Japan's product design has always closely mirrored current issues. An example is the nation's increasing environmental awareness and ageing population, factors that have to be taken into consideration in any account of contemporary Japanese society. This broad social backdrop to the field of design has given rise to the paradigms of ˇČuniversal design", which seeks to make products as widely usable as possible, and "ecological design" incorporating environmental concerns. Japanese design is also characterized by whether products are kawaii (cute), emphasising their softness and gentleness.

This trend can be seen in a wide range of products in recent years, from notepads to cars. These products owe their existence to a combination of technological revolution - progress in digital technology and the fusion of this with traditional analogue technology - and the distinctive Japanese approach to craft, involving attention to detail, discrimination in selection of materials, the pursuit of functionality and efficiency, and conceptual flexibility. These factors have combined to produce refined designs that consider both the people using them and the natural environment.

Beauty and universality - Mingei

One influence on modern Japanese design was the Mingei (Folk Crafts) Movement as espoused by philosopher Muneyoshi Yanagi in the 1920's. The movement emphasised the pursuit of practical beauty as well as the universal appeal of everyday craftwork design. Moreover, its impact was not confined to Japan. For example, British potter Bernard Leach was greatly influenced by the movement. After studying under pottery master Shigekichi Urano, he set up the Leach Pottery in 1920 in St. Ives, Cornwall, UK, with Japanese potter Shoji Hamada. The Leach Pottery is currently being restored.


Text by Masafumi Fukagawa (Curator, Kawasaki City Museum)


Copyright 2007 - Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan

Maoto Fukasawa
Kanae Tsukamoto
Tokujin Yoshioka
Naoko Hirota