7 March 2017

Hello Kitschy: Japan is the ultimate experience, by design

Japan is a country of contrast. It’s a place where an ancient temple and a skyscraper can stand side by side and neither is out of place. Where history and modernity merge. Where kitsch and minimalism share shelves.

Somehow this blend of simplicity, innovation, kitsch and subculture forms an identity that fuses Japan’s ancient traditions and customs. An example is matcha tea, part of the Japanese tea ceremony for centuries and now often used to flavour and dye foods including traditional soba noodles (not to mention ice cream, muffins and KitKats.)

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In Japan it’s not uncommon to see a salary man with a Hello Kitty phone, or a grandma wearing high top Adidas sneakers. This mishmash of traditional/conservative and modernity has always fascinated me. I’ve never quite understood how the kitsch and the minimal could somehow represent a whole country so equally and be so dissimilar when standing alone.

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Anyone who goes to Japan is in for a visual feast of contrasts and unusual combinations. As a graphic designer, a visit to Japan is not only a challenge to the design principles that I’ve always been taught at school and university, but a source of constant visual inspiration; a lesson that design doesn’t have to always be pretty or seamless to resonate.

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Beyond Hello Kitty and cherry blossoms, Japan is a breeding ground for innovation in an industrial design sense. When asked about the most ‘Japanese’ thing I saw on my trip, my answer is a bathroom sink. But not just any sink – a sink with everything built in. The automatic soap dispenser on one side; the automatic tap on the other; and the hand dryer at the front. It was the most ‘Japanese’ thing I saw and (for me) represents how I perceive Japan – clean and innovative. But there is still no escaping the kitsch!

I left Japan no closer to understanding its aesthetic. I don’t know if it’s the bright lights and the bizarre unfamiliarity, or the cleanliness and extreme efficiency that interests me more – but whatever it is, something tells me that won’t be my last visit.

For branding by Bellman

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