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Kenji Ekuan

Now here is a time capsule for the serious student of design history, particularly industrial design. I found the book while rummaging through a second-hand bookshop, and what a find! A 1973 lecture series (I guess there’s more?) by Kenji Ekuan. It’s a lecture in which he talks about Japanese culture, history, education, commerce and industry as seen though the prism of design practice.

Of course, some of it will be dated or even alien still, such as the housing pods or capsules, which unlike a lot of Japanese developments, has not taken off in the rest of the world. It is interesting to note that even then, Mr. Ekuan was looking at the world in a global sense. Exchange of products means exchange of culture, the way the east and the west communicated during and before the industrial age. A country sent only the finest products, the best examples of its culture. This then brings us to the question of quantity versus quality, which has still not been properly addressed. What do mass-produced cheaply made goods say about a culture? And how do they represent a culture if they’re made by cheaper labour in another country? This multinational approach has the unfortunate side effect of entirely removing cultural exchange sometime in the near future.

The real high point for me has been the insight into Japanese education, ceremonies, architecture and arts/crafts. Practices such as flower arranging and calligraphy are instilled as ‘organisational creativity’ in people, giving them a more refined sense of beauty and functionality. Creativity becomes a part of daily life. The ‘organisational’ part instils a sense of self-discipline early on. We can still learn a lot from this approach. While the lecture is obviously not as thorough as a book written on the subject, it does give one an insight into design practices and thinking in 1970’s Japan.

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I hope everyone saw this program which aired on SBS a while back. To me, this era of Japanese industrial design is directly related to the Bauhaus school and its mass produced designs and just as influental.

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