Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Neale Whi­taker is ed­i­tor-in-chief ed­i­tor in chief of Vogue gue Liv­ing. by Neale Whi­taker

Neale Whi­taker falls head over heels for Tokyo’s de­sign aes­thetic.

You don’t need to go look­ing for de­sign in Ja­pan,” said a col­league be­fore I headed to Tokyo re­cently. “It will find you.” I wasn’t sure what she meant at the time, but now I un­der­stand. Why did I wait so long to ex­pe­ri­ence this ex­tra­or­di­nary coun­try? Seated 12 floors above the crowds at The Apollo (the su­per-cool Tokyo out­post of the Syd­ney eatery), I watched the Shinkansen bul­let trains glide into Ginza station. They’re a metaphor for the ef­fi­ciency, pre­ci­sion and pace that make this city tick.

I guess Ja­pan had me at the ATM that spoke po­litely in English and played a tune while it dis­pensed my cash. Then it had me in the ho­tel bath­room when my toi­let seat stood to at­ten­tion as I opened the door. An­tic­i­pa­tion is ev­ery­thing. And then again and again over the next few days Ja­pan stole my heart – from cherry blos­som ice-cream to matcha (green tea) Kitkats and the ex­quis­ite pre­sen­ta­tion of a $20 sushi lunch, while seated shoe­less and cross-legged on tatami mats. From jazz pi­ano in a Shin­juku cock­tail bar to the dizzy­ing six-storey geo­met­rics of the world’s most fa­mous Prada store in Aoyama. Ja­pan just has it.

In de­sign terms we’ve heard a lot re­cently about wabi-sabi, a Ja­panese con­cept that trans­lates as cel­e­brat­ing “a con­nec­tion to the bro­ken, the unloved, the coarse and un­re­fined”. In other words, it’s an em­brace of age and its im­pact on sur­faces and ma­te­ri­als. Just as we in­creas­ingly value prove­nance and crafts­man­ship, so too can we value the beauty in im­per­fec­tion. It’s a log­i­cal coun­ter­point to the ul­ti­mately dis­pos­able world of so­cial me­dia – and some­thing the Ja­panese un­der­stand very well.

But that’s just one part of the Ja­panese story. As cel­e­brated Tokyo-based in­te­rior de­signer Masamichi Katayama pointed out to me, there’s a par­al­lel pre­mium on tran­sience. The Ja­panese see noth­ing wrong in de­mol­ish­ing build­ings to cre­ate new ones, as that way en­sures lin­eage and con­ti­nu­ity. The shiny and new is just as valu­able. It’s an in­trigu­ing con­tra­dic­tion in a land that thrives on them. And as I slid back a del­i­cate bam­boo screen at the new Hoshi­noya Tokyo ho­tel (based on tra­di­tional ryokan de­sign) to re­veal the con­crete jun­gle out­side, I grasped why the Ja­panese aes­thetic has never seemed more rel­e­vant. With re­spect for the past and open-armed em­brace of the fu­ture, it’s the best of all pos­si­ble worlds.


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