From 24th October to 3rd November 2015, Tokyo Design Week celebrated its 30th anniversary with the biggest and most spectacular show ever. Granted, it was only my second time at Japan’s most important design trade show but the whole event was on a much bigger scale than in 2014, with a number of new exhibition sections. This year they also had a central festival/food tent which hosted live bands, DJ sets and other events. I was lucky enough to catch a gig by Japanese indie band Noodles and became a fan straight away.
Amongst my favourite shows this year was the Robot Inspired Exhibition (featuring famous android girl Asuna, a robot band and some seriously intriguing examples of 3D facial and motion capturing!). The Schools Exhibition – young designers from different Asian design institutes and universities – was also very worthwhile. And then there is Creative Life: the main TDW exhibition in which brands and companies from all over the world present their take on how we might live, communicate and interact in the future.
Living the creative life
My TDW tour started in the main Creative Life tent. On the right hand side next to the entrance was the 100 Creators Exhibition: a sort of table-top show for new designers. Each artist had 1 sq m to present his or her work. I liked Tokyo Darumania, a display of Tokyo-inspired Daruma heads – Daruma are traditional Japanese good-luck dolls – which featured dolls decorated with a variety of foods, including traditional delicacies like sushi and sashimi and modern-day favourites like fries or gelato.
I was also intrigued by the work of Hiragana Accessories, a jewellery design label which creates delicate gold earrings, necklaces and bracelets in the shape of Japanese hiragana characters (hiragana is the one of the three Japanese scripts). However, my favourite display amongst the 100 Creators was The World of Textures by Eiji Yoshida. Yoshida’s display showed square tiles with differently textured surfaces. Beautiful.
Next to the 100 Creators was the exhibition stand of Seoul Design Foundation – which also runs the Dongdaemun Design Plaza I had visited in Seoul! They were a first-time exhibitor at TDW; I read that in 2015 the association also participated in Beijing Design Week and European design trade show Maison & Objet. Obviously Seoul Design Foundation is increasing its efforts to showcase and promote Korean design and creativity internationally.
And here we are already in the middle of the Creative Life exhibition! I loved the stand of J-Collabo: J+B Design, a non-profit organisation based in Brooklyn (US), is dedicated to promoting arts and crafts from different Japanese prefectures. At TDW J+B Design showcased 12 brands from relatively unknown areas in Japan.
Ikiji from Sumida ward in Tokyo is a fashion label formed by four companies: they create apparel, clothes and accessories with a modern interpretation of traditional Japanese edo style. Taketora from Kochi was founded in 1894 and makes accessories and household items from bamboo. They use a particular type of bamboo that only grows in Suzaki city in Kochi prefecture –it has a beautiful tiger-striped pattern.
Ikeuchi Organic from Imabari was founded in 1953 and produces environmentally friendly cotton towels while Aoki Kogei manufactures silk products in Kiryu province: they showed silk stoles with different threads and weaves. Amaike Textile from Nanao makes 27-micro polyester organza thread which is described as the lightest and thinnest fabric in the world – I immediately coveted their beautiful slinky printed scarf! – and Nuno Anuene from Kobe sells jacquard fabric items like coasters and little square boxes and fabrics.
Hisatsune Studio from Ishikawa prefecture also works with fabrics; the company makes household items from kaga yuzen-dyed silk– a 500-year-old Japanese dying technique which utilizes five basic colours (crimson, indigo, ocher, dark green and royal purple). And Chizakawa Lace, founded in 1901 in Motomachi in Yokohama, creates beautiful lace items, stoles, purses and handkerchiefs.
Circular design, interactive games and pineapple cake!
I was impressed by the exhibition stand of Tokyo Designer Gakuin College: The Interior Design Department showed several student projects which were presented inside large metal circles: you stick your head into the tube and the designs are on eye-level – unusual and very effective.
One of the main themes of TDW 2015 was “Interactiveness” – and there were a number of digital/tech companies and brands which presented eye-catching interactive projects. Ray Corporation, for example, showcased its Ball-Sensing motion-tracking project: imagine a very large screen with a background simulation of ghosts popping up all over the place. Visitors were invited to throw a soft ball at the screen to hit the ghosts. Motion sensors and a special algorithm calculate the trajectory of the ball: if you hit the ghosts, they explode. Very popular amongst the younger visitors of Tokyo Design Week!
A similar project is Hakoniwa from Daisy. Again, this was a very large screen with a video game simulation. You stand in front of the screen and when your image appears inside the video sequence, cameras track the movement of your body and an algorithm (I assume!) translates certain moves (like kicking or punching the air) into a corresponding superhero type move on the screen: kick a fire ball or throw a car across the room.
Sunnyhills, a Taiwanese cake shop and bakery which opened in 2013 in Tokyo’s trendy Omotesando area, were present with a great speciality coffee stand. The company had commissioned Hong Kong-based coffee roaster The Coffee Academics to create a special Tokyo blend to go with their signature pineapple cakes. Both of which you could buy at the stand. I rather like Taiwanese pineapple cake so I bought a set and the coffee really complemented the cakes beautifully.
The Creative Life exhibition also had a special “Homage to Ukiyo-e” section in which modern artists presented their interpretation of traditional ukiyo-e (Japanese wood block prints) motifs. Around the corner from the Ukiyo-e exhibition was Nishino’s Design café – an eye-catching refreshment and networking area – and another special section: Regional Design in Japan.
