In the spring of 2015, I had the honor of spending a little more than a week in a country that has always peaked my curiosity. The country is fascinating because of the strong isolationism from the rest of the world that has fostered such a unique culture and people. This also relates into how culture influences design. Some of my favorite designers are Japanese. Sori Yanagi. Naoto Fukasawa. Kenji Ekuan. Kenya Hara. Shigeru Ban. Nendo. Bruno Munari speaks highly of the Japanese and how their way of thinking, storytelling, and using material efficiently really influenced his design in the book Design as Art. I wanted to see for myself how a quick taste of this country could influence my way of thinking as a designer.
After landing in Tokyo, I decided to explore around the hotel. Discovering Shinjuku Park, the allure of nature on such a beautiful day was too much. Parks in Japan are very much different from the American or European ones I’ve been too. Whereas the west finds beauty in the “untamed” aspect of nature, the Japanese keep everything controlled and proper. I found this a theme in Japan throughout my trip. Control. There was never any garbage anywhere on the streets or parks, everyone obeyed the pedestrian street lights even when it made no sense to, and everything was how it was supposed to be. Tokyo, while overwhelming with it’s sheer size and amount of people, neon lights, and anime characters in the streets never felt chaotic; it just felt controlled.
It was early April and the Sakura season was just beginning. Sakura flowers all along the streets and parks were blooming, and it was common to see people take a break from the stresses of everyday life and appreciate the beauty of this magnificent flower. I don’t imagine such an occurrence would be appreciated as strongly in America. Flowers are just flowers here.
Tokyo is the most polarizing city I have ever been to in my young life. Incredibly massive, yet clean. Endless amounts of entertainment, yet everyone is in a rush to get to work or school. Technology driven, yet a strong sense of tradition. It was really quite unique and enjoyable. I definitely want to go back and spend much more time adventuring inside the city.
When I got off the Shinkansen train in Kyoto, I felt an immediate contrast to Tokyo. The train station was more humble and warm; this would be an enjoyable theme throughout my time in the city. Whereas Tokyo was modernized and lit up with impressive amounts of bright lights, Kyoto was quiet and made up of older buildings and temples. Some of my most cherished memories of my short time in Japan was in Kyoto. One night, my friend and I were hungry and didn’t know where to eat. We decided to blindly walk into a restaurant that was dimly lit to discover it filled with heavily intoxicated Japanese businessmen. Immediately they bought us copious amounts of Sake, asked us a tiresome amount of questions in terms of who we were, and shared stories they had. My favorite exchange I had was with the obvious leader of the group, an elder man. I asked him what he did for a living, and he simply said,” I am the boss… of Kyoto… for seventy seven years.”
The next morning, a little bit hungover and with stories to tell my family, I decided to make a last minute decision and see if there was an opportunity for an internship at a firm I had on my list. GK Kyoto. The way I learned about GK was through a book I read when I designed OneLunch, called The Aesthetics of the Japanese Lunchbox by Kenji Ekuan. I was invited to quickly show my portfolio and see if there was an opportunity for me at GK. Luckily, there was. The manager at GK Kyoto, Hisashi-san, graciously got me into contact with the President of GK Design International in Los Angeles, and that was the beginning of my first professional experience as a designer.