Posts tagged Japan
MOGANA: A True Sense of Japan

Minimalist and peaceful, this new hotel in Kyoto offers an experience based on beauty and balance, where references to the past meet new technology 

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Located on a deep and narrow site in the neighbourhood area of Nijo Castle — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — MOGANA opened its doors in December 2018. Created around the concept of yosooi, the process of beautifying and decorating, MOGANA means ‘What if’ in ancient Japanese. Every element of the design and architecture is intended to give guests a deeper understanding of Kyoto culture, and an insight into Japan’s past and future.

The hotel’s designers Takashi Yamaguchi & Associates looked to the notion of a void, which is particularly significant in Eastern philosophy. In the long entrance, instead of the traditional design of latticework that characterises a machiya facade (typical of the wooden townhouses in Kyoto), a mix of lights and sounds creates a unique atmosphere, and one where technology is a key component. In contrast, the check-in lobby features a camellia and arrow bamboo-filled Japanese garden that has been paved with black slate from the city of Kumano. Throughout the hotel the designers’ reinterpretation of traditional small inner courtyards — called tsuboniwa —brighten the long and narrow spaces, and control temperature. 

Some of the 23 rooms — there are six different types, ranging from 32 to 50 square metres each — have a direct view out to a vertical garden, adding an expanse of greenery to the monochrome backdrop where black and white are paramount. On the second floor, the elegant architectural lines and restrained palette continue in the bar, which is adorned with dark tones, a 24-carat gold panel on the ceiling and an 8-metre-long bar counter.  

Much more than a place to stay, MOGANA explores and celebrates local traditions and Japanese philosophy through every aspect, including the breakfast based on fukiyose, a word that refers to the changing colours and scenes of the season all gathered in one, with ingredients grown in the Awajishima area and tableware by Japanese brands Awabi ware and Rakutogama. 

At MOGANA guests are invited to discover the history and culture (both old and contemporary) of Japan through memorable experiences, where beauty is at the heart of everything. 

Text / Karine Monié
Images / Courtesy of Mogana and Takashi Yamaguchi & Associates

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nendo Designs a New Lifestyle Complex in Tokyo

Forget conventional shopping malls: a series of boxes — with glass facades, sunlit interiors and leafy roof terraces — takes centre stage at Kashiyama Daikanyama

Image by Takumi Ota

Image by Takumi Ota

Designed by Japanese studio nendo and its interior design arm onndo Space Design Office, a clue into the concept behind the Kashiyama Daikanyama complex can be found in its name – with a sense of yama (Japanese for ‘mountain’) reflected in the staggered heights of the overlapping box-like units.

As elegant as it is discreetly luxurious, the complex – created for the major Japanese retail company Onward Holdings – could have been built on a much larger scale. However, Oki Sato, the founder of nendo, instead made a conscious decision to keep the dimensions on a smaller, more layered scale so that the complex would fit better within its low-rise setting in Daikanyama.

The result is a complex of seven staggered ‘boxes’ housing shops, galleries and eateries, overlapping horizontally to resemble a series of small hills. Each of the units has an exposed glass facade that allows natural light to flood in, and they are all loosely connected by external staircases and rooftop terraces.

There is the airy basement cafe, complete with soft-edged circular seating, minimal white pebble-like motifs on the walls and clutches of hanging plants (plus a tasty Basque cheesecake on the menu).

A gallery and lounge area occupy the ground level, while Market spans the second and third floors and offers upscale, creative fashion (curated by Opening Ceremony founders and Kenzo creative directors Carol Lim and Humberto Leon) scattered among abstractly minimalist and soft-edged interior displays.

The fourth-floor restaurant is another highlight: Coteau (French for ‘hill’) is run by cult Tokyo chef Yosuke Suga, who is behind the widely acclaimed Sugalabo restaurant. Here, new generation French cuisine is served against a bolder backdrop of rich ochre yellows and greys, metallic curves and hanging lighting. At the apex of the building is an intimate bar, with expanses of dark woods, night-sky blues and brass fixtures.

In trademark nendo style, the individual elements of each ‘box’ are woven together by overlapping textures and interconnecting structures – and perhaps best reflected by the juxtaposed medley of contrasting yet complementary floor materials like herringbone terrazzo, fabric-textured cement and marble printed on glass.

Text / Danielle Demetriou
Images / Courtesy of nendo

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Nurturing Nature: The Principles and Practice of Sou Fujimoto

The Japanese architect’s one-size-fits-all approach has paradoxically resulted in some of the design world’s most boundary-breaking structures

L’ECOLE School of Jewelry Arts in Tokyo. Image courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

L’ECOLE School of Jewelry Arts in Tokyo. Image courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

When deciding which projects to accept, Sou Fujimoto has three key criteria: ‘Good vision, interesting context, reliable client.’

It sounds simple enough, but – like Fujimoto’s work – this simplicity can be deceptive. The Paris- and Tokyo-based Japanese architect, known for his ability to incorporate light, nature, whimsy and practicality into effortlessly striking architectural masterpieces, maintains the same attitude and starting point no matter what the project. ‘We always do thorough research on all aspects of the project. This includes client requirements, site requirements, laws, climate, historical background, lifestyle of the area and much more. It’s about listening to the world,’ he explains.

Each and every one of Fujimoto’s projects is recognisably his – without the need for labels or logos – whether it’s one of his early private residences like House NA, the approximately 600-square-metre Tokyo home designed to be completely transparent; or the much-feted 2013 Serpentine Pavilion, a geometric cloud built of steel bars. ‘My projects are about nature and architecture,’ he says, simply. ‘A place for humans, integrating various scales from small to large, and the coexistence of simplicity and variety.’

‘The environment I grew up in was amongst Hokkaido’s nature. To me, it’s the original scenery of a place for people. And the city of Tokyo, where I studied architecture, is like a forest made of diverse artefacts – that’s why I always think about a project without separating nature from architecture,’ he explains. Nature’s influence is more than clear in projects such as L'Arbre Blanc (the White Tree), a multi-use residential tower and complex currently being built in Montpellier, France, and which features a plethora of ‘leaves that jut forth from a central structure. In others, such as the recent pop-up iteration of Van Cleef & Arpels’ L’ECOLE School of Jewelry Arts in Tokyo, the expression is less overt, though still apparent, here in the sinuous stretch of benches winding like paths through a forest, or the arc floor lamps with bulbs that dip like branches. The latter, Fujimoto explains, was his response to a brief that demanded ‘a place of high quality and beauty, which also has a welcoming and cosy feeling – a place with beautiful natural light, where special experiences are born.’

While some architects relish the chance to build temporary structures for the opportunity to experiment with new techniques and materials, Fujimoto himself insists he doesn’t differentiate. ‘There is essentially no difference between temporary places and permanent architecture. However, materials, construction methods or relationships with the surroundings always differ.’ Take the trio of projects that are currently under construction, all of which are distinctly Fujimoto, but which couldn’t be more different from each other. There’s Ishinomaki Culture Complex Center in Miyagi, Japan: a collection of little white houses that wouldn’t be out of place on a Monopoly board; the Ecole Polytechnique learning centre at Paris-Saclay University, a functional educational institution that is all white and light; and the Forest of Music (The House of Hungarian Music) in Budapest, a classy and glassy museum building topped by a roof that resembles a speckled, undulating lotus leaf. ‘I always do my best to be sensitive to the situation and create a rich place, while keeping the essential value at the root,’ he says.

Text / Christina Ko

Children’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation. Image by Daic Ano

Children’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation. Image by Daic Ano

Mille Arbres. Image by SFA+OXO+MORPH

Mille Arbres. Image by SFA+OXO+MORPH

L’Arbre Blanc. Image by SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

L’Arbre Blanc. Image by SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

L’Arbre Blanc. Image by SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

L’Arbre Blanc. Image by SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

L’Arbre Blanc. Image by SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

L’Arbre Blanc. Image by SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013. Image by Iwan Baan

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013. Image by Iwan Baan

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013. Image by Iwan Baan

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013. Image by Iwan Baan

The Setouchi Triennale opens today in the Seto Inland Sea

We offer an overview of Setouchi Triennale’s fourth edition and speak with artist Yasuaki Igarashi whose work resonates with the festival’s theme, Restoration of the Sea

Image by Osamu Nakamura, courtesy of Setouchi Triennale Executive Committee

Image by Osamu Nakamura, courtesy of Setouchi Triennale Executive Committee

Sandy beaches, wooden houses, wild forests, abandoned schools, rice fields: these are the scenic locations in which countless creative projects can be found as part of this year’s Setouchi Triennale, which opens today (April 26). The three-yearly Japanese art festival, which launched in 2010, spans a picturesque expanse of 12 small fishing islands and two ports in the Seto Inland Sea (also known as Setouchi).

