Japan Trip

I have just returned from Kyoto where I was attending the CUMULUS conference entitled (Cu:) "emptiness" Resetting Design – A New Beginning. The conference themes were:

1) History, Tradition and Craft: Rethinking modernity and locality in design
2) Nature, Togetherness and Sustainability: Theoretical and Practical Perspectives on Design
3) Safety in Contemporary Design: Approaches to the issues in social and individual welfare

At this conference the Kyoto Design Declaration was signed (see my previous post on this)

[Cu:] is an original idea in Oriental thought. An ultimate concept in Buddhism, it has taken root in Japan. Essentially, [Cu:] means “Everything in this world has its own origin yet is related to everything else. Nothing can exist by itself alone. Always things are subject to change, and eventually they cease to exist.” Therefore, since all things in the universe are interdependent, adjustments can be made to result in mutual benefit. From the viewpoint of interdependency, [Cu:] signifies that improvements in “harmony” and “balance” can strongly contribute to greater happiness.

The concept of [Cu:] can be seen clearly in Kyoto. As Japan’s Imperial capital for nearly one thousand years, the city originated the archetypes of Japanese culture, art and design.

At the same time, Kyoto has continuously accepted new ideas, and has sought the coexistence of both new and old. Integrating up-to-date innovation and timeless tradition, Kyoto has fascinated the world.

Basic assumptions about design have been questioned since the birth of “modern” design. In this Kyoto conference, we would like to explore what design could do to promote happiness in the world.

Happiness can be interpreted in many ways, but design can be a common tool for achieving it. Cumulus members, based in various countries, are requested to make proposals concerning “design for happiness,” and to review these contributed ideas. In this way, the Kyoto conference will provide a meeting place to increase mutual understanding of various cultures, and to seek original ways of approaching design. The next generation of design must coexist with nature and address greater happiness for all lives. Cumulus 2008 Kyoto will open up discussions that cross borders, linking various cultures and philosophies to recognize common social issues. Taking place in the 1200-year-old city of Kyoto, we hope that this conference will originate a new concept in design that will remain a positive influence for the next 50 or 100 years.

Whilst in Japan the overwhelming feeling I experienced was connected to detail and belief. During my time there it was hard to locate my feelings for the country accurately: this might have been due to the assaults on my sense which seemed to come from every angle and direction each day. One thing that I now feel sure of is that the Japanese are, and have been for many years in the presence of exquisite and functional design everyday of their lives.
The bento box is a perfect example of this phenomonen. The bento box is more than a lunch box: it is a visual and carefully balanced dietary feast, a work of craftmanship; both in the culinary and construction senses, a sustainable option and a work of art – all in one package. Consider the options you might be faced with: in many parts of the world a pre-packed sandwich, a pre-packed pie, a yoghurt or a chocolate bar is taken for lunch. Then consider the cutlery we might use: beautiful wooden chopsticks verses injection moulded plastic knife and fork.

Unwrapping a bento box sitting in the refectory of Kyoto University was a delightful experience. Sliding the bright orange elastic band off the crafted wooden box, taking off the millimeter thick timber veneer top and seeing the multi coloured feast inside took my breath away. The chopstick were wrapped in a paper package with a prayer printed on the back-side. One first sighting the quantity of food in the bento seemed small, however  on reflection the overall amount was perfect leaving the  consumer feeling neither full not hungry. The balance of sweet, savory and a new category of neither sweet nor savory must have had alot to do with this balanced feeling.

Refer to my photo gallery for photos of exquisite Japanese food.

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