Four Perspectives of Japanese Design — Projection, Diversity, Authenticity, and Polity

Wednesday, 10:45-12:45, Media





Projecting 'Brand Japan' by design?: the limitations of public policy

This paper is about what elements of Japanese design get projected abroad through state action and why. For over a century Japan has periodically engaged in active public diplomacy abroad in pursuit of international influence and economic benefit. From Japan's participation in international expositions in the late 19th century to the strategic targeting of cultural industries in a May 2010 economic policy framework, state institutions have identified certain elements of traditional and contemporary Japanese design for promotion abroad. In doing so such institutions have faced profound ideational, organizational and political economy constraints. Moreover, 'Brand Japan' – in the words of former foreign minister Taro Aso - is largely a consequence of the complexly evolved interactions of private actors, Japanese and foreign. Each bring their own agenda, resources and constraints to these interactions.

The analytical focus of the paper is contemporary. However the history of design as an element in Japanese public diplomacy is selectively sketched where it patterns contemporary practice or – more interestingly – surprisingly doesn't. One of the key findings of the paper is the central but haphazard role of the Ministry of Economy, Trade & industry [METI] in the recent public policy focus on design and cultural industries. This policy experience reveals a rather complex political economy, the susceptibility of policymakers to faddy foreign ideas [such as the 'Cool Japan' phenomenon], and the limitations of state capabilities in relation both to industry policy for the design and cultural industries and to public diplomacy.


The Diverse Nature of Japanese Aesthetics through History

Too often we find references to "Japanese Design" that account rather only a very specific aspect of Japanese design — its association with early 20th century modernist agenda, and ignore, in doing so, the diversity that this wide field has always exhibited. This paper aims at displaying and organizing the diverse nature of Japanese design along three major lines of reference: the terms 'Miyabi', 'Hade' and 'Shibui'. These terms will be employed as a didactic tool to classify and describe three distinctively different approaches to art and design practiced in parallel throughout the ages. They will also be used as an organizing logic in a discussion over particular examples. The discussion aims at offering a model — a way of looking, fitting the Japanese context, and wide enough to include all aspects in the field.


Product Authenticity and Fragmented Production: The Case of "Japanese" Animation

This paper is about the split of design and production. It examines the extent to which Japanese animation firms can carry out production offshore without compromising the authenticity of the 'national' brand that they bear and maintain competitiveness in domestic and global markets.

Japanese animation producers have regularly offshored lower value, labour-intensive parts of production such as "inbetween" animation and colouring to studios in other Asian countries. While an economic necessity, creative goods such as animation are also cultural goods that inherently indicate the product's country of origin. Paradoxically, pressures to reduce costs through offshore production have in part arisen due to the reliance on hand-drawn animation – until now an intrinsic aspect of Japanese anime. Two problems that this has created for Japanese studios however, is firstly that these low value-added tasks had previously been where new recruits to the industry had trained and were able to develop their skills. The second challenge this has created is that as lowcost producers increase their technical capacity and are able to do more 'higher value' parts of the production at a lower cost, how much of these 'Japanese animations' will be produced in Japan? For Japanese studios, they face serious challenge in finding a way to remain competitive as they struggle to reevaluate their core competencies and find parts of the value chain that will enable them to survive. Will a simple split between design and production allow them to shift production offshore and still maintain the authenticity of "made in Japan" or "designed-in-Japan" cultural products?


Muji in a World that Isn't

This paper is about space for sale. It is structured on a tripartite concern made by the inherent political capacity of architecture, by the recent, evident interest of the Japanese brand 'Mujirushi Ryōhin' [Muji] in architecture alongside the employment of that previous political faculty, and lastly, by the occasions of the announced arrival of Muji to Israel and Muji's recent withdrawal from that initiative.

The paper begins with a portrait of Muji's extensive spatial production, generic in character, and ranging from private houses and campgrounds to residential compounds and a complete neighborhood. It then interprets the meanings of these operations of Muji, analyzes their inherent characteristics, while demonstrating the political aspects in the brand's aspiration to encompass a 'totality', usage of 'simple' qualities, perseverance of 'order', creation of a field of possibilities made by a two-faced state of 'in-visibility', foundation of 'imaginary' landscapes, and thinning of culture encouraged by the desire to 'expand'.

The discussion then turns to examine the occurrences related to Muji's initial attachment to and later reserve of Israel, and the general political aspects entailed by the migration of architectural commodities across different spatial contexts. Polity, it sees, is not a quality inherent in objects or events, not their materiality or style, but is instead an ever-changing meaning brought to them along a chain of micro practices involving, for example, adaptation, submission, or blurring. The paper assesses, finally, the significance of Muji's activities and their influence on architectural knowledge.