Once famed for its thriving trade routes and industry, the region has become increasingly isolated in recent decades due to depopulation and economic decline — a common scene across much of rural Japan.

The goal of the festival? To revitalise the region through the power of contemporary art and architecture — with impressive results. In addition to the ever-growing permanent collection of artworks, museums and installations on Naoshima and neighbouring islands, the festival significantly bolsters the region’s art credentials.

This year — the biggest to date — there are a total of 213 artworks (90 of which are completely new), created by 225 artists from 32 regions around the world. Highlights — among many — include Leandro Earlich’s washing machine installations in a new art hub called Little Island Shops on Megijima; Sarah Westphal’s octopus installation titled The Sea Within - The See Within on Ogijima; and Beatriz Milhazes’ Yellow Flower Dream on Inujima.

And fruits of the project — painstakingly masterminded by its general director Fram Kitagawa of Art Front Gallery — can already be seen: depopulation appears to be slowing as young families set up homes, shops and businesses across the region (and on one island, a school has even reopened after it shut down due to a dwindling student body).

Japanese artist Yasuaki Igarashi is among this year’s exhibitors, with his project Sora-Ami: Knitting the Sky, an ambitious, evolving work that involves the creation of a vast, rainbow-bright fishing net, woven by residents and fishermen on 12 islands.

The artist, who first created Sora-Ami for the festival in 2013, is inspired by the concept ‘viewpoints of the ocean’ (a perspective he honed while navigating the 4,000-kilometre journey from Japan to Micronesia by yacht). Here, he shares insights into his new artwork and how contemporary art can bring communities together.


Danielle Demetriou: What is the concept behind Sora-Ami?

Yasuaki Igarashi: Sora-Ami is about connecting people and continuing the memories of the islands by weaving a fishing net together. This project will involve holding weaving workshops with fishermen and locals on 12 islands. After the process, people may see the landscape differently through the mesh of the completed net. The colourful fishing net will look different depending on weather and tide — and when finished (measuring 6.5 metres high and 120 metres long), it will become a symbolic icon of connection through the sea.

Why fishing nets?

Fishing nets have been a common tool since prehistory and weaving is one of mankind’s oldest techniques. When you actually weave a fishing net on the beach like our ancestors have always done, you feel closely connected to the wind, the birdsong, the sound of the waves. It’s like awakening your memory from deep inside of being a maritime people, which is a new feeling but somehow intimate at the same time. Above all, the action of weaving a fishing net has the power to bring people together. Weaving fishing net is a symbolic behaviour that connects the communities.

How have locals reacted to the project?

It wasn’t easy in the beginning. Some fishermen asked why they should weave for the artwork when they need to repair their own fishing nets. But after joining in several times, they have become interested in how other islands are doing, how fast they are going or how beautiful the weaving is. It has become like an exciting process preparing for a local festival. At a final ceremony in autumn, we will link each fishing net from each of the five islands and the residents can all celebrate together.

What have you enjoyed most?

It’s been a deep cultural experience witnessing friendships between local people, hearing old stories of island life, learning about folklore and old customs — this was the most enjoyable part of this project. It’s the same as being trusted, and gaining trust was the most difficult part.

How would you describe the region?

An archipelago in an inland sea is very rare. There is a long history and culture of people living with the complex tidal currents around scattered islands. Through the Sora-Ami project, I encountered different characters, dialects, words and atmospheres on each island.

What impact do these art projects have on the region?

These art projects have the power to connect people, to one another and also to the land. It provides a chance to rediscover the relationship between people and nature, and make a new connection in a forgotten local society. I hope my project also offers the opportunity for local communities to look into the universal ‘humanness’ of us all living together on this planet, connecting us all to each other and to nature.

Text / Danielle Demetriou
Images / Courtesy of Yasuaki Igarashi and the Setouchi Triennale Executive Committee


The Setouchi Triennale runs in three sessions this year: Spring (26 April-26 May), Summer (19 July-25 August) and Autumn (28 September-4 November).

Yasuaki Igarashi,  Sora-Ami:Knitting the Sky , Setouchi Triennale 2016. Image by Yasuaki Igarashi

Yasuaki Igarashi, Sora-Ami:Knitting the Sky, Setouchi Triennale 2016. Image by Yasuaki Igarashi

Knitting workshop on the island. Image by Yasuaki Igarashi

Knitting workshop on the island. Image by Yasuaki Igarashi

Yasuaki Igarashi,  Sora-Ami:Knitting the Sky , Setouchi Triennale 2016. Image by Yasuaki Igarashi

Yasuaki Igarashi, Sora-Ami:Knitting the Sky, Setouchi Triennale 2016. Image by Yasuaki Igarashi

Portrait of Yasuaki Igarashi

Portrait of Yasuaki Igarashi

Yayoi Kusama,  Red Pumpkin , 2006 Naoshima Miyanoura Port Square. Image by Daisuke Aochi

Yayoi Kusama, Red Pumpkin, 2006 Naoshima Miyanoura Port Square. Image by Daisuke Aochi

Reiko Sudo updates the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo

The renowned Japanese textile designer speaks with us about her design process and the evolution of the hotel’s design

Image by Kosuke Tamura

Image by Kosuke Tamura

Japanese textile designer Reiko Sudo of Nuno Corporation’s fresh take on traditional Japanese techniques, materials and patterns creates a multisensory experience that provides visual and tactile gratification as well as an insight into Japanese culture.

The designer’s love affair with textiles began at an early age when a Kyoto merchant would visit her family home in Ibaraki Prefecture to present her grandfather with a selection of exquisite fabrics for his daughter’s kimonos. 

After studying Japanese painting and earning a textiles degree from the Musashino Art University in Tokyo, she met renowned textile designer Junichi Arai.  In 1984, the pair founded NUNO (the name is Japanese for ‘fabric’), a small atelier in Tokyo that is widely considered the capital’s textile design destination. Today, the designer’s cutting-edge contemporary fabrics are all made in Japan.

Recently, Sudo helped renovate 179 guest rooms at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, reflecting a subtle evolution of her original ‘Woods and Water’ design concept with a fresh new palette of colours and patterns.

Catherine Shaw: The hotel’s design concept centres on a natural theme and Nuno textiles; how challenging was it to refurbish something that was such an integral part of its identity?

Reiko Sudo: We had created the original concept for the hotel when it opened in 2005 and, as part of my contract, I kept some of the textiles in case cushions or upholstery needed replacing. After 15 years I didn't need to keep them any longer, but I decided to make a bed throw by cutting some up into smaller squares and stitching them together to create a textile collage. I then dyed it gold, because that was the colour of the original interiors and I wanted it to remain a powerful symbol representing sunlight.

How do the new textiles fit within the original theme of Woods and Water?

A tree grows and its colours change, so I thought the Woods and Water theme should communicate this growth with warm and comforting berry shades that reflect the changing of the seasons. Some furniture and accessories have the same fabric pattern as the originals, but in a different colour. I like using subdued colours and then adding pops of purple and magenta.

Using one of my original drawings, we also made new rugs that evoke the way sunlight filters through the forest canopy and flowers, and the leaves that fall to the forest floor. It’s a very simple concept and easy to understand, but very difficult to execute.

You’ve also introduced new hand embroidered headboards over guest beds. What was the process from design to final product?

There are two patterns, cherry blossom and wisteria, all hand embroidered by one man over two years. He normally makes wedding gowns, so as you can imagine it was a big investment for both him and the hotel.

I drew the flowers, which he then traced before starting the embroidery using a special handheld machine. The wisteria pattern was more difficult than the cherry blossoms – the latter has a repetitive pattern so the hand remembers the movements. It is wonderful to see: it’s like a collaboration between the machine and the human hand – so quick, but with amazing control.

