Kome: The Art of Rice

The exhibition poster features the ancient Chinese character for kome.

A fascinating exhibit is currently on display at 21_21 Design Sight in Midtown Tokyo. Created by renowned Japanese designer Taku Satoh and anthropologist Shinichi Takemura, “Kome: The Art of Rice” presents 35 design pieces by leading Japanese artists and experts in rice cultivation. What makes this show so intriguing is that a food staple as humble as a grain of rice (or “kome” as the Japanese call it) could be shown with such aesthetic sensitivity and with such a thoughtful exploration of the role that rice played in the historical, cultural and spiritual traditions of Japan.

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Quiz: Global Brands

It’s not always as simple as applying a single set of graphic standards across the board when a brand expands into foreign markets. In some cases, the brand name may be difficult to pronounce in the native language or the letters may translate into a word that is negative or obscene. Or the graphic mark may include a detail that may be perceived as insulting or culturally taboo. The challenge for brand designers is to adapt the logo to the region, while preserving enough elements to make it recognizable in every part of the world. Ideally, travelers to a foreign country will recognize the brand identity on sight even if the letters or image differ from what they are used to in their own culture. See if you can name these brands. (Answers after the jump.)


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Dog-Loving Photographer Creates Asian Elixir, Thanks to Lindsay Lohan

Kombucha Dog is one of those “only in California live-your-passion” stories. According to the Kombucha Dog website, the beverage company was started in L.A. by Michael Faye, a successful commercial photographer who loved traveling the world on assignment, until he found that the photo business was beginning to require spending more time on the computer than on location. That’s when Faye sold his studio and set up DogIsArt, a dog portraiture business, combining his avid love of dogs with his professional talent.

The kombucha link comes in because Faye, who was raised as a strict vegetarian by a mother who even made her own yogurt, was strongly into the raw food movement and yoga. An early adopter of kombucha, Faye started drinking the fermented tea back in 2005, but had to stop when actress Lindsey Lohan failed an alcohol test. Lohan’s attorneys launched a “kombucha defense” saying that drinking lots of kombucha caused a false positive on the test. The controversy caused L.A. retailers to pull kombucha from the shelves, forcing Faye to experiment with brewing his own.

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Nepia Tissue Animals

When the product is as commonplace as facial tissue, there’s no need for advertising to explain its benefits and uses. Civilized people know. So, Japanese ad agency, Dentsu, found a more compelling way to promote the Nepia paper brand by making origami animals out of Nepia tissue. The video performance feels like a magic act, with sheets of tissue transformed before your eyes into elephants, snakes and frogs and back into tissue. The white tissue and austere background help to suggest the clean, soft and feathery lightness of the product. This stop-motion animation was directed by Fuyu Arai with creative direction by Hitoshi Sato.

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From Milan to Tokyo by Subway

Imagine that you are a regular Italian commuter on Line 2 of the Milan Metro subway. The train pulls up to Moscova station and you get off as usual. But wait! This isn’t right! You must have dozed off. This doesn’t look like Moscova station; it doesn’t even look like Italy. Like Captain Kirk in “Star Trek,” you’ve leaped time and space and have been beamed to Shibuya station in Tokyo.

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@Issue Editor’s Show Opens in Tokyo

Some of you know that seven years ago I wrote a book called “The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942-1946,” published by Ten Speed Press/Random House. As usual, it was designed by Kit Hinrichs (Kit’s origami flag assemblage below) and photographed by Terry Heffernan. After more than 30 years as a corporate writer, I suddenly found myself propelled in another direction and immersed in a subject that I largely avoided my entire life. Although I had no thought that it would make a good art exhibition, I began receiving requests from museums across the U.S. and the array of objects made from scrap and found materials by people imprisoned in the camps were exhibited in some of the nation’s most prestigious institutions, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery in Washington D.C. and the International Folk Art Museum of Santa Fe. Today it opens at the University Art Museum (Geidai) in Tokyo to kick off a one-year tour of Japanese cities. If you are in Japan, I hope you’ll take the time to see it. I’ll be back in my San Francisco office next week with more new posts. — Delphine

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Origami Goes High Tech

Origami (which means “to fold” + “paper” in Japanese) is one of the oldest and humblest art forms around, dating back thousands of years, and stop-motion 3-D animation is one of the newest and most technologically advanced art forms. It’s interesting that the two mediums have found each other and it was love at first sight. As time-consuming and difficult as some origami forms are to fold by hand, paper as a construction material is sturdy but flexible, buildable at a small scale, and relatively cheap. In the case of this video ad for Hamburg’s charitable lottery, Deutsche Fernsehlotterie, a whole village with inhabitants and vehicles were brought to life out of paper. Hamburg-based agency, Zum Goldenen Hirschen spearheaded this ad, with Hans-Christoph Schultheiss directing.

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See It, Read It, Eat It

Japanese graphic designer Masaaki Hiromura has made pictograms an integral part of the kanji characters he created for Tokyo’s Kitasenjyu Marui department store to come up with food words that can be understood in any language. The silhouette of the food appropriately replaces a stroke in the word so it can be read as text. Although Hiromura was probably focused on devising a witty and graphically interesting way to communicate to multinational customers who frequent the store, this display seems like the reverse of how written languages began in many ancient cultures. Japanese and Chinese characters started as pictographs, ideographic symbols describing objects and actions. Over time, these characters became less pictographic and ideographic and more visually abstract. What’s amusing about these pictogram characters is that we’ve come full circle.

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