Global Greening Lifestyles: Japan

Trending Meaning
Of late CultureofFuture has been called to speak at a number of venues and more and more it is a request for direction and meaning. The think tank Demos.fl of Finland brought us to present a LoCarbon Lifestyle Trend presentation to 20 journalists and a Meaningful Brands presentation to over 200 creatives in Helsinki via SUBtv. Demos knows how to influence a topic forward! We will write more on this experience later, but it gave us many ideas one of which is a call to various trenders to submit content on meaningful trends.

Kristina and I met while presenting at the lovely Malmo, Sweden DesignBoost.se sustainable design conference and exhibition. Kristina is sharing here her perspective as she spends time in Japan.

Factors that influence Japan’s approach to sustainability
Kristina Dryza, http://www.kristinadryza.com/

Least possible wastage
Historically, the small size of the country and its limited resources meant extravagance in the use of space and materials was seen as immoral. Getting the most out of every thing is deeply engrained in the Japanese psyche. This is why recycling is such a strong feature of daily Japanese existence.

Blaine Brownell, an architect and sustainable material researcher, said in an interview that many Japanese architects practice sustainable design in Japan without necessarily labeling it as such. They just naturally make the most of limited space and resources with highly imaginative solutions. They are conscious of space and know how to enhance it.

While today Tokyo is the sky-high neon city we all know, there are still objects and utensils used whose production hasn’t changed in centuries. The secret behind this long lastingness according to the Louis Vuitton City Guide is "the simple fact that from their origins, the objects produced in Edo were meant for daily use. They were functional, adapted to the lives of ordinary citizens and not objects of grand luxury intended for ostentatious display - like the daimyo - who held power. They were designed in a spirit of craftsmanship where economic imperatives (such as the least possible wasting of materials) were key."

In previous centuries the humility poverty instilled led the Japanese to appreciate a rustic simplicity. This quiet dignity and Zen austerity still influences their designs today allowing them to refine concepts down to their essence. True beauty is not showy; it's considered and thoughtful and gets to the heart of all things.

Seasons
Life in Japan is driven by the seasons. The four seasons are so clearly felt, seen and experienced, and the whole culture supports the celebration and acknowledgment of seasonality.

Japanese cuisine especially places paramount importance on expressing the joys of each season. For example, Japanese sweets (called wagashi) represent the different seasons with both elegance and feeling. They are inspired both by nature and emotion, and express natural and abstract phenomena. These sweets are to be served graciously, enjoyed leisurely and appreciated delicately and attentively. Each bite brings with it the emotion of the season.

The Japanese also know when each food is in its prime - like the first harvest of a seasonal crop - whether it’s bamboo shoots, melons or wild mushrooms. The ‘first of the season’ idea is incredibly important to a culture so attuned to the cycles of nature.

Attention to detailThe Japanese ability to attend to details is what made the nation the economic powerhouse it is today. Their efficiency and precision is known the world over. This attention to detail and the ubiquitous pursuit of perfectionism leads to fast adaptation, compact editing and their clean, modern design aesthetic.

Shigeru Uchida in his book ‘Japanese Interior Design - Its Cultural Origin’ says the physical sensibility of the "culture of sitting down" and "culture of taking off shoes" means the Japanese pay attention to fine details. "People of the climate, of the forests, sit on the earth and observe nature, imagine and infer. Their attitude is one that pays careful attention to very subtle occurrences, and one that discovers beauty hidden in fine details. The manner of being one with nature is felt by listening to the insects in the garden, appreciating the changing seasons and admiring the glories of nature in the peaceful flow of time." These sensibilities are directly reflected in the design of Japanese spaces.

Ikebana
Traditional Japanese flower arrangement (called ikebana) is not just about floral display. It’s used as a tool to convey the creator’s own feelings.

Flowers and plants aren’t just beautiful, pretty things to be admired - they have their own energy. Ikebana artists learn to read and enhance the energy these plants have. As nature tries to grow to the sun, the ikebana artist finds the best expression for each branch by finding its ‘front face’ - its highest possible representation.

By reading deeper into the energy it’s possible to have a two-way communication with nature that enhances the artist’s own creative expression. Ikebana teaches its students to step back and see the bigger picture, yet also to pay attention to details. Ikebana artists learn to work in multiple dimensions balancing space, containers and materials.

