12 Japanese Masters

12 Japanese Masters

"In the first 25 years after the war, Japan carried out democratic, economic, and cultural reforms that normally have taken other countries an entire century."

 

Preface by Alex Kerr

When Maggie Saiki refers to the precious "window of opportunity"--the period after World War II (from about 1945 to 1965)--during which the basic forms of modern Japanese design took shape, she describes a time of rapid change when artists still had access to their traditional culture, but also vivid new forms arriving from the West, primarily the United States. The challenge for these twelve designers was not to reconcile the two cultures, but to rebuild their nation using the resources of each.

Chapter One: The Emperor of Japanese Graphic Design

Yusaku Kamekura met his first design heroes through images he saw as a child in the 1920s but his own work amplified the dreams of the mid- to late 20th century. His greatest gift to the profession was his stubborn insistence that it respect itself and take advantage of every talent. Although Kamekura was first and foremost a commercial designer, he was one of a mere handful who remained a craftsman until the end, completely independent.

Yusaku Kamekura

(1915-1997, Niigata) Uncompromising perfectionist, visionary and the profession's first undisputed leader, he worked all his life to shape it. Uncompromising perfectionist, visionary and the profession's first undisputed leader, Yusaku Kamekura worked all his life to shape it. Two years after his first one-man show, he organized the famed Graphic '55 exhibition at the Takashimaya...

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Yusaku Kamekura

(1915-1997, Niigata) Uncompromising perfectionist, visionary and the profession's first undisputed leader, he worked all his life to shape it. Uncompromising perfectionist, visionary and the profession's first undisputed leader, Yusaku Kamekura worked all his life to shape it. Two years after his first one-man show, he organized the famed Graphic '55 exhibition at the Takashimaya department store, introducing design into the vocabulary of the populace. Five years later he helped gather Japan's budding graphic designers into the Japan Advertising Artists Club (JAAC). Less than a decade later he hosted the World Design Conference. Following this event, he co-founded the still-successful Nippon Design Center, pairing corporations and designers in a unique and uniquely progressive and productive organization. In 1978 he was a founding member in the Japan Graphic Designers Association (JAGDA). From 1989 to 1993, he expressed his personal vision and kudos to other designers, artists and illustrators worldwide in Creation, his own publication. Kamekura's work, whether for lighting manufacturers or international events like the 1964 Olympics, was successful and exciting because its creator was forever excited about the world. He revealed his greatest strengths in the laconic--logos--and the expansive--posters. The breadth of the forms he chose and created reflects the great breadth of his life and loves.

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Chapter Two: The Pioneers and Organizers

Kazumasa Nagai, Kiyoshi Awazu, Ikko Tanaka, Mitsuo Katsui and Shigeo Fukuda were the idealistic pioneers of Japanese postwar design. Together they created many of the organizations that legitimized and ruled the profession until 1970.

 

Kazumasa Nagai

b. 1929, Osaka

By appearances, many would say that Kazumasa Nagai is a private person, but through his work, he reveals his entire self and psyche. Intensely open and sometimes labeled naiive, Nagai has consistently allied his work with the most fitting clients, largely because his sincerity and simplicity attune him with the world in its constant change. Although he studied only...

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Kazumasa Nagai

b. 1929, Osaka

By appearances, many would say that Kazumasa Nagai is a private person, but through his work, he reveals his entire self and psyche. Intensely open and sometimes labeled naiive, Nagai has consistently allied his work with the most fitting clients, largely because his sincerity and simplicity attune him with the world in its constant change. Although he studied only sculpture, he helped create and define the design profession, working first at the Daiwa Spinning Factory in Osaka as Japan moved from the production of raw materials to finished goods. In 1960 he co-founded the Nippon Design Center, and remained there until he retired from the post of its managing director in 2001. For decades Nagai was best known for his geometric forms, later imposed on vast spacescapes. Since the late '80s he has concentrated much time and his considerable imagination and social conscience on animal forms executed by hand, painstakingly applying each and every tiny dot. This is only the most recent of Kazumasa Nagai's lifetime of challenges he has set for himself.

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Kiyoshi Awazu

b. 1929 Tokyo

Driven by intense dedication to the world around him, Kiyoshi Awazu has designed posters, books, costumes and environments and has made and art directed films and conceptualized and produced sculptures and murals. After leaving Hosei University in 1947, Awazu directly assumed independence and in 1956 took the grand prize of the Japan Advertising Artists Club for his protest poster Give Back the Sea. Awazu has avoided commercial clients throughout his career, concentrating instead on every available cultural client. Awazu obeys a personal fascination with the breadth of the history of graphic expression, which led him to do extensive research into hyroglyphs and petroglyphs, present workshops on ancient calligraphy for children all over the world, and in 2001 proudly witness the opening of his brainchild, the Printing Museum in Tokyo. Awazu is a powerful and comprehensive thinker whose work has defined decades.

