.
Q: Have you always had long hair?
A: Actually there was a brief period when my hair was even longer. It was when I had moved to San Diego. But I had this bad habit. I would go out, get drunk, come home and think, ‘I’m going to cut my hair.’ No more drunk hair cutting.
Wandering the Unconscious
He attended Kwansei Gakuin, a protestant private High School and University, and immersed himself in his studies. To enter the school, He even subjected himself to some particularly strict regiments when he was a Junior High School student. During the summer he would enroll in intense studies at a cram school summer training camp at a temple where corporal punishment was an accepted form of discipline. “We had to sign a contract saying that we couldn’t sue even if we were physically injured by the punishments,” which included hitting and dumping cold water on students. The curriculum called for 40 minutes of study, followed by 10 minutes of test-taking. If you didn’t pass you had to retake it, but at night. Failing meant sleep deprivation. Once during an exam Kenzo drifted into unconsciousness while his hand apparently kept moving. At the end of the period he handed in a completed exam. Surprisingly, he scored 25% (“it should have been a zero, since I blacked out the entire time.”) but it was his nonsensical, delusional answers that alerted the staff. “My teacher called me in and told me to sleep,” Kenzo chuckled.
“You know how when you’re on the phone and doodling you do something half unconscious and something really good comes out? The trick for me is to bring myself to that place, but very intentionally,” Kenzo later said, reflecting on his process.
When you know your scotch is going to get watered down, you stop serving the real stuff
After spending almost a year in San Diego, studying English and preparing his portfolio to get into Parsons, he made the jump. While in school, Kenzo’s first real gig was creating set designs for a film director known as Voltaire. And before he had graduated he had become a partner at a broadcast design firm, where he eventually spent 7 years working on TV productions. Despite being a wonderful learning experience, the mentality began eating at him. “The concept would always start out really cool and everyone was motivated. But 6 months down the road it’s just a hot girl dancing and a logo. When you know your 100% scotch is going to get watered down, you stop serving the real stuff. And I realized that I was starting to give them the watered down stuff from the beginning of the process and I saw the huge danger in where I was heading.”
Q: What does it mean to be a professional?
A: If you think hard enough and have enough time, anyone can come up with a cool idea. Being professional means coming up with cool ideas and you can execute them on time. Also, knowing what to spend time on and what not to. If you have to plant a forest but are obsessing over 1 tree when time does not allow you to be, that forest is not going to happen.
It was one of those projects that you think, this is going to change my career
A turning point for Kenzo came in 2002. The event was that Nike commissioned him to do a mural for their first art space project in NYC. But the chain reaction reads like a lesson in serendipitous causality. Kenzo was living with 2 roommates on Mott St. One of them was Mandy Coon, the fashion designer. While on tour with her all-girl electroclash band W.I.T, Mandy gave one of Kenzo’s stickers he had created to a friend, Matt Clark, who was behind the Seattle-based Houston. Matt was also working for Nike at the time and took an interest in Kenzo’s work. “It was one of those projects that, while you’re doing it, you think, this is going to change my career.”
Q: Where do you get your inspiration?
A: I love watching movies with director commentary. Listening to how other people work is inspiring. Actually, designing is a lot like acting. When I’m working on something dark, I’m playing the role of dark graphic designer, listening to Nick Cave. But when working on happier projects I’m listening to disco, like the Bee Gees. But that role that I play has nothing to do with my everyday life.
Q: So do you watch a lot of movies?
Q: Favorite movie?
A: Anything by Woody Allen
Q: Can you tell us a little about your fashion philosophy?
A: I always travel with necktie. As a man, when you travel in a suit and tie… it makes your life so much easier. Also, when you travel it’s a constant collection of 1st impressions. And that’s all you get. So might as well make the best impression.
Q: Fashion icon?
A: My grandpa is 95 and still works in factory. He wears a suit and tie every day. He’s from a generation that dresses proper no matter where you go. He’s not really my style icon but it’s more of his philosophy that appeals to me. So now I always put tie on for workdays.
Q: Do you have a dream collaborator?
A: I’ve done so many collaborations with big name brands and corporations but I also would like to work with the people around me. There are so many great people that I run into and think are on same wavelength. People like Christian Joy.
As usual, my son Huey (6) had some questions for Minami.
Studio Visits are an ongoing series in which we visit NY-based Japanese artists in their studio. You can read them all here.
(special thanks to Kaori and Masako)
June 4, 2013 No Comments
While bonsai is the art of arranging miniature trees and shrubs in small planters, bonkei (literally “tray landscape”) refers to the equally age-old Japanese tradition of arranging small greenery like rocks and moss to create a landscape. Chiaki Murata and his lifestyle product brand Metaphys has put a modern twist on the art, creating a series of planters to help spruce up your desk. The homes (2,625 yen) can be used alone, or you can combine multiple buildings to create a small town of green rooftops.
