On Winging It

I’ve recently been spending my spare time planning for an upcoming trip to Japan. To say that I’m excited wouldn’t do it justice, but, as is perhaps the case with all travel outside your comfort zone, I feel a mingled sense of intimidation. Part of that is due to the fact that traveling to Japan has been a persistent bucket list item, but part of that is because Japan just seems to get so much right. How can I hope to approach this trip with as much respect and mindfulness and consideration as I want to, while also absorbing as much as I possibly can?

My answer to this question has been a confusing one: I’m going to kind of wing it. Does this feel hugely irresponsible to this double Virgo? Yes. But something about this idea is deeply freeing. So I’m rolling with it.

I’ve booked plane tickets and places to stay, but I’ve held off on planning activities, meals or excursions. Instead, I’ve decided to learn everything I can before I leave, so that when the opportunity arises, I’m ready to soak in the experience. Conveniently, the beautiful and extensive Shelter library happens to be located across from my desk, and Rob (who is part designer, part librarian) was kind enough to recommend some reading. Highlights below.

Above, photos from moving essay about Japanese brand MUJI, by their art director, advisory board member, and general legend, Kenya Hara (Designing Design, Lars Muller Publishers, 2018). In the essay, Hara gives us an inside look at some of the company’s core design principles and guiding questions, such as: "Doesn’t affluence lie in understatement?” He also draws a fascinating distinction between acceptance and appetite that I know will follow me to Japan and beyond:

“As a brand, MUJI has neither striking idiosyncrasies or specific aesthetics. We don’t want to be the thing that kindles or incites intense appetite, causing outbursts like, ‘This is what I really want,' or ‘I simply must have this.’…We want to give customers the kind of satisfaction that comes out as ‘this will do,’ not ‘this is what I want.’ It’s not appetite, but acceptance.”

These photos are from a pretty mind-blowing book about the work of Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori (Fujimori Terunobu: Architecture, Toto, 2007). The photos and work are obviously incredible, but the captions were so lovely that I had to include them.

Image 1: “The entrance is based on the traditional ‘nijiri-guchi,’ which is a unique small space entrance specific to a teahouse invented by Rikyu. This small entrance indicates a different world beyond.”
Image 2: “There is a skylight installed at the top end of the cylindrical ceiling.” (Just a skylight for the sake of having a skylight! Delightful.)
Image 3: “The arch is an homage to Le Corbusier’s Soviet Palace, and the ribbon that struggles like a snake is an homage to Surrealism, especially Dali’s painting ‘Persistence of Memory.’”
Image 4: “The tea set is not for powdered tea, which descended from Rikyu, but for leaf tea. A teahouse for leaf tea does not have a fireplace in the floor. The floor, wall and ceiling are all pasted with oyster shell lime.”
Image 5: “Just one leg is dangerous, and three legs are too stable and boring, so I made two legs. I am not interested in making a treehouse on top of a natural tree. I wanted to make a tree house as an artificial construction from top to bottom.”
Image 6: “Mortar is pasted all over the interior of the men’s bathroom, and pearl shells are buried in some parts of the wall. Pear shells are used to make a stage effect for the hot spring.”

Japon Beaute Des Formes: Pierre, Metal, Fibres, Bambou (Fribourg: Office du Livre, 1964) is written entirely in French, so rather than busting out Google Translate (or worse, using what I remember from my college French classes), I’ll just let these photos speak for themselves.

Last, I perused a 1954 quarterly magazine about Japanese culture that was like holding a time capsule (This Is Japan, Vol. 2, Asahi Shimbun, 1954). It was so utterly of its time, but in regards to design, it seemed to prove that everything (colors, fonts, 1:1 ratios!) really does come back around. As an added bonus, Image 2 is a guide to art galleries and museums. I know I said I wasn’t planning, but I had to google the Folk Art Museum. Guess what? It’s still open, and their next exhibition is about indigo shibori and the works of Motohiko Katano - so I may have to make one exception to the whole winging it thing.

Post Cover Image: Fujimori Terunobu: Architecture, Toto, 2007

Stephanie MercerComment