Ikko Tanaka

Involved in every important step of Japanese design's evolution, Ikko Tanaka is one of the founding fathers of Japanese design. Tanaka consciously refers to the classics of Japanese culture, and has beautifully expressed Japan to the West since 1964, when he worked with Yusaku Kamekura on the Tokyo Olympics. Tanaka is a superb typographer and has created his own typeface,kocho, a triumph considering the complexity and magnitude of the written Japanese language. Tanaka has spent a lifetime referring to traditional customs and rituals in the production of startling contemporary images. Noh theater and the tea ceremony, two of Tanaka's personal loves, have led him to a deeper understanding of his culture and yielded in his work a sensitivity to details of form and meaning, and a valued patina.

Mitsuo Katsui

Mitsuo Katsui has led the graphic design profession in its discovery and exploration of higher technology since the early '60s. His unclouded view of the purpose of that technology has helped define it for the rest of the field. He has continually chosen the right tool for the job, and his job has always been to express that which technology threatens to disturb or destroy: the power of life. Katsui received early recognition--the Mainichi Industrail Design prize--for his participation in the 1965 "Persona" exhibition, and has gone on to win numerous more awards, for posters, book design, and symbol marks.

Comprehensive projects attract Katsui and are clarified by his concern for the larger questions as well as a powerful understanding of the materials and processes available to the designer. He art-directed the Japanese government pavilion Orgorama at Expo '70 in Osaka and the Kodansha pavilion at Expo '85 in Tsukuba. As an educator, Katsui, who is a professor at Musashino Art University, teaches both attention to technology and technique and abandon to the Japanese notion of ikizama, or life's flow.

Mitsuo Katsui

Mitsuo Katsui has led the graphic design profession in its discovery and exploration of higher technology since the early '60s. His unclouded view of the purpose of that technology has helped define it for the rest of the field. He has continually chosen the right tool for the job, and his job has always been to express that which technology threatens to disturb or destroy: the power of life. Katsui received early recognition--the Mainichi Industrail Design prize--for his participation in the 1965 "Persona" exhibition, and has gone on to win numerous more awards, for posters, book design, and symbol marks.

Comprehensive projects attract Katsui and are clarified by his concern for the larger questions as well as a powerful understanding of the materials and processes available to the designer. He art-directed the Japanese government pavilion Orgorama at Expo '70 in Osaka and the Kodansha pavilion at Expo '85 in Tsukuba. As an educator, Katsui, who is a professor at Musashino Art University, teaches both attention to technology and technique and abandon to the Japanese notion of ikizama, or life's flow.

Chapter Three: The Internationalists

Tadanori Yokoo, Issey Miyake, and Eiko Ishioka were born between 1936 and 1938. They experienced the defeat of Japan as children, and were the first generation of designers to introduce criticism to Japanese design, and individually enter the international arena. In the words of Eiko Ishioka, they "Have deconstructed all the boxes and flow freely everywhere."

 

Tadanori Yokoo

b. 1936, Nishiwaki

Honest voyager to the center of the soul, Tadanori Yokoo expresses every found truth through juxtopositions, garish colors, often through collages, commenting on our human experience with images familiar, funny, and haunting. Yokoo has led a fascinating existence, and has rewarded his muse by sharing his rapture. On the surface Yokoo is an ordinary man, but he openly stakes his claim on spiritual and cultural options many deny themselves. His work, which includes posters, illustrations, book design, and painting, was criticized in the '60s by conservatives for dragging design down to a pedestrian level. At the same time the man himself was elevated by his supporters among the populace and the cultural elite; Tadanori Yokoo is perhaps the only designer to be familiar--known by both face and name--to an entire nation. His willingness to experience everything life brings him, and release it to us, has led to this popularity. He has acted in films and plays, on television and the stage, has written numerous books, has participated in dialogues with a multitude of Japan's great and well-known thinkers and stars, and worked closely with the geniuses of all the ages through which he has passed. His inspirations are to be found at the depths of his nation's psyche, and the physical realities of the family home in which he was raised.

Issey Miyake

b. 1938, Hiroshima

Issey Miyake presented his first collection in 1964, the year he graduated from Tama Art University in Graphic Design. Before opening his design studio in 1970 he studied fashion design in Paris with Guy Laroche and Hubert Givenchy. In New York he worked with Geoffrey Beene. He presented his first professional collection in New York in 1971. Miyake's clothing is more than cloth designed to fit the body. It is rather a means of interpreting life through a covering for the body. Miyake exhibits a freedom of thought that allows him to meld and expand his creativity with the latest technologies, and to collaborate with other intuitive and driven personalities to take an idea to its logical conclusion, resulting often in unforeseen innovations. Among Miyake's surprising creations are a vast range of body coverings relying on traditional textile techniques, startling images produced in alliance with Irving Penn, technologically innovative lines like Pleats Please Issey Miyake, and his most recent invention, A POC (A Piece Of Cloth). Miyake's work has been touted and exhibited around the world as modern art, shown at Tokyo's Touko Museum of Contemporary Art and the Vitra Museum in Berlin, among others. Miyake is inspired by individuals, movement, and materials, and like the other designers in his generation, is liberated from dependence on any single culture.