Your textiles are all made in Japan. How challenging is this when creating such a wide range for a project like this?

One of the original textile factories we first worked with had closed after the Tohoku earthquake, so I had to find another factory that could apply the same techniques and make similar fabrics. The biggest challenge, however, was making the new carpets that are also based on my own sketches. The suites have carpets with indigo patterns inspired by Sumi-e (ink wash painting), and we had to reproduce these, but it was difficult because each technician interpreted the drawing in a slightly different way, so I could only work with one person.

Text / Catherine Shaw
Images / Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo

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Japan’s first MUJI HOTEL opens in Ginza

A heaven for lovers of the brand’s minimalist contemporary design, this expansive development also includes two design galleries, a multi-storey global flagship store, bar and restaurant

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‘Natural’, ‘calm’ and ‘comfortable’ are all words Japanese designer Keiichi Ito tries out before landing on one that perfectly sums up the essence of his latest venture: ‘Kinobi ­­– which means functional beauty.’

Ito is describing Japan’s first MUJI HOTEL, which opened its doors last week in Tokyo’s upmarket shopping district Ginza.

MUJI HOTEL GINZA – the third globally after Shenzhen and Beijing opened last year – is a major new venture by the Japanese company famed for its no-brand philosophy, clean-lined minimalism and unfussy contemporary design.

All three MUJI hotels share the concepts ‘anti-gorgeous’ and ‘anti-cheap’ – which perhaps sound a little better in Japanese than English, but are best embodied in the low-key simplicity of the hotel interiors. The Tokyo hotel – designed and managed by UDS (also behind CLASKA hotel, among others) – spans the top five floors of a new 10-storey building, and features 79 guestrooms, WA restaurant serving regional cuisine and the world’s largest MUJI flagship store just underneath it.

‘We’ve used plenty of natural materials and textures – wood, soil, fabric, stones,’ explains Ito from UDS, who along with being the hotel’s designer is also its general manager (he also designed Beijing’s MUJI HOTEL). ‘We wanted to create the atmosphere of a cosy and relaxed home. Ginza is such a busy place and we imagine guests will be tired when they return to the hotel, so we wanted to make them feel comfortable and relaxed. Other Ginza hotels have too much design – this is very different.’

A glance around the seventh-floor guestroom where we had our interview confirms this: around us are warm oak walls, light linen curtains, soft modern lighting and a textured sheep’s wool carpet that I can’t resist touching. ‘I try to use materials that people want to touch,’ smiles Ito.

Other design touches include the black stone wall behind the front desk, made from stones salvaged from old Tokyo train lines, natural plasterwork on the sixth floor by artisan Naoki Kusumi, who uses a rammed earth technique called hanchiku, and a patchwork expanse of steel panels in the restaurant, which came from an abandoned ship that Ito found in Hiroshima.

The hotel is, of course, heaven for shoppers – the guestrooms are packed with MUJI products, many of which can be bought just downstairs: from the fluffy white towels, sheets, pyjamas, beds and sofas to the armada of discretely-designed tech such as aroma diffusers, kettles and wall-mounted Bluetooth speakers.

The multi-level store itself not only sells an encyclopaedic range of MUJI products (from clothing and furniture to bicycles), it also has a MUJI Diner restaurant plus a juice stand, bakery, fresh vegetable market and tea blending service.

Meanwhile, on the sixth floor – the same level as the hotel lobby – is ATELIER MUJI, home to two design galleries that will host exhibitions, workshops and talks (textile designer Reiko Sudo is among the first speakers). There is also a long, camphor wood Salon bar, serving up coffees and cocktails, plus a ‘chair menu’ with a selection of 21 seats, ranging from Eames to Mart Stam, for guests to choose from.

Text / Danielle Demetriou
Images / Courtesy of MUJI HOTEL GINZA

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Tokyo’s Museum of Contemporary Art reopens with a new look

Just last Friday, following a three-year hiatus, MOT reopened, sporting a minimalist update by Jo Nagasaka of Schemata Architects

Image by Kenta Hasegawa

Image by Kenta Hasegawa

With its triangular walkways of metal and glass, vast geometric motifs and airy double-height galleries, the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT) has long been famed as one of Japan’s largest and most important museums devoted to contemporary art.

Now, the museum is back, having reopened its doors to the public last week following a three-year closure for renovations. The museum, which first opened in 1995 on the fringes of Kiba Park in the eastern Kiyosumi-Shirakawa neighbourhood, is housed in one of Tokyo’s most distinct spaces.

The original light-filled structure of glass, steel and concrete was designed by Takahiko Yanagisawa + TAK Architects Inc. and today houses about 7,000 square meters of exhibition space and a collection of approximately 5,400 mainly post-war contemporary artworks.

The recent renovation focused on upgrading air conditioning and equipment, as well as interior floors, walls and ceilings; a new energy efficient lighting system was also installed.

Jo Nagasaka of Schemata Architects – also behind HAY Japan’s flagship store and a string of Blue Bottle cafes – designed new interior furniture for the museum. Perhaps the most eye-catching are the dozens of large, round minimalist seats made from cork – a ‘warm and soft’ material that balances the strong architectural structure – scattered in the bright lobby and on terraces. New signage – light, modern and monochrome – was also created by Yoshiaki Irobe of the Irobe Design Institute.

Nagasaka also designed the furniture for a new cafe and lounge called Sandwich Upstairs – managed by Smiles – a serene white and light wood-filled circular space, serving up green tea lattes, coffees and, of course, sandwiches (NADiff contemporary, a museum shop packed with art books and design accessories, is just underneath). A second family-friendly restaurant called 100 Spoons has also opened in the basement.

Meanwhile, the Art Library, home to around 270,000 books and reference materials, was refurbished with a sleek expanse of dark wood tables, a Multi-media Booth for viewing videos, and a new Art Library for Children.

The reopening kicked off with a dizzying plundering of the museum’s permanent collection, in the form of a special exhibition titled Weavers of Worlds: A Century of Flux in Japanese Modern / Contemporary Art, a tour de force of Japan’s art scene over the past century. Elsewhere in the gallery, new additions to the collection were showcased in a separate show called MOT Collection: Pleased to meet you. New Acquisitions in recent years.

Other upcoming event highlights on its newly announced exhibition schedule include shows devoted to artist Olafur Eliasson and minä perhonen, Akira Minagawa’s fashion and textile brand.

Text / Danielle Demetriou
Images / Courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo & Sandwich Upstairs

Image by Kenta Hasegawa

Image by Kenta Hasegawa

Richard Deacon, Like A Snail B, 1987-96. Image by Kenta Hasegawa

Richard Deacon, Like A Snail B, 1987-96. Image by Kenta Hasegawa

Image by Kenta Hasegawa

Image by Kenta Hasegawa

Art Library for Children. Image by Kenta Hasegawa

Art Library for Children. Image by Kenta Hasegawa

Akio Suzuki, An Encouragement of Dawdling; “Otodate and “no zo mi”, 2018-2019. Image by Kenta Hasegawa

Akio Suzuki, An Encouragement of Dawdling; “Otodate and “no zo mi”, 2018-2019. Image by Kenta Hasegawa

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Architectural Accessories

Pritzker prize-winning architect Kazuyo Sejima transforms Prada’s iconic nylon as part of the fashion house’s SS 2019 collection

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For its Spring/Summer 2019 season, Prada has invited a trio of seminal female architects to create new designs using the brand’s iconic nylon fabric.

The storied Italian fashion house is renowned for experimental collaborations across the creative industries, having collaborated with leading creatives such as industrial designer Konstantin Grcic, filmmaker Wes Anderson and artist Christophe Chemin. Prada’s long history of partnerships outside of the fashion sphere has seen the brand restore Rong Zhai villa in Shanghai and establish Milan’s Fondazione Prada institution and art space to showcase contemporary art. Now, the brand turns to pioneering Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima – along with Cini Boeri Elizabeth Diller – for its latest collaboration.

For several decades Sejima has been at the forefront of her field. She founded SANAA (Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates) in 1995, an architecture and design firm based in Tokyo with fellow architect Ryue Nishizawa. In 2010 she became the first woman ever appointed as director of the architecture sector of the Venice Biennale, and together with Ryue Nishizawa she was awarded the Pritzker Prize, becoming the second woman ever to receive this accolade. Angles and sinuous curves feature throughout Sejima’s oeuvre, as do materials like glass, metal, marble and concrete, and her structures are an interplay with the site’s surroundings and the social use of spaces.

