Design is everywhere
A striking difference is that they would take design to a more local level. In neighbourhoods where you least expect it, you will find nurseries, bookstores, restaurants, aquarium shops and even mamak shops (Singlish for “sundry” stores, also known as zakka stores or 雑貨屋 in Japan) bearing proper brand identity designs.
These are not franchisees but are owned by humble folks in places with no tourists. A family restaurant of an old couple selling Japanese set meals would have beautiful vintage interiors and music from the sixties. Their attention to detail was most apparent when I noticed their own logos printed on their serviettes and chopstick sleeves.
Zakka shops would have some of the owners’ personal touch – it could be the arrangement or choice of products. For example, they might have an interesting hand cream brand that they brought in from Poland – making it their own curated space. I find an incredibly high sense of pride and even romance towards owning small shops.
Example of interesting ice-cream soda you can find in a local café. Photo credit: rurubu.jp
In a well-hidden corner, you might find a parlour that sells visually interesting ice-cream sodas or you might find a local bathhouse with the coolest wall paintings. It is rather refreshing and inspiring to take a walk in a neighbourhood that reveals so many tiny universes.
Even though there are many nice hangouts in Singapore – many of which I have frequented – it is not the norm for people of my generation to be managing independent neighbourhood shops like those I have come across in Japan.
If we have a stronger culture of taking pride in our local places, such as adding design value to them, our neighbourhoods would be so much more vibrant.
Kamon, symbol marks used by both Japanese nobles and typical Japanese families. Image credit: http://goinjapanesque.com
Another observation is that in Europe, the ancient coat-of-arms emblems that usually appear on flags are typically reserved for nobles. However, the ancient Japanese counterpart, known as the Kamon (家紋), are used even by normal families. In fact, my classmates say that most Japanese families today still have their own Kamon.
Japan is also one of the only countries where even the middle-class employs architects for their landed properties. Therefore, there are cases everywhere in Japan where the general public enjoy good design. This will also lead to an abundance of opportunities for young designers to hone their skills.
A startling observation I had when I first started school here in Japan was that the students demonstrated an exceptional understanding and preference in design.
Most of the students in my current cohort have clear convictions from the start. My peers came to school already familiar with design history, from Bauhaus to Arts & Crafts movement, and having their favourite designer or studio. I think this has to do with being cultivated in an environment where design is celebrated even among non-designers or laypersons.
The Integrated Design Department Credits: Tama Art University official website