Where conversation and design are wrapped in custom alike
As a New Zealander, I have always felt that our national identity has been somewhat prescriptive, fed from 1970s retro Kiwiana which emerged as the country took a decisive push away from the Crown. However, New Zealand is within a period of change, and our narrative and national identity is becoming a much more refined reflection of where our society has moved to.
Our indigenous people, their stories, their language, their artwork, the culture - are important facets of who we all are as New Zealanders, and their contribution is integral in defining our national identity.
When I discovered that the Dulux DIAlogue tour was headed for Tokyo, I knew I had to apply. There would be many learnings that I could absorb and appropriate, and explore how these could be applied to my thinking about the direction of our own cultural integration. Japan has always been on my radar as a place and a culture that seamlessly integrates old world tradition in contemporary environments. There is a strong sense of identity within their design work and they understand how tradition can be wrapped within the process to help inform and refine their output.
Upon arriving in Tokyo, it didn’t take long for these characteristics to surface. However, it was apparent that there was a much deeper integration of custom across all facets of life. A simple question and conversation with locals was continually funnelled to follow a complex process of ‘who we are, where we come from, and establishing if there is a more appropriate superior to discuss our query with’ – you get the idea. There was always a protocol to follow, or tasks had a strong sense of mechanical methodology - whether it be exchanging business cards, or exploring forms within their design studios.
Tokyo is also a city that immediately engages your senses. It is incredibly overwhelming both visually and aurally and makes simple outings feel like feature films. I went in search of coffee on my first morning and ended up spending an hour at a traditional Japanese Tea house in the centre of Shinjuku.
Whilst the tea itself was fantastic, it was the authentic presentation of the space, the process of preparing the tea and having custom wrapped into all elements, making for a memorable experience.
Our walking tour of the Omotesando district was also a highlight; we explored the boutique stores of the back streets and the luxury shops of the high streets. The air-conditioned interior spaces were also welcomed as we wandered in the 43 degree heat. The building landscape was unfamiliar, and significantly different to that back home. There is a sensitivity to form and materials that doesn’t feel overworked. The delicacy with textures is incredibly effective, and it was refreshing to see large commercial buildings stripped of superfluous ornamentation and reliant on simple tiled patterns and colours. The obsession with simplicity and order is apparent, and it is not uncommon for building owners to ask contractors to remove stone tiles if the natural patterns are displeasing or too contrasting. Signage, however, was a different story. It seems that all the effort that goes into aligning their buildings with Zen principals, are then countered with the layers of graphic material and tenancy signage – each building trying to out-do the next. This makes for an overwhelming visual appearance by day, but it really brings the streets alive at night time.
As well as visiting the iconic spaces of Tokyo, we were also treated to studio visits with some well-known Japanese interior and furniture designers. One of the first on our list was Jin Kuramoto, an internationally renowned designer with a studio in the Meguro district. Jin has a very calm and considered demeanour and spent an hour walking us through his design process and the influences within his work. The focus on craft and model making was a recurring theme across our Tokyo studio visits, although Jin really took this to another level. He believes that ‘new creations are born by accident’, so testing forms with cardboard and foam inform a lot of new ideas within his practice. 3D printing and digitisation of his work doesn’t occur until the very last step before he presents to clients. Jin also spoke with passion about his desire to breathe life into traditional Japanese craft within the manufacturing process. The craftsmen have a great deal of pride with their work and Jin is actively seeking opportunities for them to bridge the gap with the commercial realities of the market.
It was great to understand how he is not only protecting the generations of tradition, but wrapping them into process and is giving them a new relevance.
The whirlwind three days in Tokyo saw us visit 7 exhibitions, 7 studios, countless stores and public spaces, and amass over 50km in walking (yes, we were counting steps). The visit has given me a deeper understanding and an appreciation of how proud the Japanese are of their culture, and why it is important for them to filter tradition into all components of their design and process. Their unique custom and way of life contribute to their strong identity, which is why Tokyo is regarded as one of the great cultural capitals of the world. I will be back, there is much more to see.
In the Press
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