Tokyo continues to remain a staple during my yearly travels, a pilgrimage in a sense. Having never lived in Japan, there is always an attraction to the country. Minimalist aesthetics and clean structures are two of many factors that I adopt in my personal life. After a two-year hiatus I, fortunately, squeezed in a quick trip to Tokyo, partially for work but found time for some leisure.

Not much has changed in the city, in a positive way. Still hustling and developing at a rapid pace yet there remains a calm energy, somewhat ironic yes? What changed though, from the past two years is that my focus is channeled towards design, primarily because I am in the final stretch of preparation for the fourth edition of Design Days Dubai. With that said, the city continuously leaves me in awe, whether it is the clear views of Mount Fuji from my hotel room or the cultural portraits placed in the metro. The attention to detail feeds into my motto “complexity behind simplicity”, it may seem a tedious process but the end result is effortless.

21_21 design sight 2
21_21 design site

I start off my week with a visit to 21_21 design site, and it is a must visit for anybody touring Tokyo. Paved with solar panels and metallic tree structures, the space releases a zen feeling with its angular corners. Last time I was there, the “Ikko Tanaka and Future/Past/East/West of design”exhibition took place. Revisiting all the traditional facets of the field of design from fashion to graphic design, including the original logo designs of the Shiseido beauty brand. This visit I was pleasantly surprised to find a very familiar piece,  “a million times” which was an installation by Humans Since 1982 initially presented by Victor Hunt DesignArt Dealer as a world premiere at the second edition of Design Days Dubai. Still as hypnotizing and poetic, a perfect marriage between the structure of the building and the color scheme. Its opposing wall shared a rather humorous yet sarcastic series of phrases such as “I miss my Pre-Internet Brain” or “Remember Nothing You Don’t have to” by Douglas Coupland collectively part of the Fab Mind “Hints of The Future in a Shifting World” exhibition which aims to “view the day to day existence which has undergone a radical change.”  This combination of design with art is a synchronized one, fusing both without forcing it.

Fab The Mind
Fab The Mind

With a quick stop across the street at Kyo Hayashiya enjoying a tea and cheesecake break with everything made of green tea, and after a few business meetings, I end up at the Any Tokyo design event taking place at the Zojoji Temple. Not a place a lot of people would think of, but it was an interesting choice of venue. “Experimental Structures” was a series that caught my attention. The concept was to take day to day materials, and create a sustainable piece of furniture, and in turn question if the design would hold the weight and stand the test of time. Such as the Dobra-plycork chair by Haruna Yano, which might not be the first choice for anyone to include in their personal space but it does poses a question and starts a dialogue.

Kyo Hayashiya Cafe
Kyo Hayashiya Cafe

Fast forward towards the end of the week and with a free evening, I was invited by Beatrice Leanza, director of Beijing Design Week to join her, Japanese curator Ikko Yokoyama, the dynamic Italian design duo Formafantasma & Asif Khan, for dinner. There are many generalizations one usually makes about cuisine when in Tokyo, that everything is raw and with a beating heart! With a closer look and going along the path less travelled you will be pleasantly surprised as I was. With a group of 6 people, walking along a regular street, we found a traditional Japanese styled home, with no obvious signs, you wouldn’t think this included a restaurant. This is part of the intrigue, only the people that frequent it know about it. Kakuryu serves the most delicious food surpassing all cliché’s. The interior and set up is simple, some rooms offered the traditional floor seating, while others had high tables with tall stools, we opted for the latter. Good conversation and food flowed in a cozy room with a window outlooking the rainy street, a fusion that stayed true to the Japanese aesthetic.

Formafantasma & Asif Khan

With one less group member, we ended the night at the soon to be renovated Okura Hotel. In my years of travel, I seemed to have missed this design gem. Not so hidden, widely popular and frequented by dignitaries, celebrities and important figures alike, I must have been taken away by the new and high tech. There is a huge petition and protest to stop the renovation of the hotel, and now I understand why. Retro interiors that toast a classic era in the history of the country. High ceilings, low chairs, the acoustics remained under control, which is always a good sign of architecture. Oak wood beams covering walls with tall orchid plants laying on solid walnut coffee tables, I was surrounded by the physical meaning of luxury.  To some, the need of the latest technology is a sign of moving forward, but why fix it, in this case renovate it, if it’s not broken? Such an iconic example of timeless design, that stood the test of time, will soon be closed off. If you have the chance do visit it before its doors close.

With my ticket in hand, some green tea biscuits in another, I bid farewell to Tokyo, with happiness and new ideas to share and explore further. Till next time, follow me as I discover design in another city.

– Cyril Zammit is the Design Days Dubai Fair Director and contributor for Khaleejesque Magazine

Discovering Diversity in Design – Part 1: Beijing 

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