Kenya Hara Retrospective PART 1

(image courtesy of ssahn)
Kenya Hara (b. 1958)
-Received his MFA from Musashino Art University. Currently teaches fundamental design there.
-Director of Nippon Design Center
-Sits on the advisory board of MUJI (along with Naoto Fukasawa)

This is a quote from his book, “Designing Design
“Continuously moving forward is not necessarily an advancement. We are currently poised on the brink of past and future. I believe that the beginning of creativity can often be found by gazing at society from behind, rather than following what society’s gaze points to.”

I wanted to do a retrospective on Hara Kenya, arguably one of the most influential forces in Japanese contemporary design today. I thought it was particularly timely given the completion of the Beijing Olympics, and all the work Hara has done in regards to China and Chinese culture. Although not chosen, Hara’s work was among the final nominations for symbols and images that were to be used in promotional materials for the Beijing Olympics.

Human senses are a central theme to Hara’s work. He believes that sensory overload is beneficial, but differentiates between sensory overload that we receive from our 5 senses and that which we receive from the information highway, dismissing the latter as fragmented and insufficient. For this reason, history also plays an important role for Hara because traditional, and sometimes primitive, methods are key to unlocking our senses. Some of his more recent work, namely the Qianmen Avenue Project, although unrealized at this point, involves the past and present of the historic Qianmen Avenue in China. After a drastic renovation leading up to the Olympics, this location symbolized the struggle between modernization and preservation.

I’m going to rewind now and take a look at some of Hara’s earlier work.

1998 – promotional material for the Nagano Winter Olympics.
I love how the embossing gives the appearance of footsteps in snow. Very wintery!

1998-2000 promotional material for the Aichi EXPO 2005.
The theme for the first EXPO of the 21st Century was “Nature’s Wisdom.” Hara used the Honzo Zusetsu, a collection of natural history illustrations from the late Edo period, as motifs for the material. The result is an effective portrayal of technology as a conduit for the integration of man and nature.

(images courtesy of Kenya Hara)


  1. Thank you for this retrospective. Do you know how I can purchase a 1999 calendar Honzo Zusetsu? Domo arrigato. –Linnea

  2. Thank you for this retrospective. Do you know how I can purchase a 1999 calendar Honzo Zusetsu? Domo arrigato. –Linnea

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