June 4, 2013 No Comments
“Tokyo Electric” (2013) | images courtesy A4 Gallery
“Consisting of three young artists who generally choose to remain anonymous, three creates whimsical sculptures and space-altering installations using everyday materials such as plastic anime figurines and small, plastic fish-shaped soy sauce containers,” explains Miwako Tezuka. As gallery director for Japan Society in New York, Tezuka has invited three to participate in their inaugural summer residency program “to foster new artistic talents from Japan.”
Hailing from Fukushima, the artists were direct victims of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear fallout. In fact, their latest work “Tokyo Electric” was created for the 2nd anniversary of the earthquake. The imposing cubic structure stands over 3 meters high and is built to the same scale of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, explains the artists. It was made from 151,503 soy sauce containers – another symbolic number that happens to represent the number of displaced citizens.
Multiplicity is a common element in Three’s work. And their medium of choice – often objects that are cheaply mass-produced – is a reminder of our increasingly inorganic society and the death of the individual. I’m immensely looking forward to seeing what they bring to New York.
Last January the artists staged an interactive installation at Shiseido Egg Gallery titled “eat me.” Roughly 7000 individually packaged candy was hung from the ceiling in the shape of a house. Visitors were encouraged to eat the candy but dispose of the wrappers in the corner of the gallery. The house eventually disappeared at the hands of the visitors, leaving just a pile of trash.
June 3, 2013 2 Comments
365 drawings a year. 1826 drawings in the past 5 years. That’s right: since 2007 Tokyo-based illustrator Yoriko Youda has been creating an illustration every single day. And she uploads them all to her website. Her sensual imagery often incorporates Japanese, Chinese and other Asian motifs, allowing for a contemporary interpretation of traditional craft.
The playful drawings are simple yet brimming with creativity. Here are some of my favorites:
May 31, 2013 No Comments
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage | How to prepare for Haruki Murakami’s new novel
Word has leaked that Haruki Murakami’s trusted translator Philip Gabriel is aiming to finish translating Haruki Murakami’s latest novel by the end of this year. That means that the English version of “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” will probably hit bookstores in the first half of 2014. For those who don’t want to twiddle their thumbs for 8 – 12 more months, take intensive Japanese lessons or reread “Norweigian Wood,” I’ve put together a preparation guide to help you begin to immerse yourself in Murakami’s latest world, ahead of its English release.
If you’re familiar with Murakami you’ll know that his novels are loaded with illusions and references to music, pop culture and literature – everything from Leoš Janáček’s Sinfonietta to John Ford westerns and Raymond Chandler. It’s easy to breeze through his novels without being familiar with these references. But knowing them might possibly create new connections, setting the stage for a deeper reading and enhanced appreciation.
What you’ll find below is not spoilers of any kind. Rather, I’ve put together a collection of music and literature that are all referenced in the Japanese novel (“Shikisai wo Motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to, Kare no Junrei no Toshi”).
Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage) is a set of three suites for solo piano by the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt. You’ll want to listen to Le mal du pays (Homesickness) as played by russian pianist Lazar Berman.
“Round Midnight” the 1944 jazz standard by pianist Thelonious Monk. The song is also sometimes called “Round About Midnight”
“Viva Las Vegas,” the 1963 song (not the movie) recorded by Elvis Presley.
“Don’t Be Cruel,” the 1956 song recorded by Elvis Presley.
The work and key concepts of Georges Bataille – French intellectual and literary figure from the early 1900s.
The Doors of Perception – a 1954 book by Aldous Huxley detailing his experiences with the psychedelic drug mescaline (similar to LSD).
The Lost World – a 1912 novel by Conan Doyle. The plot involves an expedition to a plateau in the Amazon basin of South America where prehistoric animals roam freely. The title was reused by Michael Crichton in his 1995 novel The Lost World, a sequel to Jurassic Park.
“Ideas are like beards; men do not have them until they grow up.” – Voltaire
“Kitchen staff instinctively hate dining-room staff and all of them hate the customer.” – Arnold Wesker.
If you want to knock yourself out you can familiarize yourself with the British dramatist’s play The Kitchen (1957).
May 30, 2013 No Comments
Latte art – the method of using steamed milk foam to “draw” and create designs over coffee – arguably first developed in Italy in the early 1990s, if not earlier. But with advancements in microfoam, which has enabled a stiffer, more permeable foam, latte art has advanced into the realm of 3D. And Osaka-based Kazuki Yamamoto is being called the chief pioneer of the art, dazzling audiences with cute, realistic recreations of their favorite characters, which include Snoopy, Totoro, and Jack Skellington, as well as more generic yet equally awe-inspiring generic animals like cats and giraffes.
One of my personal favorites has been a melting clock from Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory.”
Over on his twitter account Yamamoto has amassed more than 100K followers by posting “daily leisurely cappuccino” pictures of new pieces. One day he wants to open his own store. But for now those wanting to actually sample his three-dimensional coffee art will have to check his blog regularly, where he posts locations that he’ll be temporarily making coffee at.
May 30, 2013 1 Comment