Modern Japanese products are often described as “simple”, but the simplicity in their aesthetic is unique. Since after World War II, modern Japan’s product designs have gotten their influences from various sources. Modern designers use these influences to create innovative but humble designs, merging function and simple beauty.
Traditional Concepts in Modern Japanese Designs
Despite living in a modern country, Japanese designers still root to various traditional concepts. MUJI, one of Japan’s leading manufacturers of household goods, use a concept called “anonymous beauty” (mu-jirushi). Instead of creating distinctive and bold designs, the company makes elegant products with minimal details and clean lines.
This concept is in-line with Zen, which describes the world as “empty” because of constant change. Therefore, an ideal Zen-related life demands balance and merging between the person and his or her environments. The “emptiness” in Japanese design aesthetic allows people to project their inner selves in their surroundings.
Kenya Hara, MUJI’s creative director, mentioned another concept called shokunin kishitsu (“the craftsman’s spirit”). This concept makes the difference between Japanese and European designs. While European design uses ergonomic elements to suit the person, Japanese design uses no-frill elements to suit the person’s actual skill.
Modern History in Japanese Designs
The simplicity of Japanese designs also came from the country’s modern history. A designer like Watanabe Riki was famous for beautiful furniture made from post-WWII cheap materials. Isamu Kenmochi embraced the influence of Western practicality after Japan decided to break its exclusionist foreign policy. His designs were innovative but practical and beautiful at the same time.
Masayuki Kurokawa adopted Japanese philosophy of finding beauty in the simplest form. His works on household appliances often use uncommon materials, such as rubber in his GOM series. He stated that even the simplest objects, such as pushpins or coffee cups, are beautiful forms of architectures.
Japan’s product designs may be simple, but they also project innovation and practicality. With the emergence of contemporary designers and notable styles, Japanese designers always come back to the design aesthetics that make the country famous.