But one of the central aspects of ikebana is the appreciation for the different stages of nature, respecting each of the changes that happen to a tree. For example, the wilting bark, the falling leaf and the hole the bug made in the leaf. As Kisho Kurokawa, an architect, concurs, "We used to consider things that could live forever to be beautiful. But this way of thinking has been exposed as a lie. True beauty lies in things that die, things that change."

Sense of quality
It’s well known that the Japanese have a keen sense of quality. But more than that, they have a deep respect for exquisite quality that goes beyond the product to include the person who sells the item to them, the creator, and any thing and every person that touches the item in between. This sense of holism means the Japanese look beyond the surface of things and equally judge quality by what is not visible to the naked eye.

Japanese concept of beauty
Soetsu Yanagi, a famed handicraft authority, described the keys to Japanese beauty using the terms shibui, yugen and myo. Myo refers to a special spirit that imbues the truly beautiful, a spirit that goes beyond mechanical skill to express a delicate mystery. Yugen expresses both a mystery and subtlety that lies modestly beneath the surface of things in delicate, perfect harmony. And shibui refers to a restrained, highly refined beauty that epitomises classic simplicity and also exhibits the quality of myo and yugen.

This is why there is artistic merit in almost every item in the Japanese home. This holistic approach to beauty leads the Japanese to have a refined aesthetic sense that they take with them into all aspects of their lives.

Bringing the outside in
Gardens in Japan aren’t just for palaces or Zen monasteries, but to be brought into one’s own world. The Japanese have always been bringing the outside into their homes and office buildings. As author Boye Lafayette De Mente says, "Shintoism, the native Japanese religion, holds that all things in nature, including trees and rocks, have a spiritual essence of their own. In this philosophy, the apprentice carpenter cannot fully master his craft until he is able to recognise and respect the spirit of the wood used in his trade."

Learning to look to the spirit that lies beyond all things means nature is not something separate to the Japanese. Bringing things that are a part of nature into their surroundings is essential to promote the flow of spiritual harmony.

Some examples of these approaches in practice:
Least possible wastage

Reben is a wall paint that consists of powdered Japanese washi (paper), seaweed glue, scallop-shell powder, titanium dioxide and natural pigments that actually ‘clean’ the air:
http://transmaterial.net/index.php/2007/11/04/reben/

Seasons As the season’s change, so do the look and taste of Toraya's sweets:
http://www.toraya-group.co.jp/english/

 Attention to detail
Utilising computer network technology, Toyota's new Home Energy Management System can display the amount of energy consumption and control operations of home appliances:
http://www.japanfs.org/en/pages/029108.html

Ikebana
The Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel employs ikebana artist Eikou Sumura to craft installations as a form of communication with their guests:
http://www.ceruleantower-hotel.com/en/

 Sense of quality
The directors of 21_21 Design Sight - Issey Miyake, Taku Satoh and Naoto Fukasawa - each create in different mediums and exhibitions here are testament to their holistic view of design:
http://www.2121designsight.jp/index-e.html

Japanese concept of beauty
The porcelain in designer Gaku Otomo's tea cups is so fine, green tea literally ‘shines’ through:
http://www.gakudesign.jp/

Another view: Leonard Koren's classic books on Japan explore Wabi Sabi For Artists and Poets, Japanese Flower Arranging and How To Take A Japanese Bath.
For complete collection of books on Japan: http://www.leonardkoren.com/

 Bringing the outside inThe ‘Fiber City: Tokyo 2050’ concept describes four strategies - Green Finger, Green Web, Green Partition and Urban Wrinkle - for an alternative metropolis:
http://www.fibercity2050.net/eng/fibercityENG.html


Culture of Future
is Jody Turner, the founder, and Kathy Baylor, the VP of research. Jody holds US West Coast and European perspectives from San Francisco and Los Angeles, while Kathy covers Asia and East Coast perspective from NYC and Tokyo. 

     While anyone can track trends, we have the time and resources to do so. Our mission is inspiring and assisting country, community and company in the redesigning of how we live, work, and play with creative and conscious consumption innovations.

     Our client list includes top brands and top innovation influencers. Our dynamic culture network includes some of the world's influential designers, style arbiters, eco power players, retail gurus, tech innovators, artists and entertainment media pros. Kristina Dryza is one such brilliant influencer. 

 

 

 

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