Is there any country that knows how to throw stuff out like Japan? After a lengthy visit to the US, I was awestruck once again by the orderly disposal I witness here weekly. Let’s take recycling. On designated days, city-run trucks make the rounds and gather in the glass, metal, plastic and paper for re-use. In preparation, everyone places their contributions in separate, plastic bins set out near the street. The chaos caused by combining everything in one large vessel, as is the practice in parts of the US, is conspicuously absent. Just look at how carefully my neighbors discard their empties!
Neatly arranged in rows, these spent tins are practically a work of art. While metal cans must be placed in the blue bins supplied by the city, glass bottles go in the yellow ones.
Newspapers are a whole other animal. They must be properly bundled and tied with string. This iconic image was the inspiration for Bind, Satoshi Umeno’s clever end table. Featured in my book, “Made in Japan: 100 New Products” (check out this link to learn more), it consists of a simple, glass top wrapped with steel strips reminiscent of rope. As the designer pointed out to me, this table makes a pile of paper, neat or messy, look great!
“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.