The Always Vibrant Tokyo Design Week
Walk down the handsome ginkgo-lined avenue leading to Meiji Jingu Gaien, a cluster of public sports facilities in central Tokyo, and you can always spot plenty of people walking dogs or enjoying coffee in tony cafes. But every autumn the area transforms when the main plaza in the middle of the sports venues is occupied by Tokyo’s premier design event.
Though it has arguably lost some of its mojo ever since Designtide stopped in 2012, Tokyo Design Week 2015 is still a reliably bustling affair, and is complemented by several other design-themed events happening during the same period, including Aosando in nearby Omotesando, Shibukaru in Shibuya, and Design Touch in Roppongi. It always attracts high-profile exhibitors and guest speakers, and the 11 days it runs (“week” is something of a misnomer) also include a host of satellite events, such as a special “celebrity” edition of the talk series PechaKucha Night.
The best thing about Tokyo Design Week is the variety: you get the full gamut here, from design colleges to major corporations, from star designers and architects to individuals and students. It’s also cosmopolitan; the staff speak English and there are always several exhibitors from overseas. While the biannual Design Festa also has a broad range, it’s primarily an event for small retailers and individual artists. On the other hand, Tokyo Design Week offers everything from a Sekisui House showroom to a supercar. Heck, there’s even live music.
This year marks Tokyo Design Week 2015’s 30th anniversary and organizers are expecting 120,000 visitors. As always, there are several main pavilions, a section of walk-in cargo containers, an outdoor showcase of large art and design college exhibits, and multiple other smaller spaces.
Unfortunately, visitors will probably start in the Creative Life Exhibition pavilion, whose entrance is dominated by one of the flops. NTT docomo has installed an interactive sound wall, with a small panel in front that you touch to produce sounds. The reverberations across the large wall mirror the movement of your finger sliding over the screen. While trying it out is irresistible, as an exhibit it’s rather difficult to understand what’s happening.
That being said, the NTT installation sets the tone for much of what follows: interactive and technological. Crossovers between art, design, and tech were out in full.
Asuna is an android by A-Lab who was freaking out visitors.
MMI (Musical Mechanical Instruments) by KIMURA (TASKO inc.) and Tomoaki Yanagisawa (Rhizomatiks)
Asami Kiyokawa and P.I.C.S. created these cardboard box virtual reality sets.
New geta Japanese footwear designed by Yoshimitsu Fujita
Tokyo Darumania by Mineya Daruma
The most visceral and playful exhibitor was teamLab, who had a whole pavilion to themselves. Inside, kids and parents were encouraged to color-in pictures and scan them, and then watch their creations appear on the digital wall displays as moving animals or fish swimming in the ocean. There was also a digital hopscotch game and interactive table projections.
The idea was to showcase what an amusement park would be like in the future, though ostensibly, given that we already have the tech, it could exist today.
The “breathing architecture” section will certainly be popular with Japanese architecture fans, gathering as it does models by Tokyo Ito, Kengo Kuma, Sou Fujimoto, and more.
Our highlight from the outdoor design colleges was this pretty exhibit by Toyo University.
It consisted of plastic blocks with kanji and hiragana characters taken from common names, hanging above a Zen rock garden. “During the day, the light shines through the plastic and creates a rippling water surface effect. At night, it looks like pink cherry blossom,” one of the students said. “In Japanese, there are only good names. Parents don’t give their children bad names. We wanted to build up all the parts of names here so there are lots of good things in one place.” Sentimental design concepts aside, it forms a kind of mini oasis of characters and beauty.
There were also some wackier entries, though. At one of the containers you are invited to enter a “crazy wedding” exhibit. But venturing into the container, you find a wall of moss inside. What has this go to do with marriage? The container is hosted by Crazy Wedding, who organize customized marriage ceremonies. This container is a showcase of the kind of original experience Crazy Wedding provides. “Planting the moss expresses the couple’s marriage and their lives,” a member of staff told us. “In this case, both bride and groom are bookworms.” There are even going to be two “interactive wedding ceremonies” at Tokyo Design Week 2015 (actually not so strange when we consider that the nearby Minami-Aoyama area is full of wedding reception venues).
The main gripe with Tokyo Design Week 2015 is the perennial one: it’s too expensive. For ¥3,000, most people will find it a pricy couple of hours looking around the main pavilions. Unless you also attend some of the satellite events, you may not feel like you’ve got your money’s worth.
Tokyo Design Week 2015
10/24 – 11/3
Access: Gaienmae Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line), Aoyama Itchome Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line, Toei Oedo Line), Shinanomachi Station (JR Chuo-Sobu Line)