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This second iteration of Prada Invites sees Sejima turning her hand to bag design. The architect has used Prada’s nylon to create two multi-functional handbags that can be worn across the body or over the shoulder. Both the long daln and curved yooo bags are highly functional and versatile while imbuing the whimsical, playful and quirky nature that Prada is known for. The designs also reflect Sejima’s bulbous architecture style, seen most strikingly in the cloud shaped port terminal building on Naoshima Island or the temporary installation of transparent acrylic bubbles at Calligraphy Square in Sharjah in 2013.

‘There is a huge difference between approaching the architecture of a building and designing a fashion item when it comes to production period and working speed, but the process of making a shape from an idea is the same,’ Sejima explains. She was inspired to create something wearable that allowed a degree of personalisation. ‘A bag is something that is always close to your body. At times you end up hugging it, and other time you put it over your shoulder: much like a pet. And because it’s your own “pet”, it was important to be able to personalise the bag – shape, accessories, the way you hold it, the way you use it, and where you take it’.

Text / Babette Radclyffe-Thomas
Images / Courtesy of Prada

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Kyoto Calling

A collection of bijou hotels bolster the city’s status as a design destination

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The ancient city has long been synonymous with temples, teahouses and craftsmanship, but Kyoto is also a hotbed of innovation and contemporary design. Testimony to this? The flurry of small, impeccably designed boutique hotels that have recently opened their doors across the Japanese city.

Their arrival has most likely been fuelled by Kyoto’s soaring visitor numbers and the nationwide hotel boom in the countdown to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. They also reflect a growing appetite among discerning travellers for an intimate experience of the city that goes beyond the confines of more conventional luxury hotel setups.

These mini-hotels – some with just a single guestroom – may vary in style and form, but all offer a unique insight into Kyoto’s flair for combining traditional craftmanship with contemporary design. Here, we round up some favourites.

 
 
Malda Kyoto. © Takeshi Asano. Image courtesy of Malda Kyoto

Malda Kyoto. © Takeshi Asano. Image courtesy of Malda Kyoto

Malda Kyoto

Created and owned by Tokyo architect Nobuyuki Fujimoto, Malda Kyoto opened last November on quiet but central Aneyakoji Street, where it sits in a 48-year-old building behind a clean-lined facade of latticed sugi cedar wood. The seed for its creation may come as some surprise: it’s directly inspired by the works and philosophies of Jurgen Lehl, the late Japan-based German designer famed for his use of organic textiles and sustainable materials.

‘This project aims to be a catalyst for our guests to discover a new way of living – through the space, food, lifestyle products and service, ‘ explains Fujimoto.

A modern, minimalist ambiance threads through the building, which Fujimoto designed alongside architect Shiro Miura, with classic touches ranging from the white shikkui-style plasterwork by Kyoto craftsmen to the noren curtain at the entrance. 

The three guestrooms (each spanning an entire floor) are themed on a single colour, from textiles to wall paints: aka (a rich red), ao (a warm deep blue) and sumi (charcoal grey). In addition to the spacious guestrooms is the ground floor cafe, with its single green wall, abstract teak furniture and hanging glass pendant lights, where delicious vegetarian curries and homemade muffins are served. Even the air has been considered: the hotel uses the fragrance Hakudo, a fusion of Japanese botanical essences created by bespoke olfactory design studio Aoiro Design.

What might be the best feature of all is that guests can recreate the Malda look back at home: countless custom-designed Babaghuri products – from the guestroom textiles to the forest green ceramics – can be bought at the Babaghuri Kyoto store just opposite the hotel.

Malda Kyoto. © Takeshi Asano. Image courtesy of Malda Kyoto

Malda Kyoto. © Takeshi Asano. Image courtesy of Malda Kyoto

Malda Kyoto. © Takeshi Asano Image courtesy of Malda Kyoto

Malda Kyoto. © Takeshi Asano
Image courtesy of Malda Kyoto

Malda Kyoto. © Takeshi Asano Image courtesy of Malda Kyoto

Malda Kyoto. © Takeshi Asano
Image courtesy of Malda Kyoto

 
 
Maana Kyoto. Image courtesy of Maana Kyoto

Maana Kyoto. Image courtesy of Maana Kyoto

Maana Kyoto

A circular clay bathtub made by ceramic craftsmen, a kitchen counter fashioned from traditional lacquerware, simple, curved rattan seating and an angular bonsai tree – plus, of course, Google Home, Wifi and the latest Amadana kitchen appliances. Welcome to Maana Kyoto, a 100-year-old traditional wooden machiya townhouse where traditional craftsmanship and contemporary Japanese design combine with 21st century comforts.

Opened last year, the luxury rental property was masterminded by two friends and former designers Irene Chang, based in Hong Kong and LA, and Hana Tsukamoto, who lives between New York and Kyoto. Inspired by ‘simple but meaningful’ Kyoto life, the pair set out to create a home for visitors that was both ‘comfortable and cosy’ (it is currently the highest-ranking five-star Kyoto hotel on booking.com).

One particularly sharp move was calling on acclaimed Kyoto architect Shigenori Uoya to renovate and design the interiors, which carefully preserve the atmosphere of the original two-storey two-bedroom wooden house in a clean, contemporary way.

Centre stage is the living room, with its tatami mat floor, low rattan seating by Yamakawa Rattan and a minimal table by Kyoto’s Suya pepped up by the abstract, graphic brushstrokes of an artwork by local fabric-dye artist Takeshi Nakajima.

Other highlights include Jasper Morrison-designed Maruni kitchen counter stools; round glass lights by the artisans of Kyoto’s century-old Miura Shomei; the sakura and maple trees in the small garden; and the abstract ikebana in the genkan entrance.

Maana Kyoto. Image courtesy of Maana Kyoto

Maana Kyoto. Image courtesy of Maana Kyoto

Maana Kyoto. Image courtesy of Maana Kyoto

Maana Kyoto. Image courtesy of Maana Kyoto

Maana Kyoto. Image courtesy of Maana Kyoto

Maana Kyoto. Image courtesy of Maana Kyoto

 
 
Kyo no Ondokoro KAMANZA-NIJO. Image courtesy of Kyo no Ondokoro KAMANZA-NIJO

Kyo no Ondokoro KAMANZA-NIJO. Image courtesy of Kyo no Ondokoro KAMANZA-NIJO

Kyo no Ondokoro KAMANZA-NIJO

For fans of the Tokyo-based fashion and textile brand minä perhonen – a blend of quality craftmanship and a Scandinavia-meets-Japan aesthetic – there are few better places to stay in Kyoto than Kyo no Ondokoro KAMANZA-NIJO, opened just last summer.

The wooden machiya townhouse, which dates back 150 years, was designed by minä perhonen founder Akira Minagawa alongside the architect Yoshifumi Nakamura.

The machiya – one of a series of renovated townhouses in Kyoto recently opened by major lingerie company Wacoal – is an airy, contemporary take on a traditional home, sleeping up to four people.

Behind a dark wood lattice facade and tiered grey rooftiles, guests find its comfortable, modern kitchen, simple pendant lighting, aromatic oval-shaped hinoki cypress wood bath and sunny splashes of textiles.

A curved open-plan staircase leads guests to the sleeping areas: the main bedroom with Western-style beds (complete with white fluffy Kyoto Nishikawa bedding), plus a cosy tatami mat room where futons can be unrolled nightly.

In true Kyoto style, the house also overlooks a private garden, which poetically conveys the passing of seasons with its centre-stage 100-year-old plum tree. And to help soak up the Kyoto-with-a-modern-twist atmosphere, there is also a carefully-curated garden library.

