words Max Fraser and Kieran Long
The sight of a dozen naked men in full body paint shrieking and convulsing on the stage was the image that brought the curtain down on Tokyo Designers Block (TDB).
The closing party – a stage show featuring transvestites, women with strap-on dildos and a bunch of Japanese Bond girl dancers – was a fitting finale to the most bizarre, eclectic and fun design festival on the international circuit.
The Tokyo design scene clearly does not do trade fairs. Here, you come to see the entire package – not just the product, but the cargo container it is exhibited in, and the extraordinary backdrop of the Tokyo skyline behind it. Experiencing design here involves all of your senses all of the time.
TDB and the concurrent Tokyo Designers Week take place in October, and the hundreds of events all over the city are in every conceivable space in the city: city centre car parks, university courtyards, warehouses, department stores and chic boutiques. Walk around Tokyo, and you are struck by the sheer joy in performance and presentation of objects.
Tokyo is the most consumer-oriented of all international design events – they are festivals of shopping rather than trade shows. While Tokyo is still not the place to find scores of unknown and up-and-coming designers, the festival was swamped by the public, despite the intervention of typhoon Ma-On on the middle weekend.
Many of the principal exhibition sites were a little disappointing, with highlights generally of European origin, such as Eboy’s mural at the United Nations University or Jerszy Seymour’s Scum skate park at Root 246 Parking.
The real gems were in the many independent design shops around the city. Many of these are mixing cutting-edge work from Europe with a younger Japanese influence. These included the tiny Trico store, which had work by Richard Hutten and Alexander Taylor from Europe, as well as the owners Hitoshi Saeki and Suki Sakurai’s wonderful “Variation” collection. E&Y is another manufacturer with European connections, and showed new work by Ilkka Suppanen, Alex Macdonald, Johannes Norlander, Afroditi Krassa and Markus Benesch.
The best of the Japanese work was by Plusminuszero, which had everyone who saw it salivating at its simplicity, beauty and functionality. Plusminuszero is a new collaboration between top Japanese designer Naoto Fukasawa, toy manufacturer Takara, and design management firm Diamond. The theme of the collection is “Product Art”, and it produces electronic appliances in very beautiful packages. The 8-inch LCD TV that is shaped like a cathode ray tube was a big hit, as well as the beautiful and mysterious doughnut-shaped humidifier, and the torch with an end shaped like a light bulb. Sold initially only online, the range now has its own Aoyama store (www.plusminuszero.jp).
After a poor showing last year, the British contingent got its act together under the banner of DesignUK, the catch-all title for the British design events. The organisers – the British Embassy and British Council – had merged their budgets this year to fund two high-profile exhibitions: Twinkle Twinkle: New Light from the UK, held at the top of the Laforet department store in Harajuku (a six-storey equivalent to Top Shop), and First Hand 2: Design from the UK staged in the Ozone Gallery in Shinjuku. Twinkle Twinkle in particular was beautifully curated and presented.
An A-list of British design, including Conran, Dyson, Dixon, Arad, Morrison, Pearson Lloyd, Sodeau, Cocksedge and Barber Osgerby gathered at the British Embassy for a spectacular party to kick off the proceedings. Even at this early point, many of the assembled Brits were trying to cook up reasons to come back next year.