As the current stream in furniture and interior design, the activity of powerful designers in Europe stands out and it’s getting into the news for a few years in Japan. Hitoshi Saeki who runs a housewares product gallery called ‘Trico International‘ located in Harajyuku has been introducing lots of powerful designers such as Droog Design, Inflate, etc. into Japan.
He himself is also involved in designing furniture and interior and organizes ‘Happening’, an event showcasing furniture, product and interior design which will be held on this October for the second straight year. We interviewed Hitoshi Saeki who has always been coming in touch with design scene, about ‘Happening’ and the current scene.
Please tell us what you’re currently doing.
I preside over TRICO INTERNATIONAL, located in Harajyuku. Trico is a shop serving both as a showroom and an office, and introduces Droog, Inflate, El Ultimo Gritol, Snowcrash, Yuichi Takeuchi, etc. to Japan as an agent for contemporary designers in the domestic and foreign markets.
As for ‘HAPPENING’, I’m involved in it as a member of a unit called AIRCONDITIONED which organizes ‘HAPPENING’. The core members of AIRCONDITIONED are myself and three others. It changes the form for each project though. We do a wide variety of “design” works including interior designs and window displays of shops, graphic designs and advertisements. In a way we consider HAPPENING as one of the artworks of AIRCONDITIONED.
Could you tell us about HAPPENING? I’ve heard that each participant secures and design their space (cafe or shop) to exhibit their works.
Basically it’s a designers’ show of products, furniture and interiors, which will be held in Aoyama, Harajyuku, Shibuya, and the Daikanyama area.
Our approach is to make HAPPENING a collective exhibition of each show. The only thing that AIRCONDITIONED should do is to provide a minimum context for participants. We don’t have to put in a word and leave everything to themselves. In other words, they cannot depend on us much.
Of course, we create an opportunity for them to be noticed by media and get a chance, so I hope this project is going well. In Japan such an opportunity for young designers doesn’t exist nor do they have the power to do such things. I thought we (AIRCONDITIONED) should set the stage for them.
Since designers don’t have to pay any charges to participate in HAPPENING and in some degree they can do everything as they like, it’s a great chance for them.
Right. In ordinary public exhibitions, there’s a certain theme and within such a setting works are judged with a certain standard and are exhibited with other works. I consider HAPPENING as a presentation of designers, not a common exhibition.
In addition, we make their works more familiar to us by placing them in everyday scenes. They’re basically products and furniture, which should be used by everyone; different from art. I want to showcase them in that sense.
This is it’s second year. How did HAPPENING start?
We are designers as well. When we look at our work environment from a designer’s point of view, we thought we should make an opportunity to showcase designer’s works in Japan because that chance is not available. We also wanted to encourage designers in a way. In Japan many designers belong to a company and they are working as in-house designers. There are a few independent designers who work on their own after finishing school. Recently a growing number of people have started to design as they like.
Once they belong to a company, they have to design in a different way from what they want. Commercial designs are definitely different from independent designs.
I’ve heard that some well-known designers such as Droog, Inflate, H Design, etc. will be invited from domestic and foreign and showcase their works in addition to the exhibition of selected works in competition.
I hope this will eventually be an event that young Japanese designers can be active on at an international level. I also hope Japanese designers can compare with young designers who are active in overseas with this event. So I don’t want this event to be just an amateur festival like an annual school festival. I believe that exhibitors will rouse themselves to create good works by seeing works by such well-known designers.
Is there any changes compared to last year?
The greatest difference is that the event has already been known. Last year was the first time, so it was unknown.
Some people in this field were interested in the event just because they had known us. It became known more than ever, so it’s not so hard for us to organize the event this year. In a way I feel a sense of responsibility for that.
I think HAPPENING allows us to experience the current scene of product, furniture and interior design. What do you think about the new movement and new stream in the scene in Japan and overseas?
In recent years, there’s been lots of independent designers overseas and compared to that, there’s still few independent designers in Japan. The numbers of such creators have been increasing gradually through the information on the movement overseas. The business depression in Japan might be the cause of it.
However, such a working style is not established yet. So, for users, there’s no reality about design to our everyday life.
In Europe men and women of all ages are talking about design, but Japanese furniture culture is still young because we’ve been in the tatami culture for a long time.
Also the ‘goods culture’ has been growing and there are lots of such ‘goods’ stores in Japan. The spread of such cheap imitation goods and furniture caused a problem to the furniture design scene. There’s lots of companies that make imitations of new design in Japan and sell them at a low price. There’s also a lot of consumers who buy such cheap products. It’s a kind of vicious market structure ignoring the copyrights of designs.
I remember that there were lots of imitations when Inflate was fashionable in Japan.
Recently some people have become aware that such imitation is not cool and appreciate the designer’s works. So some worthless shops deal in imitatation products have disappeared lately.
I think new materials or new ways of using common materials are becoming the new thing in the furniture design arena.
Well, that’s right. But independent designers don’t have high-tech laboratories, so it’s very hard for them to develop a new material. So they’re trying to apply existing materials with a new idea and find a totally new function to the materials.
Is there any differences between the design in Japan and overseas?
The Japanese design scene is still young and there’s no environment for design. But now we can get lots of information on what’s going on outside Japan, so, for example, people who live in Tokyo are living in the same style as people in London or Paris. The only difference between them is the furniture that they’re using.
It’s because of Japanese living environments that there’s no space to place furniture. Japanese people tend to think little of their “living space”. They used to regard it as important as Japanese tradition but today most Japanese aren’t interested in their living environments. Their only interests are spending money on collecting something like “goods”. I think collecting “goods” is meaningless.
They only want to show off their collections, not to enjoy their everyday life.
Among the designers who are invited to HAPPENING many of the Japanese designers do the interiors and many of the foreign designers design products and furniture. Comparatively, isn’t there a place to create and produce furniture and products individually on a commercial basis in Japan?
I think they (Japanese) don’t have enough power nor ability to do as well as others. Besides that, the consumer society has developed extensively in Japan. In the case of Japan the interior designs of, say, boutiques change each year. It causes a large quantity of garbage though. In a way Japanese designers are kind of lucky since they have a chance to work on both interiors and products. But it’s not always good because such designs are often destroyed in a few years.
Overseas there’s no chance for young designers to do interior design.
I also think there’s a difference in people’s awareness of environmental problems including recycling.
When I went to Europe, I saw a lots of garbage boxes for recycling everywhere.
Recycling for them is the normal thing and is taking root in their living. So works that icorporate concepts of ecology are spontaneously created. There might be a difference between living in Japan and overseas. This difference might let Japanese consumers buy cheap products and dump it easily when they lose interest in it.
Design needs to take root in our living. Cheap tricks for design will be of no use anymore.
Do you have any plans for the near future?
Things will take care of themselves. I don’t make a long term plan. I often leave everything to chance. HAPPENING will be held next year though.
This year’s HAPPENING will invite Dutch interior magazine ‘FRAME’ and give a FRAME Award from the exhibitors. It will become a place where will allow both designers and users to discover and have a new understanding of our space and its creating elements, products, within our everyday life.
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Text: Mariko Takei