Kyo no Ondokoro KAMANZA-NIJO. Image courtesy of Kyo no Ondokoro KAMANZA-NIJO

Kyo no Ondokoro KAMANZA-NIJO. Image courtesy of Kyo no Ondokoro KAMANZA-NIJO

Kyo no Ondokoro KAMANZA-NIJO. Image courtesy of Kyo no Ondokoro KAMANZA-NIJO

Kyo no Ondokoro KAMANZA-NIJO. Image courtesy of Kyo no Ondokoro KAMANZA-NIJO

Kyo no Ondokoro KAMANZA-NIJO. Image courtesy of Kyo no Ondokoro KAMANZA-NIJO

Kyo no Ondokoro KAMANZA-NIJO. Image courtesy of Kyo no Ondokoro KAMANZA-NIJO

 
 
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HOSOO Residence

Hidden down a small alleyway, just south of the Imperial Palace, an off-white noren curtain and lattice door mark the entrance to HOSOO Residence.

The low-key location belies its finely-crafted interior: the renovated machiya is the brainchild of Kyoto-based HOSOO, a pioneering textile company established in 1688, whose products today fuse traditional Nishijin weaving techniques with a raft of contemporary design and luxury fashion collaborations. HOSOO Residence, which opened in the summer of 2017, is an intimate showcase of contemporary Kyoto craftmanship, finely balanced with the original architecture.

Design features include the centre wall, with its striped plasterwork in gently gradated tones of grey, beige and peach; the upholstery in abstract metallic Nishijin textiles; the bespoke curved lounge chair and coffee table by Copenhagen’s OEO Studio; the long, black stone bath overlooking a white gravel garden; the cloud-like white bedding in the upstairs bedroom among the building’s eaves; the small, serene tatami mat room and the tin tea caddies, handcrafted by the artisans of another local cult brand, Kaikado.

HOSOO Residence. Image courtesy of HOSOO Residence

HOSOO Residence. Image courtesy of HOSOO Residence

HOSOO Residence. Image courtesy of HOSOO Residence

HOSOO Residence. Image courtesy of HOSOO Residence

HOSOO Residence. Image courtesy of HOSOO Residence

HOSOO Residence. Image courtesy of HOSOO Residence

 

Text / Danielle Demetriou

Force Majeure

Studio OEO and former noma chef Thomas Frebel blend Japanese and Danish cultures to cook up a lushly refined Tokyo eatery

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Every surface in Inua is so deeply textural or, by contrast, sleekly smooth, so robust or delicate, that visitors can almost feel and taste the restaurant with their eyes: grainy woods, coarse tile, taut leather, chalky plaster, tangled wicker, and paper lanterns that float like moons and clouds. Designed by Copenhagen Studio OEO in Tokyo's Iidabashi district, Inua is a meticulously imagined hybrid of Japanese and Nordic cultures. The restaurant is helmed by Thomas Frebel, a former chef and head of research and development at noma, the 2-Michelin-star restaurant in Copenhagen, famous for its reinvention of Nordic cuisine in tune with the natural world. Referring to the life force that runs through nature, inua is an Inuit word that describes the inspiration for Frebel's menus in three short, easily pronounced syllables: ever-changing like the seasons, rooted in Japan's variegated landscape and wild, local ingredients — and then crafted using international techniques and influences. Just so, OEO designed Inua's interiors to blend the masterful hand-making and sophisticated simplicity of the Japanese with the spare comfort, sculptural pragmatism and warm textures of the Danish, along with both cultures' reverence for nature, natural forms and materials.

The 60-seat, 700-square-metre restaurant, located on the ninth floor of an office tower owned by publisher, film producer and Inua partner, Kadokawa Corporation, takes advantage of the site's virtues and constraints. Accessed via a separate entrance, a corridor leading to the elevator —  lined with plants in glazed ceramic pots, graphical stepping stones and a matte-white 30-metre wall plastered using a traditional Japanese method — immediately draws diners into another world. ‘This transition zone is where you forget where you are,’ says Thomas Lykke, OEO Founder and Head of Design.

‘Thomas’s food is a perfect combination of ingredients, perfectly balanced,’ Lykke says. OEO's interiors, too, draw practical elements (functionality, acoustics, a lush materials palette) and the poetic (light and shadow, contrast, texture, colour) into a single fabric. The pared-down space might have felt cold, but instead exudes a luxuriant warmth in muted warm grey hues, blue, green and burnt clay with darker and lighter shades defining the layout. Even the acoustical ceiling grid, made with Nishijin textile maker HOSOO and inspired by the mathematics and lines of tatami flooring, is a soft tiling of neutral tones. 

OEO collaborated with Japanese artisans to create bespoke artworks and furnishings: from functional wardrobes to the wait station, and a series of dining tables with tops resembling water-worn pebbles softened by time, which complement the Hiroshima and Kamuy chairs by Naoto Fukasawa. But to many Japanese materials and details, the studio applied a Nordic variation, inspired by classical modern Danish architecture from the 1960s and 1970s. ‘We worked hard to integrate inspiration and details from both cultures to make them feel natural and authentic, not artificial and alien,’ Lykke says. ‘Denmark and Japan are closely linked in our way of understanding design.’

OEO paired high-quality Dinesen wood planking with local ash, Hinoki cypress and spruce. Kvadrat's Kinnasand hemp curtains hang beside metalwork in brass, copper and hot-rolled steel, and artwork made from local Uji clay and wood. It is, sometimes, possible to identify the origins of a furnishing or finish, a Japanese artisan or a Danish workshop, and yet one can't always be sure; the space is a broth of unusual clarity.

Text / Shonquis Moreno
Images / Aoki Michinori

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Q&A with Kenya Hara

On a recent trip to Tokyo, Design Anthology sat down for an insightful conversation with venerable design theorist, author and art director of Japanese lifestyle brand MUJI, Kenya Hara

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Exformation — unlearning or unknowing — is the subject of your book. What can we gain from this?

As a graphic designer, I am always creating information. These days there is too much information floating around in the media, but a lot of information is not enough. But these days, people always say “I know, I know," and I don't know why people always say that, because how much do you really know about something? They don't get enough information to really know something, but they always say "I know." We should be worried, we’re being consumed by saying "I know.” We should make people aware how little they really know about a subject. How do you really know about things? If I can make people aware of how little they know about something, they might wake up with more of an interest in something, and I am aware of that. We don’t have to only inform, we can highlight how little is known. We can make things unknown. Making things unknown is a fantastic way to communicate, and it’s a fantastic way to create interest about things. How you create exformation is a lesson in making things uknown. If we can see something as if we were seeing it for the first time, suddenly it becomes new and fresh. That is a type of exformation, and I created this concept with my students at Musashino Art University. I graduated from Musashino, from the Department of Science and Design and then 15 years ago I was asked to teach there. From 2003-2015 we researched the concept of exformation with the graduate-level students. The brain of the student is very soft and flexible, and students always surprised me with their ideas. Every year, together with the students, we would decide on one thing that we would exform. The themes could have been nakedness, or pear, or Tokyo, or air, they were always very different but every year we tried to make a new approach to a subject. I think the experience was fantastic. Then Lars Müller, a Swiss publisher who is a friend of mine, was interested in this project, and he asked me to publish our research in a small book, which I titled Ex-formation. I think that this is a kind of hidden message in my communication design: making people aware of how little we know. This ‘awakening’ plays a very important role in designing.

You speak a lot in the book about people saying “I know, I know,” and collecting facts but not really understanding the subject. How do you feel about technology — is it making the situation worse? Are we just collecting more facts; have we stopped thinking?

Yes, I think so. Too much information stops us from thinking. It’s terrible. AI is terrible I think, although of course AI has great possibilities. I curated a special exhibition at Salone del Mobile with Andrea Brandi in Milan in 2016, ‘Neo-Prehistory: 100 Verbs.’ It was a huge exhibition, and in it we charted a kind of history. History is connected with many aspects such as politics, religion, technology, but I tried to plot history by showing the history of human desire by showing artefacts created by man. Starting at the Stone Age, I combined the artefacts and certain verbs, it became a kind of metaphor for human desire… destroy… kill. And when man created a new tool, a new desire was created, new desire created new artefacts, and new artefacts created a new desire. An artefact of desire combines it all together. And so the Stone Age progressed to the Bronze age, and then the Iron Age — there was progress. The exhibition was a great collaboration between Italy and Japan. We selected important artefacts and verbs, 100 artefacts and 100 verbs. The exhibition revealed a new aspect of human desire, in fact a new situation: we are in the new Stone Age. The Age of Hunt. The hunt creates something, and this period proves that art can change humans. Historically, man created tools and the tools changed the world, but in this new age, tools created by man will change man. We, the humans, will be changed by artificial intelligence. I don't know if it’s right or wrong, but we will change. A new era is coming.

