As we wind down our 14th (!) year of blogging, we embark on our annual exercise of ranking our most popular posts based on viewership. It’s always fun and interesting to see what captivated readers the most. It was supposed to be a year of sportsmanship and athletic excellence but the Tokyo Olympics were unfortunately overshadowed by the ongoing pandemic. And although Japan selected 金 (kin; gold) as their kanji of the year to celebrate the Olympics, it was very much a year of the homophone 禁 (kin; ban) as Japan’s strict border controls locked out so many.
So we felt particularly motivated this year to continue doing what we do best: connecting Japan with the rest of the world. Whether you’re tuning in for the first time or have been reading us for years, we hope that we’ve been able to add a little bit of beauty into your daily lives by delivering stories about Japan through an art & design lens.
Now, without further ado, our top 10:
1st: Jimi ‘Mundane’ Halloween Costumes of 2021
If there was one thing that made people happy this year it was Japan’s annual celebration of mundane Halloween costumes; outfits so ordinary that they have to be explained. Although the tradition began in 2014 but the creativity and humor has not abated yet. From “person who booked a conference room but there’s someone in it and now they’re checking to make sure they actually booked it before knocking” to “girl who started decluttering but ended up on her phone,” 2021 did not disappoint.
2nd: The ‘Dinos’ Cat Table
This cat table from Japanese online retailer Dinos really struck a chord with cat lovers. With a perch underneath and a hole in the middle, it gives your feline friend a seat, right in the middle of the table. Expertly crafted with high-quality wood, the fashionable table is beautiful both with or without your kitty.
3rd: Haruki Murakami’s Line of T-Shirts for UNIQLO
Haruki Murakami has a lot of T-shirts — so many, in fact, that he no longer has space for them in his dresser and has resorted to keeping them in cardboard boxes. His growing collection is the subject of a new book but it was his collaboration with Uniqlo on his own collection of t-shirts that had our reader’s attention.
4th: The Miniature Worlds of Tatsuya Tanaka
For the past 10 years — beginning in 2011 — artist Tanaka Tatsuya has been creating daily miniature landscapes in the form of a calendar. That’s 3650 creative, dramatic and often humorous scenes crafted from everyday objects like fruit, vegetables and stationary, which are paired with figurines. This year the artist celebrated 10 years of work and we reported on the exhibition.
5th: Kusama’s Yellow Pumpkin Washed Away
Yayoi Kusama’s “Yellow Pumpkin,” a symbol of Naoshima Island that sits at the tip of an abandoned pier, was washed away by strong winds and waves generated by Typhoon No. 9 on August 9th. Cherished by all who have ever visited, the iconic artwork was installed back in 1994 and was partly responsible for the large influx of tourists to the remote islands of Kagawa prefecture. For now, Naoshima remains pumpkin-less.
6th: The Wooden Olympic Medal Cases
We spent a considerable amount of time covering the Tokyo Olympics from an art & design perspective but the one that won readers over the most was our behind-the-scenes look at a small Hokkaido-based furniture company that churned out five thousand gorgeous wooden medal cases. Made from locally-sourced Japanese ash wood that would later be dyed in dark indigo blue, the cases were first created by a CNC drill and then later finished by hand.
7th: The Water Shadow Curtain
In our top 10 list, articles written earlier in the year have the benefit of longer exposure times. But this late-comer, published last month, quickly rose to the top. Tokyo-based designer Oto Kawamata came up with an idea for a curtain that filters light to create caustics, the randomly fluctuating patterns of bright lines at the bottom of the pool or aquarium. Although it’s still a prototype, if brought to market the idea could help create a more relaxing environment and alleviate stress as we spend more time indoors.
8th: Tokyo’s Giant Head Hot Air Balloon
If you were in Tokyo during July and looked up into the sky, or out your window, there was a good chance you might have thought you were still dreaming. Art trio Mé had unleashed a giant face-shaped hot air balloon over the city. The hot air balloon proceeded to drift around Tokyo for the entire day, surprising, startling and sometimes scaring people. It served as a delightful distraction from the ongoing news cycle of coronavirus and Olympic-related news, which very well may have been the intent of the artists.
9th: Free Downloadable Pictograms Depicting Japanese Culture
Experience Japan Pictograms are a novel set of visual symbols developed by creative director Daigo Daikoku for people of all cultures and ages to enhance their tourism experience in Japan. Whether you run a restaurant, are building an app or putting together a guidebook, the pictograms are free and available to download for any use, even commercial.
10th: Cutouts of Japanese Urban Buildings
Coming in 10th was one of our personal favorites: photographer Ken Ohyama’s visual series of urban buildings cut out from their backgrounds. The seemingly simple process renders each building almost as a miniature dollhouse. But the reduction also has the additive effect of highlighting each structure, emphasizing columns, windows, plants and electric wires that would have gone unnoticed.