I grew up in the Midwestern and Eastern US in the 60’s and 70’s, when advertising was fresh and new. I learned about the world of persuasion (design) from my late father, Bill Kinser, and my late mother, Charleen Kinser, who won three Cannes awards in the ‘50s for animation, and in the mid-70s established Charleen Kinser Designs (CKD). In 2001, Charleen closed CKD as a response to the general unwillingness to spend more than $20.00 on a toy, and an atmosphere that discredited domestic handcrafting in favor of cheap machine-made objects from overseas. She would be happy to know today that there is a resurgence of crafting and valuing of handmade goods around the world, as a response to years of this same atmosphere. Today, the extensive output of CKD, both Charleen Kinser’s private reserve and products offered through a collectors’ exchange, is handled by egnome.com.
Soon after graduating from St. John’s, where in my senior year I was dating a Caucasian Japanese national, I set off for Japan. I spent fifteen years of my early adulthood there, six years in Tokyo, and nine in the countryside north of Kyoto. I wrote about whatever interested me, and there was a lot: The profitable live beetle trade, the gradual annual retreat my rural Japanese village seemed to make from the 20th Century in the deep snows of winter, and the thoughts and concerns of a grand sampling of Japanese graphic designers active in the post-war period through the present.
I’ve written articles for the Asian Wall Street Journal, Metropolis, Graphis, and Theme, among others. I’ve written books for Graphis, Mark Batty Publisher, Honnoki, Edizioni Press (on John Ciardullo and Kisho Kurokawa) and Robundo. I’ve contributed to the design compendium to be published by Phaidon, and I’ve translated books as a member of the partnership Takumi Translation for Asahi Shinbunsha, Lars Müller Publishers, Rizzoli, Sendenkaigi, Intense-inc., and Seibundo Shinkosha. I’ve written in Japanese for the Journal of Architecture and building Science, Kodomo Pia, Tarzan and the progressive housing magazine Chil Chin Bito. Graphis magazine was a major client of mine from the beginning, commissioning more than 25 profiles of superior designers in Japan, South Korea, China and the U.S. In 2002, Graphis published 12 Japanese Masters as a culmination of this work.
Among my other books are Japanese Working for A Better World, interviews with more than 60 activists trying to involve Japan in a sustainable future; Y.M.D.: Ancient Arts, Contemporary Designs, five essays on the marriage of traditional Japanese rural industrial traditions and the internationally viable product design of Takenobu Igarashi.
I spent the last nine years of my life in Japan living in a 100 year-old thatched farmhouse, where I became intrigued, and ultimately frustrated, with the tenacity of tradition in the craft of Japanese thatching. In 1999, I instigated a cross-cultural rethatching of the house, bringing together on the roof for a two-month project an eager young Japanese thatcher and a mature, efficiency-minded British one. An hour-long documentary about the project aired twice on prime-time Japanese TV (TV Tokyo), attracting the interest of thatchers and homeowners around the country. On both thatching and design, I have spoken to audiences of several hundred in both Japanese and English.