We don’t have to only inform, we can highlight how little is known. We can make things unknown. Making things unknown is a fantastic way to communicate, and it’s a fantastic way to create interest about things.

Do you think globalisation and immigration are changing our intelligence? Are we losing our cultural intelligence by becomingly increasingly homogenous?

I sometimes use the concept of ‘glocal’ — global and local are not opposite concepts, I think. Today is a new age, I call it the ‘new Nomadic Age’. People like you and I are always moving, moving is a new daily thing, it’s not special or unusual anymore. The people who have great influence are always moving. They only stay in one place for a few weeks, and they’re always moving. When they move so much, they can understand the value of locality more and more, and culture is only dependent on locality — there's no global culture. Culture is dependent on locality, so we polish the locality and it contributes to the richness of the global. Global is a context that locality contributes to, and the more the locality is polished and flourishing, the more value it contributes, and so the broader context becomes richer. l think, the age that we live in, in fantastic houses, collecting many fantastic goods, this  rules us. If I want to have good spaghetti, I should go to Milan, but then when I am satisfied with the pasta in Milan, that is when I realise how fantastic Japanese food is. It’s is an important situation, and in this situation, locality should have mean meaning. I think China has created a new situation for the world, there are many possibilities for China, and it’s in a very good position, but it’s not always good. The centre of the world is moving to Asia — to China — I think.

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I'm always talking to the G-Mark people, and of course it’s good to focus on the product design, but a new situation is coming and we should change our concept of, and what we recognise as, good design. The very special words ‘Made in China’ used to be the symbol of fake or poor quality, but now China is striving to transform ‘Made in China' into a symbol of high quality and progress, at least by 2025. I agree with them, it could and should be. Huge numbers of students are going abroad, and they’re learning a lot about today’s world, they get good academic results and work for top companies for three or four years and then go back to China. Students will create new opportunities, new jobs, new services, and join new industries with the help of IT. In China people always use electronic money, they don't use paper money these days, so if you think about the population of China, you can imagine the situation, and how much time it will take them to progress. So that is a very important thing for Japanese people to think about, but the Japanese archipelago is a great very unique landscape, most of the archipelago is mountainous surrounded by the sea, and sea is very delicate and changing. There are hot springs everywhere, and we have very special traditional culture that has existed for more than a thousand years, so we as a country don’t have a very simple situation.

The Chinese have a four-thousand-year history, but the country is divided into smaller regions, and there’s a vast history of conquests and defeats. But Japan is only one country, and its accumulation of culture is expansive, so if we combine technology, aesthetics and historical heritage into a new situation, not only to produce a product but also to create a bind, Japanese people can see a new vision of Japan, besides just China. Speaking about the G-Mark a little more Kazafumi Nagai, the Chairman of the Good Design Awards, created the new concept of a focus issue and the aim of creating this focus issue is to move from productive design to value-making design in a social situation; it is very important. I’m very interested in the areas where new technology, historical heritage and aesthetics combine.

The role of design is to visualise the hidden possibilities of industry.

I noticed on your website that you post some of the topics that you’re thinking about, whether it's travel, or other topics, I thought it was an interesting idea to show people what you are thinking about, and I wondered what is it that you are thinking about now? Is there something on your mind that is important to you?

I'm very interested in new tourism trends. In the next year I will be taking a break from University to explore Japan. On my website I like to share fantastic places or things from around the Japanese archipelago. By using my own words and photos, I can share my small, personal view on the world. This small and personal view is very important.

I am also the general producer of Japan House, run by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which  showcases Japanese culture to people around the world. There is a Japan House in London, São Paulo, and Los Angeles. As I said, Japanese culture is difficult to explain. Most of the time, Japanese people use certain methods to communicate their culture instantly, like Ikebana, wearing a kimono, origami, sushi, and so on. Of course, this is a very brief understanding of Japan, it’s exoticism. But if people can touch the essence, they’ll understand better. Even Japanese people don't know the essence of their culture. When I learned Japanese Ikebana, I was deeply moved. I think in that aspect, most of people have never thought about Japan, only a small group of people know about Japan and have some interest, most people, even us, never think about Japan, but by using the facilities and different experiences in Japan House, I awaken the people to how little they know about Japan. In these spaces, there are also shops selling Japanese items that I selected with a special buyer. We have a 250-square-meter gallery and we select three exhibitions from Japan, and these exhibitions move to São Paulo, Los Angeles, and London. They last two months, and then another two exhibitions are created in each place independently, and the exhibition, as well as individuals from supporting organisations, come from Japan, and in this facility they have a dedicated spaces to host shows and talks, as well as a fine-dining Japanese restaurant. Not just Kaiseki or Sushi, also Teishoku.  Locals in London can have lunch in this restaurant, and the quality very good. In London, there was no Japanese food on Kensington’s High Street. This area is very interesting, there’s a great design culture, and the Design Museum, so we opened our space there in May. The architect of this project was Masamichi Katayama of Wonderwall. In São Paulo, the architect was Kengo Kuma, and in Los Angeles the architect was Kohei Nawa.

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These hubs are very significant, I think, to share information about Japan and Japanese culture. This is the age of the nomad, more and more people are moving around the world, more and more people are coming to Japan, and this is a special time to create a new industry in Japan. Not only to share information, but to consider the more overlooked places in Japan. Kyoto, Nara, Tokyo, those first-tier cities are places of the past now, the second and third tier places are more important, I think. The Kumano Kodō is an old, very special place, the people who visit there have great knowledge about it, even more than the Japanese people who live there now. We have a vast heritage, and we should take better care of it. We should create new systems to cater for more people, of course we need more hotels, more restaurants, but the image of tourism in Japan is cheap, I think. We should ask 'Why?’ Why is Bourdeaux so expensive? In Japan there is a special industry to deal with the language of tourists, but there is no industry to deal with the dynamics of this situation. Most of the Japanese sake is seen as lower value when compared with the quality of Bourdeaux wine. Value is subjective and always changing; it’s not decided, and there is no measurement of these things.

I'm very interested in this, and that is why I created my small website to share and highlight these special aspects of Japan. I'm not a Nationalist, but when I became the art director of MUJI, I made a point to look for Japanese Culture. I avoided using Japanese icons in my design, I don't use Japanese symbols, I cut out everything. My designs are always very minimal, but in that situation, some essence that is inside of myself is a continuation of the Japanese essence. But I like Italian design, I like Chinese design, and their heritage also, and I learned about American technology and the American mindset, but to think about the global situation, actually we should focus on the local situation. As I said, the global and the local is a sense.

What role does design play in society? Do you think the purpose of design has changed in recent history?

The role of design is to visualise the hidden possibilities of industry, and in that context it’s always getting better. The role of the designer is to find a way to identify an organisation or company, or some fantastic shape and forms for functional products or architectural projects. That is the very important role of design, as is branding and product designing, but the world is changing. In this situation, the role of the designer is to visualise the essence of things. As I said, Japanese industry faces a new situation, and in this sitatution creating a fantastic product is of course very important, but it’s not only about creating fantastic products or shapes, but also to visualise more and more possibilities, the hidden possibilities, of the industry. As you know, I created an exhibition called ‘House Vision’ and it’s a very special exhibition. Most people recognise it as an exhibition of new house, so most of the people who visit are very interested in architecture. Of course I am too, but the house is a very important crossing point of many industries like electric, mobile, information and circulation, and to take care of the elder generation. The house is very important. I'm very interested in the important position of industry. I think the house is an important corner stone, because a human cannot diminish its physical body, a human is only a body, the human senses are very important to industry. Japanese people take off their shoes when they enter their houses, the human body in that sense is a very good touch point already. You can learn a lot from that, and to create energy, and to keep energy in the house is very important. How about mobility? Personal mobility, auto-mobility, it all has a deep relationship with houses too, and if we can influence personal spaces the house becomes very important. If we imagine a new house, we can visualise the new situation of industry clearly.

As a designer, people sometimes tell me ‘you are not a designer, you are a producer.’ No, I don’t think so. That is designing.