Eiko Ishioka

b. 1939, Tokyo

Having stormed through an extraordinarily successful 20-year career in graphic design, notably art directing for industry leaders like the established cosmetics firm Shiseido and the progressive retailer Parco, Eiko Ishioka broke with the entire Japanese design profession in 1980 to move to New York, a voyage undertaken in the name of creative freedom. Two years later she returned to Japan and began the second phase of her development, which can be abbreviated as her stage and screen period, and one that has brought her truly international recognition. Her awards and achievements have surpassed those of her contemporaries in their breadth, and her creative endeavors, from films like Mishima and Bram Stoker's Dracula to her current involvement with Cirque du Soleil, continue to bring her to successively larger and more diverse audiences. For her resounding success in the company of masters like Francis Ford Coppola, with whom she claims a special camaraderie; David Henry Hwang; Arata Isozaki and Issey Miyake, Ishioka credits her upbringing in a creative and completely liberal family, paired with extreme self-discipline. The power of her work emanates from this intensely maintained balance between freedom and restraint.

Chapter Four: The Pragmatists

Toshiyyuki Kita, Koichi Sato and Takenobu Igarashi were born between 1942 and 1944-at the tail end of a generation that believed designers might create an ideal world and lead society to it, and at the beginning of one that discovered design's limitations and its consequences for Japan and the environment. Their work reveals an astute view of a world in which every individual is responsible for making his or her own connections, including those to the past.

Toshiyuki Kita

b. 1942, Osaka

Toshiyuki Kita redefines furniture--originally a Western concept--as a Japanese one, and the traditional crafts of Japan as international treasures that nonetheless deserve modern interpretation and use. Kita was trained in industrial design at Naniwa College in Osaka and opened his design office in Osaka in 1967, but a visit to Italy in 1969 instigated fruitful relationships with Italian manufacturers like Bernini and Bilumen. In the '80s Cassina produced Kita's Wink chair, Kick table and Luck sofa. Dividing his time between Japan and Europe, Kita has sustained an equilibrium between tradition, which he supports and promotes through his distinct interior products of lacquer ware and Japanese paper, and modernism. And while the subjects he addresses in his work are serious ones, the effect is often lighthearted. Those to whom Kita's work appeals are responding to his truly international viewpoint, one that defines design within a human, not just a cultural context.

Koichi Sato

b. 1944, Tokyo

The boundary between the past and the future, the traditional and the revolutionary is found in many forms in Koichi Sato's work. Influenced by the scientific understanding he acquired in the 1950s, and inspired by haiku as well as the poetry of music and theater, this master has conquered a dichotomy within himself by expressing it on paper. His work often combines a tight line with gradation, or images of space with the scribblings of man. Sato is a logician with a poet's desire to reach within. He is also a technical genius with a legendary interest in and understanding of the methods of his trade. In 1969 Sato graduated from the Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music. After working for Shiseido for two years, he opened his own design office. His clients have included theatrical groups, fashion designer Jurgen Lehl, the established department store Mitsukoshi, paper manufactuer Takeo and Sogetsu, an established school of flower arranging.

Takenobu Igarashi

b. 1944, Hokkaido

A free, evolving creator, successful internationally in graphic and product design, sculpture and land art, and ultimately concerned with the place of design in society, Takenobu Igarashi represents his generation in his unflagging desire to connect with the world on more than a superficial level. Igarashi grew up in what was both the hinterlands and the only unfettered region of Japan: the northernmost and most recently colonized island of Hokkaido, on the same latitude as New Yorkers, and with the same frontier spirit as Californians. His family ran a traditional business in this progressive region, and as a child Igarashi felt that both worlds/aspects were his for the taking. From the start Igarashi was drawn to Europe and the United States, the former for its intellectual approach to design, the second for its bright and liberal world view. Igarashi attended the Tama University of Fine Arts in Tokyo and graduate school at UCLA, and has divided his time between Japan and California for decades. Over this period, Igarashi's work has covered such a wide range of forms, media and venues, always tending one step closer to sustainable and justifiable production, that finally his audience can see that he has realized his original dream: to pursue integrity in all things.

"In the 1950s and 1960s designers were constantly working to become opinion leaders. They had a dream of the world. It was important that they approximate it, simulate it, and surpass it. We have just now begun to recognize that there was no time to think, no time to prepare. The next generation, following mine, will have to fill in that gap."

Takenobu Igarashi