Fast Company

Big in Japan: Report From Asia's Most Influential Design Fair

Interior Lifestyle

The largest design trade fair in the East, Interior Lifestyle provides a unique opportunity to see which furniture and textile trends are, indeed, big in Japan. Although tiny when compared to Milan's Salone Internazionale del Mobile, the event, held June 3 to June 5 at Tokyo's International Exhibition Centre, featured 630 exhibitors from 30 countries, including Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea; that was a mere 20 fewer exhibitors than last year, according to organizers Messe Frankfurt. Yet despite the fair's international array, the flavor remained strongly Japanese, with over two-thirds of the companies in this installment Nippon-based.


Midcentury Modernism remains alive and well in Japan, with space-challenged denizens drawn to the furniture's compact size and clean, lines. Hans J. Wegner was particularly well represented at the fair, with reissues of his curved-back wooden chairs displayed at Carl Hansen & Son and Bellbet, a Japanese company specializing in pieces from 1950 to 1970. But more interesting were the modern takes on the style. Miyazaki introduced five seats by Japanese designers, including the Hazuki, a three-legged maple chair created by Keishi Yoshinaga and made via a combination of machine and hand labor.


Cushions are a burgeoning area in the Asian market, with most models used on the floor or on a stool rather than as an accent on a sofa. Western companies are muscling into the arena, as attested by Fatboy's booth, which was stuffed with its oversized beanbags in a rainbow of colors. Takaokaya's harlequin-patterned Ojami settees were the freshest options on show, though, featuring a distinctive look and shape.

DuoRest alpha

The DuoRest Alpha has two independently adjustable backrests--one for each side of your spine. The benefits? More finely tuned ergonomic support and a gentle back massage when you shift from side to side. This summer U.S. retailer Costco will begin selling the seat, which features a polyester mesh support fabric and a frame made of nylon and glass; it's expected to be in the $500 range, a competitive price for an upscale office chair.

outdoor furniture

The Japanese respect and honor nature, so of course many items at the fair were eco-friendly. The greenest pieces, however, were Skyline's unnamed outdoor furniture collection, comprised of a woven plastic derived from recycled PET water bottles. The line includes chairs, tables, chaises, and an enclosed lounge shaped like an apple.

string curtain

Nature motifs graced many of the textiles on show, with floral prints and leaf silhouettes the most common. Lineview offered a new take on the trend with Linden, a sting curtain with a silk-screened outline of a tree. It's the first item that Highline has designed in its 20-year history, having previously just imported the curtains from Germany. Created specifically for the local market, Linden is flame-retardant (many German string versions are not), made from a material that does not curl at the edges (a detail Japanese consumers see as a mistake), and suitable for both residential and commercial settings.

Nussha Murakami

Nussha, which specializes in lacquered bowls and tableware, is among the new breed of companies combining traditional Japanese art with modern graphics. Pop stylist Takashi Murakami created its latest offering, the Flower plate, which was previewed via a unique cross-promotion with Japanese lifestyle magazine Casa Brutus. Each copy of the publication's May 2009 issue came packaged with one of the colorful plates .


A collaboration between famed industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa and paper company Onao, the Siwa line of carrier bags, lamps, and household goods are made from soft naoron, a proprietary material comprising wood pulp and polyolefin. Manufactured using the traditional washi-suki paper methods, the material is soft and flexible, yet extremely strong and water-resistant. A Siwa bag, for example, can support up to 22 pounds without ripping.

Aroma diffuser

In Japan, water is a life force, an element associated with health and wellness. Middle's teardrop-shaped aroma diffusers tap into that tradition, using steam to carry a range of calming scents. The units are small enough to sit on a desktop, sculptural enough to leave out, and come in a range of two-tone pastel colors.

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