In this part of the exhibition, a number of Japanese prefectures – including Kumamoto, Ishigaki-Yaeyama, Sapporo and Sendai – showed their most distinctive local designs. My absolute favourite in this area was Ko-Tone: Invisible Design Lab from Fukuoka had created a gigantic spiral wooden “forest of xylophone”: you drop little wooden balls into the top slot and they trickle down harmoniously; a melody like raindrops on wooden slates. Spell-binding.
Directly opposite was the big Architectural Models exhibition “Breathing Architecture”: the futuristic and innovative building models included contributions by four of the most renowned Japanese architects: Toyo Ito, Kengo Kuma, Sou Fujimoto and Shimizu Corporation. Check out Sou Fujimoto’s spectacular Skyscraper Forest in the pic below!
Toyo Ito was represented with a model of Taichung’s National Theatre model, a building complex which includes three adjoining theatres that are connected by curved, organic-looking structures. And Kengo Kuma’s Botanical Pavillion has a wooden roof that looks like it is made from a bamboo sushi rolling mat!
Fashion design, android girl Asuna and a robot band!
Like last year, a number of festival sections such as the Young Creators and the Schools Exhibition took place in separate tents which adjoined the main Creative Life exhibition. I particularly liked the fashion design exhibits: the young designers who showed their creations in the exhibition worked with very different fabrics. Kenjo Kawasumi cuts patterns into foam clothes (you can see him in the picture below!), Satoru Sasaki’s designs are inspired by African tribal prints and Kasumi Ohta’s “pop-up fashion” features flaps, pockets and trims that are can be lifted like the flaps in a pop-up book.
My absolute favourite at this year’s TDW, however, was the robotics exhibition! There were actually two robot sections: Super Interactive & Robot Museum and Robot Inspired Exhibition. A great mixture of interactive, decorative and high-tech robotics designs. Check out Muneji Fuchimoto’s Origami Robots in the picture below! And Robot Ping-Pong Racket Art (above) shows a series of ping-pong paddles painted and decorated by some of the world’s most famous illustrators.
I also loved the exhibit of Hebocon, “The Robot Contest for Technically Ungifted People”. Unlike “normal” robot combat competitions which feature high-tech fighting robots, Hebocon robots are built by non-engineers. There were little robots made from plastic bottles, from felt, old Barbie dolls, cardboard…the robot creations you see at Hebocon battles can barely move (which of course is the whole point!). They showed this short documentary: small, weird and bumbling robots bumping into each other and promptly falling over…it was incredibly funny and the visitors who were standing around this exhibit were giggling non-stop. Low-tech robotics!
And then there was the polar opposite of Hebocon robots: android girl Asuna. Created by Tadashi Shimaya from A-Lab, Asuna looks just like a typical Japanese girl. She doesn’t move, sits at the edge of the stage – but she responds to spoken phrases, focuses on the person addressing her, turns her head to follow your movement, blinks her eyes, moves her lips…impressively life-like and ever so slightly creepy.
Toei Zukun Laboratory showed its Facial Capturing project: The test person wears a special headset which tracks and records facial expressions and creates 3D images. The company does a lot of work for computer games and anime productions. Next to Toei Zukun was Avatta, a scanning company. According to Avatta that they scan everyone and everything – persons, cars, building, pets or objects – and use these scans to create digital avatars.
At TDW they presented their technical set-up: a swivel seat in the middle of a multitude of cameras which record the exact shape of the person or object and create an almost perfect image. Facial scanning is done with 40 cameras, body scanning requires almost twice the number, 84 cameras. There was a short documentary about the scanning process and the end result – fascinating.
I also liked MMI (Musical Mechanical Instruments), a “machine band” created by Tomoaki Yanagisawa from Rhizomatiks and Kimura from Tasko – see picture above! And Tokyo University of Arts graduate Aki Inomata showed a rather cool project: “Why not hand over a “shelter” to a hermit crab?”. With a 3D printer, Inomata created miniature cityscapes which she offered as a temporary shell to hermit crabs. There was a little aquarium with a live hermit crab that was carrying a little transparent city shell.
The Asia Awards Schools Exhibition is always a highlight. This year I was particularly intrigued by the graduate projects displayed by students of the Department of Industrial Design, KAIST from Korea.
Sun-Ticker by Hoyoung Lee, for example, is a UV indicator patch which can be applied to products, clothing or to the skin as a tattoo; it changes colour once sun exposure exceeds a certain time period. And Veri-Pen is the invention of Jihoon Suh: a digital identification pen which also won the K-Design Award 2015. The pen combines fingerprint recognition (from the hand that grips it) with signature recognition – biometric technology to enhance digital identification.
S.Lamp from Seehon Jung is a anglepoise lamp which scans sketches and the creates 3-D images. Nail Pets are fingernail patches to discourage children from biting fingernails. Designed by Gyuho Han, the nail pets are decorated with animal face designs to give the kids a visual feedback: initially it features a smily design. Once the tip is bitten off, however, the face changes into a frowny face. And Felix Shin’s Tag Radar are small radio frequency tags that can be attached to gadgets, laptops etc. and help the user to locate these devices via a smartphone app.
There was plenty to see outside of the exhibition tents, too. The outdoor exhibits are some of the most interactive (and playful) sections of TDW; very popular with the many children who visited Tokyo Design Week with their parents. And of course Tokyo Design Week 2015 wasn’t just confined to the main exhibition site near Meiji-Jingumae shrine in Shibuya (TDW’s traditional location since 2005): as part of the show, many Tokyo design stores, cafés and galleries were putting on special events and exhibitions. Truly an action-packed design festival!