japanese art, design and culture

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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

TAKT project uses 3D printing to transform everyday objects

You may not know TAKT Project, but you’ve probably come across one of their creations before. The four experienced designer of this Tokyo-based design agency have worked on several project with consumer goods brands Muji and Sony in the past. They banded together in 2011 in an effort to bring innovative and inspiring product design to the masses. Last year, they made this vision come true by teaming up with the Japanese startup WHILL and supporting the design of its futuristic mobility vehicle.

3-PRING Product, their latest project, aims to cross the bridge between industrial design and DIY culture by giving consumers the power to transform the products of their daily life. 3-PRING blends elements designed and 3D printed by the TAKT team with mass-produced goods from Japanese brand MUJI. The parts produced by TAKT allow your pen container to become a minimalist ceiling lamp, your simple clock to become wall-mounted, or even your chairs to be used as a table.


Attachment Clock = Alarm Clock + 3D-printed parts + Suction cup

“Just like a ‘sampling techniques’ in music industry which create new tracks by quoting a track or sound in the past, we can create original products by quoting a ready-made product, and adding pieces made by 3D printer.”

The project was still experimental as they presented it last month at the Shibuya MOV lounge, and they are pondering as to whether or not they should release the 3d-printing data to the public. Let’s hope they do and allow consumers worldwide to take control of their everyday objects.

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Table = Steel Leg Chair + 3D-printed parts + Honeycomb Cardboard


Pendant Light = Plastic Basket + 3D-printed parts + LED

Photo credits: Masayuki Hayashi

See the rest of the article for more designs by TAKT:

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April 4, 2014   No Comments

The Cats of 19th Century Japan

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When Buddhism was imported into Japan around the 500s, the philosophy was accompanied by a few furry friends:  cats, who were brought along to protect valuable scriptures from mice. Since then, felines have made appearances in classical Japanese literature like The Pillow Book and The Tale of Genji. They’ve also been welcomed into Japanese homes, not only for their functionality, but for their mystical charm, bewitching behavior and, yes, of course, their cuteness.

So it’s no surprise that, artists, even back then, knew that depictions of cats would sell well. Those lovable pre-internet cats are now the subject of an upcoming exhibition. The Shoto Museum of Art in Shibuya, which just underwent a drastic facelift, is dedicating their first post-renovation show to ねこ・猫・ネコ (basically, “cats” written 3 different ways). The show open April 5 and runs till May 18, 2014.

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Cat Playing with a Toy Butterfly 1828  Totoya Hokkei

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Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

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April 3, 2014   1 Comment

Contemporary Katana Sword by Marc Newson and Tohoku Craftsmen

This unique set of Japanese swords are the fruit of the collaboration between Australian designer Mark Newson and craftsmen from Japan’s Tohoku area. The piece aims to combine the minimalist aesthetics of contemporary design with the age-old skills of the traditional Japanese craftsmen.

Aikuchi is a contemporary art piece which is created by incorporating a Japanese sense of beauty, traditional craftsmanship and innovative design.



But the hard part of this project was not merely to come up with a good-looking design. It required a true, in-depth collaboration between Newson and the craftsmen in order to be able to produce the first Aikuchi sword. The Australian designer traveled to meet them in their Tohoku workshops and discover their time-tested techniques. As a Japanese craftsmen will typically master one craft only, several were needed for the project. Experts in lacquerware, woodwork, and blade-making put their skills to work during a tedious trial and error process.

You can have a glimpse of the adventure that led to the making of the swords in this video:

As you would expect, an object created to cross the borders between art, design and craftsmanship will not be easy to get your hands on: it comes at an undisclosed price, and only 10 pieces will be produced.



via w0w

April 2, 2014   2 Comments

Playful Memo Pads by Kenjiro Sano


The art director Kenjiro Sano, who goes by the moniker Mr. Design, knows a thing or two about design, and making people chuckle. “All you need in life are friends, good clothes, yummy food and a bit of humor,” or so goes the concept for his design label nico. As its onomatopoeic phrase – nico nico means “to smile” – would suggest, the product lineup is thoughtfully designed to introduce a few chuckles into daily life.

The Spoon & Tamago shop just started carrying the sushi memo pads, the hinoki wooden blocks and the house memo blocks.


