American architect Naomi Pollock curates a selection of 100 products that embody contemporary Japanese object design in her new book, “Made in Japan.” Her selections show what adherents of the Japanese aesthetic have known for some time—that a spoon is never just a spoon, a chair much more than just a place to sit. Introducing the book, she explains that the phrase “made in Japan” connotes objects of supreme fabrication, functionality and beautiful plainness. Each of the profiled objects demonstrates why the country’s design aesthetic has such a cultish following, and how Japan continues to reinvent the everyday.
“The chronic shortage of space is the inspiration for a constant stream of miniature versions of everything, from cars to kettles,” writes Pollock. Most of the objects in the book are connected with urban necessity—from aluminum cookwear to sandals made of waste silk, there is an insistence on sustainable design that enriches the user. Pollock gives a brief history, showing how this search for functionality drove contemporary Japanese design from its origins in the mingei, or folk art movement, of the 1920s to its international explosion in the ’90s.
“Two Piece,” an invention by Drill Design, updates the traditional wooden geta sandal by splitting the sole into two pieces and attaching them by foam. This little trick allows the sole to bend with the foot, updating the iconic object. Pollock explains that the emphasis on historical craftsmanship has to do with the concept of monzukuri, or “making things.” The appeal of handcrafted items still drives design in the age of mechanical reproduction, where traditional objects and techniques are blended with new materials and production methods.