Simplicity in Japan

Sim­pli­city, says Kenya Hara, cre­at­ive dir­ect­or of Muji, is a “cent­ral aes­thet­ic prin­ciple” in Japan and is what dif­fer­en­ti­ates the visu­al appeal of the East from that of the West.

In an inter­view for The New York Times look­ing at the unique design of Japan­ese bentō, Hara provides a com­par­is­on of the East and West­’s vis­ion of sim­pli­city and fur­ther thoughts on Japan’s unique aes­thet­ic.

While Japan­ese are known for their par­tic­u­lar aes­thet­ic sense, I would say we also have an inca­pa­city to see ugli­ness. How come?

We usu­ally focus fully on what’s right in front of our eyes. We tend to ignore the hor­rible, espe­cially if it is not an integ­ral part of our per­son­al per­spect­ive. We ignore that our cit­ies are a chaot­ic mess, filled with ugly archi­tec­ture and nasty sig­nage. And so you have the situ­ation where a Japan­ese work­er will open a beau­ti­ful bento box in a stale con­fer­ence room or on a hor­rendous, crowded side­walk.

via @zambonini

1 thought on “Simplicity in Japan

  1. Gary Ross

    This is not really true on a gen­er­al level. Japan­ese inform­a­tion design is appallingly con­fus­ing and their web­site design is a mass of links and con­fu­sion. e.g. http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/ Japan­ese mobile phones have been way ahead of the pack tech­no­lo­gic­ally for years – what did they do between 2000 and about 2008 to improve and sim­pli­fy the user exper­i­ence: basic­ally noth­ing. My Japan­ese friends are fre­quently baffled by train tick­et machines etc.

    Yes, there are some Japan­ese design­ers who are inspired by tra­di­tion­al sim­pli­city, but this exists in the west too. I’d ven­ture to say, as a hunch, that Japan­ese see sim­pli­city often as ‘the way things are’ and thus more reg­u­larly applic­able to tra­di­tion­al design. i.e. in a sense the default design that sur­rounds them. Of course, there is great mod­ern Japan­ese simple design – Muji being one of course – but I think this is more a reflec­tion of the way things could be rather than the way things are. Walk around Kyoto and you will see this kind of stun­ning sim­pli­city but it’s hard to ignore the real­ity that down­town Kyoto is one of the world’s ugli­est cit­ies: its former beauty was bull­dozed to make way for the mon­stros­ity that exists today – and don’t get me star­ted on Kyoto Sta­tion! Although to be fair to Kenya Hara he does try to explain this con­tra­dic­tion but I’m not sure that he’s really cor­rect – the beauty of the bento is the same as the beauty of Ryoanji – it’s a tra­di­tion­al form that people find com­fort in as the world changes around them.

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