Today, every possibility has already been imagined and that when a living company and the design combine together, and create one house. It is very influential, I think. I selected a building company and an architect and combined them together, to create the exhibition house. I am only the producer of this exhibition, so I borrowed a very huge space in Odaiba, the same scale as a baseball stadium,  and selected 12 companies to create 12 exhibit houses. I was very excited. The first exhibition was in 2013, the second was in 2016, and the next will be in Beijing this year. I think House Vision can visualise new, hidden possibilities of the industry. This kind of activity is a very important role of the designer, but in today's context it’s very difficult to understand but I'm really interested in that situation. Also, one reason why I’m taking this exhibition to China, the company that is joining this project is a very young company, the age of real estate in China is just concluding, and the new companies that are working in the AI or mobile industry, some co-working offices, many companies in China will join this project. It’s not only the possibilities, but also China is creating many social programmes, the possibility and the programme are from resources of new innovations. Next year, China will be the host. That situation is good for House Vision, I think.

As a designer, people sometimes tell me "you are not a designer, you are a producer." No, I don't think so. That is designing.

As told to / Suzy Annetta
Image / P: Akihito Ito
©️ Hara Design Institute. Nippon Design Center, Inc.

 

hotel koé

Perched on the third floor above an expansive ground-floor cafe and the lifestyle brand’s Shibuya flagship store, hotel koé is the brainchild of SUPPOSE DESIGN OFFICE, responsible for both the architecture and interior design. Inspired by the Japanese tea ceremony, rooms here combine traditional elements with modern sensibility and are sleekly masculine. The property’s 18 rooms vary in size, with the larger options particularly generous by Tokyo standards.  

Issey Miyake Kyoto

Kyoto's first stand-alone Issey Miyake opens in a traditional 132-year-old machiya

Designer Naoto Fukasawa, known for his mastery of modern minimalism, had one thing in mind when tasked with designing Kyoto's first Issey Miyake store — shades of gray. And in particular sumi, the Japanese word describing a traditional hue of charcoal gray. The end result is a clean-lined contemporary store deeply rooted in traditional Japanese aesthetics. Housed in a 132-year-old wooden merchant townhouse known as a machiya with a latticed wooden facade and tiled roof, the shop is set on a quiet Kyoto sidestreet. Inside, visitors will also discover an enclosed interior garden, where an old storehouse has been transformed into a small but perfectly formed gallery.

'Our idea was to make the colour and shape of the clothes stand out by turning the plaster walls, floors, fences and gravel a classical sumi colour,' explains Fukasawa. 'This was less a refurbishment than a restoration. In the parts that had been modernised over the years, we returned to the details of the time of construction as we imagined it.'

The shop — the first standalone Issey Miyake in Kyoto and the 15th in Japan — is a celebration of incremental shades of gray. A simple noren curtain made from natural ramie fibre marks the entrance with a monochrome logo by Katsumi Asaba. Latticed wooden doors slide open to reveal matte gray walls, created by specialist Kyoto craftspeople using charcoal pigment in plaster, alongside raw concrete floors and exposed timber frames.

In a gallery-like display, one wall showcases clothing from Issey Miyake Men and Homme Plissé Issey Miyake (don’t miss the funnel-necked Edge Coat with wide, fluid pleats in deep orange, created exclusively for the Kyoto store), while neat rows of Bao Bao Issey Miyake Bags in a rainbow-bright range of hues hang like pop art paintings on the facing wall. Watches, glasses and wallets are displayed out front in custom-made vitrines.

Kura gallery, however, is the undisputed scene-stealer. Accessed via a slate stone pathway leading to a serene expanse of smooth pebbles in the rear garden, the gallery interior, in contrast, explodes with light and colour. The white walled double-height space is currently home to the bold, bright textiles of the third series of the Ikko Tanaka Issey Miyake collection, with motifs by the late graphic designer.

Perhaps most fittingly, exhibitions at Kura will showcase not only works by Issey Miyake but also the creativity of the surrounding city. 'Kyoto has a capacity for accepting new things,' says Fukasawa. 'I see this store becoming a special place that assimilates the innovative spirit of Issey Miyake.'

Text / Danielle Demetriou

A Home for All

A conversation with Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham architects about how he first came to Japan, what keeps him there and his studio's humanitarian work

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How did you first come to Japan?

It was in 1988. After six years of education I didn’t really want to go straight into an office, and at that time the bubble was blowing up in Tokyo and you’d see all these magazines, all these really great things happening and here I was in London working for SOM on fine arts commissions and town-planning. And it was all very planning-driven. So Astrid [Klein] and I both applied for and won a travel scholarships, so with 2500£ each we went off to Japan for three weeks, then three months and just never really came back.

How did you come to work for Toyo Ito then?

Well we wrote to ten architects before we left, which was a really difficult thing to do back then because there wasn’t any internet and it took forever to find peoples’ addresses and write to them. In the end, what happened was that someone at SOM knew David Chipperfield, who at the time was doing a project in Japan, so that’s how we started to piece it all together — from a lunch with David Chipperfield we began to piece together some business cards and different things ... it’s so different today how you do this!

So that was a struggle, and we sent out portfolios to everyone and no answer, nothing came back. It was definitely a language barrier issue, but our friend told us to just tell them what day and at what time we would ring up, and it’s scary, but we also had nothing to lose. And we saw everyone — we saw Isozaki, we saw Kenzō Tange’s office, we saw Fumihiko Maki. Everybody found time to meet with us — isn’t that amazing! That would never have happened in the West.

So we met Toyo Ito and he said he had a project to show us and we ended up getting an interior project. We’d just graduated the royal college of art, come to Japan and Ito-san sort of just gave us this job. So we had our own project within the office.

How old were you at the time?

Twenty-four. But at that point, no one really knew who Toyo Ito really was. I mean, we’d seen White u and Silver Hut and the Tower of Winds — they were the three projects that we knew. It was very difficult to work in the office then with the language barrier, but we just had to get our project done.

Do you speak Japanese now?

[says something indiscernible in Japanese] It’s ninety per cent now.

We do run the office in Japanese, but with a lot of overseas clients, we do make sure everyone in the office has a certain proficiency in English.

How long did you stay working with Toyo Ito?

Basically about three years. And then we had a lucky break. Someone offered us a job renovating a building, which they don’t normally do in Japan, but they felt that because we’re British, we’d be quite good at renovating and it was quite a large project. And off we went. That particular client was a guy called Kurisaki-san, who was also employing Zaha Hadid at the time. That was the first thing that really got us going then, in 1996.

But 1996 is still twenty years ago, and you’ve decided to stay in Japan since. What’s it like having a practice in Japan? What is it that keeps you there and what do you love about it?

There’s a general positivity and openness to newness. Everyday you’ll see something new or inventive; they like new things. Take Kit Kat for example. I have a Kit Kat collection and I must have one hundred and fifty different flavours by now: apple, pineapple, sakura blossom and even regional flavours and sake flavours. It’s that newness, whereas the Kit Kat never changed in England.

So when we want to use a new material in Japan, everyone gets super excited about it, whereas in the West, if it’s not been used before everyone’s a bit scared. But in Japan, it’s like ‘No one’s used it — let’s have a go!’. That’s the difference. And you see that a lot, everyone’s trying out new things.

Can you tell us a bit about your Home for All Project?

We’ve built fourteen homes in Kumamoto, where they had an earthquake and tsunami a year and half ago. The government had originally built seventy houses, and then we came in and built these sort-of acupuncture points all around, all on our own without any governmental support. Now the government has come to us and said, ‘Can you build the remainder of the four thousand homes?’ The government is paying for the construction and of course we’ve done the design for free. We got some younger architects as well now to work on those, which is really cool.

The key thing is that the architecture really does make a difference. It gives a sense of pride and the people feel less forgotten about. People come and look at the building and hang out and have a drink and there’s a whole community that’s being built around the architecture. It’s like the Bilbao effect but much more localised — and modest.

It’s fun while not shouting. We try to keep all the egos out of the project. And that’s why it took us a long time. We waited to be invited by the community because this wasn’t meant to be about us, and a bit of healing need to go on with before you could come in — over two hundred kilometres of coast were wiped out.

But through this all, this positivity has come out of it. All these towns are sort of bustling and there’s a lot of interest in these centres. It’s almost like pruning a rose — somehow out of this all this new life has appeared. So people are moving back and now there’s some small art communities popping up and other architects are doing interesting work there.