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April 1, 2014   No Comments

Bird-Witched | Cock-inspired Stilettos by Masaya Kushino


Japanese shoe designer Masaya Kushino, known for his extravagant creations that walk a thin line between footwear and sculpture, has created a new line of shoes inspired by the chicken. “Bird-Witched” actually takes its cue from Jakuchu Ito, “a legendary painter who flourished during the Edo period in the 18th century,” says Kushino. “He depicted real life animals such as birds, tigers, and elephants in a really ingenious way, tinged with a bit of insanity.”

For his latest collection, Kushino decided to depict the process of a bird turning into a pair of luxurious, feather-clad shoes. But Kushino reassures us that the shoes aren’t only to look at. They are fundamentally wearable footwear which, in Kushino’s mind, clearly separates them from standalone art objects.

Bird-Witched is currently on display at the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art. But Kushino’s heels will be traveling to the US for an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum later this year.

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source: artinfo

April 1, 2014   No Comments

Three-dimensional paintings by Fumihiro Takemura made only from paint

Japanese artist Fumihiro Takemura is not among the most famous Japanese contemporary artists — in fact, one will have trouble finding him on the Internet. Still, his work didn’t fail to impress visitors and collectors at this month’s Tokyo Art Fair. Vaccum and Flight, his two series of works on display at the Kodama Gallery stand, explored the three-dimensional capabilities of painting. His unique painting technique gives his minimal cityscapes and miniature scenes a truly mesmerizing look.




His technique strongly resembles that of the 3Doodler, a 3D printing pen launched on Kickstarter across the Pacific last year. But while the latter uses a special plastic material to allows DIYers to draw 3-dimensional sculptures, Takemura’s works are made exclusively with traditional acrylic paint. The paint is squeezed onto the canvas and let to dry until it becomes solid. This allows his creations to literally jump out of the canvas and result in this unique, immersive signature.



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Image sources: Kodama Gallery,Masaharu MakuuchiNicola Antony

March 28, 2014   No Comments

The double-sided anime images of Makoto Taniguchi

One side shows a blurry painting resembling a distorted, disturbing face. The other reveals the calm, comforting expression of an anime character. The journey back-and-forth between those images are what make the works of Makoto Taniguchi so special. Only able to see the blurry image at first, one has to move around the mirror to try and get a glimpse of the clear painting on the other side.


The 32-year-old Japanese artist wants viewers to feel lost contemplating his work. By playing on the ever-present faces of anime culture, he explores the mysterious ways in which our mind turns reality into fleeting images

When I try to draw the interior ‘images’ which though invisible to the eye surely do exist, the dazzling brightness and the ephemeral nature of that existence surges forth, and I start to think about my own ideas of ‘existence’ and my views on life

If you are in Tokyo, you can see Taniguchi’s works in his “Untilted” exhibition at Nanzuka Gallery until March, 29th 2014.




Images: public-image.org, White Wall Tokyo, Fudge.jp

March 27, 2014   1 Comment

Dark Lifeless Photos Capture the Future of Tsukiji Fish Market

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These are definitely not your everyday photos of the Tsukiji Fish Market, where – on a typical day – thousands of people bustle with activity, preparing for the 5AM auction where tons of fish and cash will trade hands. But Tokyo-based photographer Bahag de Guzman and writer Erin Emocling accidentally stumbled upon the market when it was closed, and decided to photograph the dark, cold and lifeless venue. However, the fish market, which opened in 1935, will soon resemble Guzman’s photos as Tokyo prepares to relocate the historic site as part of a broader facelift for Tokyo ahead of the 2020 Olympics.

Emocling puts Bahag’s photos to text:

You’re standing in the middle of this alleyway, living in the present, and you enter the vast and moving world of Tsukiji—a world-famous fish market in the heart of Tokyo that pumps its own blood every waking dawn, an almost 80-year old marketplace that gave sashimi and sushi their tasteful, incomparable meaning to the rest of the world, and, sadly, an old place that is bound to be deconstructed within a number of months from now.

But to those who have Tsukiji as their world, committing these into memories is the only way to immortalize what’s going to be left behind.

What Emocling and Guzman are trying to say, I think, is we’re not only losing a historic site, but also a way of life. You can read the entire photo essay here.

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(thx Erin!)

March 27, 2014   4 Comments