My passion for the visual and performance arts can be traced to my early years of discovery and has been nurtured by ongoing exposure and appreciation for the creative genius of artists and designers throughout Japan. In addition to what I refer to my Hagi moment, I vividly recall many trips to the Tokyo National Museum in my youth and standing in front of massive free-standing folding screens (byobu) and sliding panel doors (fusuma) in utter amazement. Having studied Japanese calligraphy and the power of the brush both formally in class and informally in my studio, I was impressed with the manner in which artists created the illusion of space and depth and most importantly how they reinforce the philosophy that less is in fact more. 

I have selected several noted Japanese designers to showcase not only their incredible design prowess and how they lead the way in the arts, but to also show how their visions have literally revived traditional Japanese enterprises that would have otherwise disappeared in the modern age. Where possible I have also included links for your consideration if you can to delve deeper into the minds of these talented individuals and groups.

ABOVE │ Pine Trees by Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610)
Pair of six-folded screens, ink on paper (right hand screen) 
Tokyo National Museum


The recipient of numerous international design awards, Tokujin Yoshioka was born in Saga Prefecture in 1967. After graduating from design school in Tokyo, he studied under designer Kuramata Shiro (1987-1988) and then worked for Issey Miyake until 1992. It was during this time with the famous fashion designer that Tokujin Yoshioka excelled as a designer in his own right and started to freelance and ultimately open his own firm. Today you will find him busy at work in the areas of art, architecture, design, and fashion. I have included his official website below which beautifully catalogs his design work over the years.

ABOVE │ Installation Sensing Nature, Mori Art Museum 2010 

Transformational Public Spaces

As a person of the hospitality industry, I am always on the lookout for designers who are able to transform public spaces into something magical. When I learned that the old Park Hotel in Kyoto was about to be transformed, I had my doubts as the actual physical structure had its limitations. On top of this the Hotel is in a neighborhood of historical significance thereby makes major changes to the building next to impossible. 

The Hyatt Regency Kyoto feels like a brand new hotel. There are traces of the old Park Hotel (if you look hard enough and know what to look for), but the new feel and sense of intimate comfort is due in part to the design team at Super Potato. At the core of their design philosophy is the importance put on traditional Japanese materials and sense of space which has proven to be timeless for generations and the key for success. Whether you are downstairs in the Japanese restaurant Touzan or at the Grill in the main lobby area, you feel as though you are in Japan. Many hoteliers miss this aspect of the guest experience and though they may have extraordinary luxury and comfort, they could be in London, New York or Peoria, Illinois for that matter.

To get a sense of the difference of the rooms at the Hyatt Regency Kyoto, take a look at the difference (I was able to find pictures of the old Park Hotel guest rooms). 

 Before  After


Nuno: Living Textiles

I consider Sudo Reiko a visionary on so many levels. As an artist, she has the creative ability to see the potential of something so profoundly ordinary as cloth. In Japan, where the kimono has served as the traditional costume of the people for centuries, the need for specialized textiles has been essential and artisans have flourished in Kyoto and in other parts of the country. However, with the popularity and functionality of Western-style clothing in the modern world, the kimono has been relegated to special occasions and worn primarily at weddings, funerals and other events. Traditional kimono textiles were no longer an essential part of daily life in Japan and many of the artisans were forced to close their enterprises. 

Nuno, which means "fabric or cloth" in Japanese, was established in Tokyo in 1984. Over the years Nuno has produced thousands of original and innovative textiles, many of which have been selected for exhibitions around the world including NY MoMA (1998-1999). Perhaps one of the most dramatic examples of Nuno at work in a public space is the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Tokyo (above image - street level lobby). Here Sudo-san using the metaphor of the hotel as a tree and uses textiles from the moment you enter the carport and lower lobby to the pillows on the guest room beds. 

Washi as Architecture

I will never forget my first viewing of Horiki Eriko's traditional Japanese washi paper at her showroom in Kyoto. It was pure magic. Panels of paper came sliding across the room and with just the slightest change in the lighting, the paper would come to life. Life Sudo Reiko, Horiki Eriko is another true visionary artist and businesswoman who saw the traditional paper making industry at near extinction in Fukui Prefecture and did something about it. Formerly a banker, she embarked on a journey where now she creates washi as architecture which can now be seen in homes, offices and shopping centers in Japan and around the world.

ABOVE │ Washi Installation at Tokyo Midtown Retail Complex

Japanese street culture and fashion

For the very, very latest in fashion in Japan, I suggest you hit the pavement and get lost in the amazing designs presented at Japanese Streets - check it out!

KATACHI by Iwamiya Takeji

There are numerous books on Japanese design, but Katachi captures through black and white and color photography the unwritten beauty of the subject. I see new things with each and every opening of this book. The author Iwamiya Takeji (1920-1989) was one of Japan's foremost photographers and a professor at Osaka University of Arts. His many published books and exhibitions explored subjects including gardens, images of the Buddha, and traditional Japanese motifs.

Untranslatable, the word katachi signifies the essence of Japanese design: the form, symmetry, and workmanship of traditional craft. Embodying the marriage of beauty and functionality that is the key to the Japanese aesthetic, the objects presented in Katachi are made of materials that have played an important role in Japanese life for centuries: wood, bamboo, stone, fiber, metal, earth. The photographs, in black and white and color, showcase pieces ranging from exquisite geometric stone carvings and architecturally elegant shoji screens to such humble yet perfectly conceived objects as combs, sandals, rakes, and teapots. Twenty years in the making, photographer Takeji Iwamiya's masterwork is a lovingly rendered tribute to these objects and the culture they sprang from. Japanese concepts of shape and form have been a major influence on contemporary design throughout the world, and this eloquent collection will appeal to designers as much as to connoisseurs of Japanese art and culture. 

For more information on the book, just click the book cover above. For additional sources of literary inspiration, consider the books in my TOKU10 Carousel. 
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