And now the local government has finally gotten around to building new homes, away from the danger of the Tsunami planes, but people don’t want to move out of the Home for All. They kinda like them! They’ve hung out there and it’s their new community.

As told to / Jessica Vahrenkamp


Tokyo Seeds

A group of international designers explore new directions for Tokyo's iconic JR Yamanote line

Tokyo may be a dizzying sprawl of a megalopolis but there is perhaps one useful tool that helps make sense of its geography and hold it all together — the iconic green JR Yamanote train line that loops around the city in a circle. The train line threads together a string of key neighbourhoods, from the retail neon of Shibuya to the cultural landmarks of Ueno, stopping at 29 stations which collectively offer a microcosm of contemporary life in Tokyo. Its operator JR East recently tapped into the symbolic status of the circular JR Yamanote train line with the launch of Tokyo Seeds — its first ‘Designers in Residence’ programme.

For the programme, eight multi-disciplinary designers were invited to Tokyo from around the world — United States, Argentina, Indonesia, Egypt and Singapore among them — with expertise and specialisations ranging from graphics and branding to strategy. The creatives spent several days travelling the entire loop by train as well as bicycle before splitting into groups to explore on foot the various neighbourhoods that surround the line. And after dark, their city explorations continued with accommodation ranging from capsule hotels to homestays.

The journey exposed the designers not only to the diverse geography and communities that can be found across the capital, but also tapped into the cultural layers of a city famed for fusing the traditional with the cutting-edge. Thus, they visited classically contrasting sites such as the historic Meiji Jingu shrine, Harajuku’s Kawaii Monster Cafe, artisan coffee shop Blue Bottle in Shinagawa, art supply hub Pigment at Warehouse Terrada and local sento baths.

Participants then presented to JR a series of creative proposals that highlight the train line’s traditional values even as it heads into the future, stretching far beyond its everyday function for transportation and retail.

Among them was Xinying, a Singapore-based designer who proposed a project called Yamanote House, which aims to connect the train line’s diverse communities, bringing together people, stories and their shared experiences. ‘My role in the programme feels less like a traditional graphic designer, where we receive official design briefs from the client and then propose a design solution,’ reflects Xinying. ‘It felt more like a hybrid of both a graphic designer and design researcher where we go out to experience, research and understand the context of the project before crafting our own brief.’

One defining quality of the Tokyo Seeds project was its abstract nature, with it very much evolving in an organic way from the moment the designers arrived, outcome undefined. Participant Wing Lau, a Sydney-based designer, highlighted how the undefined nature of the initial briefing gave way to an abundance of inspiring creative experiences. ‘The question “Can design change the world?” is an on-going debate — but someone has to take action to start shaking things up amongst us,’ says Lau, who proposed a sound-and-music based project called PLAYAMANOTE. ‘I believe all eight of us have planted some seeds with JR East.’

Text / Danielle Demetriou
Images / Junichi Takahashi

Good Design Award 2017
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It’s a crisp autumn day in Tokyo – the perfect autumn day, in fact. The kind that’s made for curling up with a book and a cup of tea if you’re feeling indoorsy, or gallery hopping if you’re not. At the Good Design space in the neighbourhood of Marunouchi, the latter is precisely what people are doing – milling around and taking in the latest exhibition. The showcase is a selection of shortlisted entries for this year’s Good Design Award programme.

The award, which began by promoting Japanese ingenuity in product design, is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. More than 44,000 projects or products have been bestowed with the G Mark in that period of time, essentially representing the best of Japanese design since the Second World War. But these days it’s not just Japanese design taking home a coveted trophy – the entries this year were submitted from a total of 44 nations, with a quarter coming from Asia.

The programme has always operated with the mission of promoting and educating the wider public about how and why design can contribute to and improve everyday life. But this year it’s gone one step further by placing an emphasis on social issues: according to chairman Kazufumi Nagai the judging panel, consisting of 82 professional designers hailing from various disciplines and nations, focused on innovations that can help serve future society.

The judges, who included Muji’s creative director Kenya Hara and architect Gary Chang from Hong Kong, were tasked with the difficult decision of shortlisting 100 of the best entries from the original 4,495 submissions, and an even more difficult task of nominating one Grand Award winner.

This year’s Grand Award came down to the line, a tie leading to a tense re-vote between a micro leadless pacemaker by Medtronic and a new wind instrument by Yamaha called Venova. In the end, the pure joy elicited with, and the accessibility of, the latter came out on top. While it’s the size of a recorder and weighs in at only 180 grams, the instrument sounds much more like a saxophone. It’s the result of ten years of research and development, the help of computer simulations and a dedicated team of designers.

Each year the best 100 designs are exhibited to the public, in keeping with the award’s ethos. If you by chance miss out, award-winning products can be purchased from the nearby Good Design Store, a newly designed space by Nohara. Another lovely way to spend an autumn afternoon.

Liam Mugavin

Sydney-based designer Liam Mugavin was commissioned to create bespoke furniture for Australia House, Urada in Niigata Prefecture’s Tōkamachi city. As a symbol of recovery from the 2011 earthquake, the building focuses on environmental sustainability and protection from natural disaster. Since its construction, the house has primarily been a place for cultural exchange between Australia and Japan, where in-house artists produce and exhibit their work.

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Each piece of Mugavin’s furniture works in relation to different aspects of the house, its architecture, location, community and the larger cultural context. Three unique designs — the Tangle Table, Echigo Sugi Table and the Gonbei Bench — pay homage to the local history as well as contemporary trends in Australian architecture.

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Made from Tasmanian oak, the Tangle Table is an apt example of the merge between Japanese and Australian designs. Inspired by the triangular architectural shapes of the Australia House, the table complements the building’s unique structure, and can be found sitting harmoniously in an acute angle of the building.

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With the use of local Japanese cedar from the nearby mountains, the Echigo Sugi Table is simple in design, but is ‘abstracted from the geometry of surrounding rice fields and provides an analogy of Urada as a community’, according to the designer. The timber finishings are done with sugi yaki, a traditional Japanese technique involving charring the timber.  Coincidentally, this technique has seen increasing usage in Australian architecture.

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The Gonbei Bench reflects the collaboration between the designer and the local people. Made from timber from neighbour Gonbei-san’s farmhouse, which fell after the earthquake, the outside bench  pays homage not only to the farmhouse, but also to the local craftspeople and traditional Japanese carpentry.

Text / Kristy Kong


The Hiramatsu
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For the ultimate Japanese escape, try the new luxury seaside onsen resort The Hiramatsu in Atami. Designed by acclaimed hospitality designers Glamorous, the hotel recedes into the landscape to feature a pure sky-and-sea experience for guests. A rooftop infinity pool in black stone reinforces this, while inside the interiors are opulent, with soft lighting, plush linens and black granite onsens as the focal point of each suite looking out towards the sea. Traditional Japanese dining facilities are available, so there’s no need to venture far as you indulge in ultimate relaxation.

Suiran
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In the former imperial capital of Japan, a new luxurious ryokan-style hotel  with a storied past is now open. Suiran is The Luxury Collection's first property in Japan and occupies part of the grounds of Tenruji Temple (literally 'temple of the heavenly dragon'), a World Heritage site that formerly housed a traditional ryokan used by the Japanese government to entertain honourable guests. The property's 39 luxuriously appointed and capacious guestrooms, inspired by traditional ryokan-style accommodations, feature traditional motifs and a subdued colour palette, intended to highlight, above all else, each room's unparalleled vistas that changes with each passing season, from the lush verdure of summer to the bright tapestry of foliage on show each autumn.

Two of the site's original structures have undergone extensive renovations and now house the property's dining options, including the fine-dining Kyo Suiran and more casual, cafe-style Saryo Hassui.

Located in the Arashiyama district, the property enjoys a calming riverside location and after a long day of exploring the many cultural and historical sites of Kyoto, guests can enjoy a rejuvenating plunge in the hotel's open-air mineral spa before sitting back to take in the sweeping views of the surrounding Arashiymama hills.

To learn more about Suiran or to make a booking, visit its website here.

Japanese Simplicity

Shinichiro Ogata is a designer who transcends categorisation, yet a vision combining traditional Japanese aesthetics with a modern sensibility permeates all of his projects, from interior design to restaurateuring and product design.