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. 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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