Recently, I accompanied Abby to her final voice lesson with her teacher here in Tokyo. This entailed traveling by train to Higashi-Kurume Station which is located in a kind of suburban netherland between Tokyo and Saitama. Abby’s singing was absolutely exquisite. In fact, her breathtakingly beautiful rendition of Mozart’s operatic aria ‘Un Marito, Donne Care’ made me cry. But her translation of the libretto made me laugh! Mozart and his cronies definitely had a sense of humor.
On our way back to the station, we snapped these photos of a bike parking lot. In Tokyo, where many people commute to stations on two wheels, bike lots of various types are common. What caught my eye this time is the cute, little gate — the same type used for car parking lots in miniature! It almost looked like a toy.
Located near the gate, the above sign indicates that there are empty spaces for both bikes (above) and motorbikes (below).
As you can see in the photo at the end of this post, there are separate sections for the two types of cycles. But both areas are remarkably neat and orderly.
I meant to post about these apples in January but, alas, I did not. Better late than never, right? Intended as gifts, each apple is tenderly cradled in its own styrofoam net and adorned with “2013″ and a kind of cartoony serpentine creature, this being the Year of the Snake. I am not exactly sure how these apples are grown but my guess is that a stencil is applied and as the apple ripens the motif appears. Alternately, the skin is sprayed red (yuck!), leaving the seasonal motif in its wake. At Y6000 for the six-pack (approximately seventy bucks at the then exchange rate), they should have been flying out of the store.
The other day I had a very STSS moment. I was in the car, hurrying to get to an appointment, when I got stuck behind a garbage truck. Much to my chagrin, there was nothing I could do but wait since the street was quite narrow. Barely able to keep my foot from the gas pedal, I watched as the uniformed trash collectors had loaded the truck’s gaping maul. Unlike in the United States, where those ungainly garbage pails on wheels are commonplace, Tokyoites frequently put their trash out in plastic bags: burnables one day, non-burnables the next and recycling after that. Each parcel is neatly packaged and placed directly on the ground at the appointed collection spot at the street edge. Because Tokyo’s crow population aggressively scavenges for food among these discards, the bags of trash are covered with a protective plastic net while awaiting the arrival of said truck. A litter-scattered street is not a pretty sight. And people here go to great lengths to keep the public access ways clean (but that is fodder for another post). Like anywhere else, the trash collectors hurl the bags as the truck slowly lumbers down the street. But, before trotting off to gather in the next heap, the blue-suited fellows neatly fold the net and return it to the roadside where it sits, a tidy rectangular bundle (see above), until the next collection day.
“Made in Japan” is a simple phrase, but one full of meaning. From cutlery to chairs, Japan creates some of the most innovative, elegant, whimsical and well-made objects in the world. I should know. I just wrote the book. Called Made in Japan, it features 100 of the country’s recent design triumphs, each one meticulously curated by moi. It includes everything from a vending machine down to a thumbtack. So you see, I have been sweating the small stuff. Big time.
A few months ago, while in the throes of writing this book, I got the idea to update my blog. For starters, writing at breakneck speed (yes, this book had a quick turnaround plus we had a little earthquake that shook things up quite a bit) diverted attention from “The Thing Is.” Basically, I got out of the habit of blogging. Wrapped up as I was in book research, my eyes were not focusing on blogworthy material. But I also feel that the birth of a new book warrants the release of a new blog. So here it is.
When I first began my book research, I expected that writing about products would be like writing about small works of architecture – something I could practically do in my sleep. But I am not very good at sleeping and products are not small buildings. Product design engages a whole different set of criteria, most very closely connected to the body. While structure and construction are concerns, more often than not in Japan it is the feel of the object in the hand that determines its form and materials. Even a millimeter or two can make a profound difference.
In blog posts to come, you can expect to hear a lot about product design. I like the subject and intend to keep writing about it here and elsewhere. You will also read about plenty of other minutia, those things – words, deeds, objects — that make daily life in Japan such a pleasure. I marvel at the care, precision and phenomenal attention to detail that exists in Japan like nowhere else.