- Design in Japan:Contemporary Perspectives on Design Practice
The following translations complete the selection of texts by theorists, critics, and practitioners of design accompanying the Review of Japanese Culture and Society's special issue "Design and Society in Japan" (Vol. XXVIII, December 2016, guest edited by Ignacio Adriasola, Sarah Teasley, and Jilly Traganou). These texts—which were deferred due to difficulties with our timeline for publication—provide an important supplement to the critical essays by Yoko Akama and Christian Dimmer. The translations published here include an interview with graphic designer Sugiura Kōhei conducted in 2013; the minutes for a meeting of the Can Fashion Be Renewed? Study Group (Fasshon ga kōshin dekiruno ka? Kaigi gijiroku, 2012), which for the previous five years had engaged academics and practitioners in a debate on critical issues in apparel design; an editorial detailing the adjudication process for specialized magazine Nikkei Design's first Smart Design Award in 2012; and the epilogue to Kakei Yūsuke's book Practical Guide for Social Design (Sōsharu dezain jissen gaido, 2013).
A key figure in the development of graphic design in postwar Japan, Sugiura Kōhei (b. 1932) spearheaded a revolution that quietly unfolded in the pages of some of the key journals of the period, ranging from specialized publications such as Shinkenchiku (known in its English-language edition as The Japan Architect) to the general cultural magazine Ginka (Silver Leaf). On the side, Sugiura was also involved in ambitious collaborations with avant-garde artists, producing lavish photobooks for Hosoe Eikoh (Barakei, 1963) and Kawada Kikuji (The Map [Chizu], 1965), and collaborating with architect Isozaki Arata in the proto-installation Electric Labyrinth, presented at the Milan Design Triennial of 1968, among other important projects. While not part of the Metabolist group, Sugiura was deeply influenced by some of the group's ideas. In the 2013 interview reproduced here (originally published in the journal Aidea; translated by Mycah Braxton), Sugiura reflects on some of the ideas informing his practice, which [End Page 285] he absorbed from the rich discussions that emerged from the crucible of the 1960s: new ideas concerning the nature of information, the international aspirations of Japan's emerging design scene, the biomorphic metaphors Sugiura introduced for approaching publications as objects, and how Metabolism's stress on the distinctiveness of an Asian viewpoint had allowed him to revisit and reframe the Bauhaus paradigms for design he had acquired as a student, and more directly engaged as a visiting lecturer at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm, in Germany.
The three remaining texts provide a sample of contemporary perspectives on design: from attempts to bridge academic discussion and practice; to corporate responses to social issues; and, finally, community-oriented design interventions. Directly informing these discussions we find important changes in Japan's social, economic, and political conditions. As is commonly known, following the crash of the asset price bubble in the early 1990s, Japan's economic growth rate slowed down significantly—a situation that has extended for over two decades. While some recent economic indicators appear to suggest a return to limited growth, there is still no consensus among economists and policymakers on the root causes of this slowdown, or clear ways to address it. Seeking a return to growth, successive governments implemented partial liberalization measures in finance, public spending, and the labor market; however, these measures brought with them a significant reduction of the social safety net that once characterized postwar Japan, and this has led in turn to heightened forms of social inequality.1
A broader historical view would suggest that the shifts currently being experienced by Japanese society and its economy—rather than signaling a new phenomenon—express in a more pronounced manner some of the basic features and contradictions inherent to Japan's model of modernization. For example, the shifts in economic production, population decline and ageing, and the environmental effects of industrialization are not equally distributed across Japan—the situation in the rural areas of the northeast and the transalpine regions differs dramatically from that in large metropolitan areas such as Tokyo or Osaka.2 And, like elsewhere, such inequalities become particularly evident at times of disaster...