Japan, Paper & Tradition

16tmag-tel-slide-3FR1-superJumbo.jpg

Washi paper at the store Ozu Washi in Tokyo. Credit Courtesy of Ozu Washi

Thanks to Nikil Saval for asking, and to the New York Times for publishing his answer to this question:

Why Is Japan Still So Attached to Paper?

Washi is to the Japanese something like what wine is to the French — a national obsession and point of pride.

16tmag-tel-slide-PRKU-superJumbo.jpg

The architect Shigeru Ban’s emergency shelters are made mostly of paper.CreditBrent Boardman/courtesy of the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF)

ONE OF THE CLICHÉS of modernity — but a cliché we nonetheless have to live through — is that new forms of technology make us nostalgic for prior ones and the eras they connote. When smartphones emerged, they brought the internet into spaces that were once free of them, so that a poorly functioning flip phone now inspires a hint of wistfulness. The pileup of digitized music since the emergence of the MP3 has prompted a retreat, however niche and ultimately minor, into the world of vinyl records and even tapes. The ransacking of the physical texture of the world — books, newspapers, retail stores, maps — has been so enormous and sudden that it becomes possible to see what we are losing and no longer regard the onrushing future as progress.

tktmag-paper-slide-SQBO-jumbo.jpg

Japan’s centuries-long fascination with traditional papermaking means there’s still a robust analog culture in a country known for its embrace of the modern. Credit Photograph by Kyoko Hamada. Set Design by Arielle Casale and Maxwell Sorensen. Altered images: Daj/Getty Images; Bernard Allum/Getty Images. Origami: Beth Johnson. Photographer’s assistant: Jonah Rosenberg

Because of the sheer accumulated weight of its past, and the velocity of its rush into the future, Japan offers these contradictions and anxieties of modernity in particular abundance. Japan was geographically isolated for centuries, so the time between the country’s opening — thanks to the gunboat diplomacy of American warships’ arrival in 1853 — and the postwar miracle of reconstruction produced a linear and especially propulsive narrative of an agrarian society becoming one defined by urban futurism. The contrast (and conflict) between ancient and modern is the primary tension in Japan’s modern literary and filmic traditions: rural families experiencing the shock of the city in Yasujiro Ozu’s films of the ’40s and ’50s, or Noh drama in the novels of the Showa-era writer Fumiko Enchi. Everything, from the perfervidness of the country’s electronic manufacturing, the proliferation of its pop culture, the aggressiveness of its building booms — even as a three-decade-long economic decline strips these characteristics of their sheen — seems to serve as a reminder that throughout the postwar era, Japan was a byword for the future. Continue reading

Beyond Zen Architecture

karuizawa-japan-slide-ABND-master675.jpg

There is not a single right angle in the Hoshino Wedding Chapel’s cascading concrete arches and soaring interior of inlaid stone. CreditPhotograph by Mikael Olsson. Producer: HK Productions

Anyone who followed our design and development process, or who has been to the property we created on the beach in Kerala between 2012-2014, will understand why this architecture, from one of Japan’s masters, speaks to us:

Otherworldly Architecture in Japan’s Magical Mountainside

In the leafy hamlet of Karuizawa, distinctive design is the expression of the uninhibited self. Continue reading

National Park of the Week: Kamikochi National Park, Japan

 

dsc_0593

Photo from emilyerratic.blogspot.com

Within of the northern range of the Japanese Alps lies Kamikochi National Park, an area comprised of a plateau surrounded by vertical peaks, reflective lakes and virgin forests. Kamikochi is considered part of Chubu Sangaku National Park (also known as the Japan Alps National Park) and was extensively used by the logging industry until the mid 19th century when British missionary Rev. Walter Weston (1861-1940) lobbied to preserve the area. There is a plaque commemorating him and on the first Sunday of every June, the Weston festival is held to celebrate the opening of mountain-climbing season.

Continue reading

The Japanese Women Who Married the ‘Enemy’

Atsuko, Emiko and Hiroko were among tens of thousands of Japanese women who married their former enemies after World War II. They landed in 1950s America knowing no one, speaking little English and often moving in with stunned in-laws.  PHOTO: BBC

Atsuko, Emiko and Hiroko were among tens of thousands of Japanese women who married their former enemies after World War II. They landed in 1950s America knowing no one, speaking little English and often moving in with stunned in-laws. PHOTO: BBC

What does it mean to leave your country, where you were somebody, and move miles to a continent you’d only heard of? A country where you’d be a ‘nobody’. Not knowing whether the decision to say ‘yes’ to a former enemy was right. Struggling for words that help start a conversation. Being told not to wear the one piece of cloth your identity hinges upon? And years of trying to fit in, juggling two distinct identities? Listen to the Japanese War brides as they tell their story on BBC this week. 

For 21-year-old Hiroko Tolbert, meeting her husband’s parents for the first time after she had travelled to America in 1951 was a chance to make a good impression. She picked her favourite kimono for the train journey to upstate New York, where she had heard everyone had beautiful clothes and beautiful homes.

But rather than being impressed, the family was horrified. “My in-laws wanted me to change. They wanted me in Western clothes. So did my husband. So I went upstairs and put on something else, and the kimono was put away for many years,” she says.

Continue reading

Helping the Ocean Clean Up

The Ocean Cleanup started tests in 2014 to see if the floating barriers are a feasible way to remove garbage. PHOTO: The Ocean Cleanup

The Ocean Cleanup started tests in 2014 to see if the floating barriers are a feasible way to remove garbage. PHOTO: The Ocean Cleanup

Dutch engineering student Boyan Slat announced in a 2012 TEDx talk that he had invented a way for the oceans to rid themselves of plastic with minimal human intervention. About 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year. Part of this accumulates in 5 areas where currents converge: the gyres. At least 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are currently in the oceans, a third of which is concentrated in the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Slat’s idea is to building a stationary array with floating barriers that would filter and collect floating plastic using the ocean’s natural currents.

Continue reading

The Ultimate Architect of Cardboard Buildings

“What is the difference between temporary architecture and permanent architecture?” No architect is more qualified to explore that question than Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. “Temporary” architecture, in disaster zones, is Ban’s calling card. For over 20 years, the 2014 winner of the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s Nobel, has best been known for his well-publicized humanitarian work. From Rwanda to Japan to Nepal, he has turned cheap, locally-sourced objects—sometimes even debris—into disaster-relief housing that “house both the body and spirit,” as Architectural League president Billie Tsien puts it.

Continue reading

The Future of Parking is Here!

Developed by construction company Giken, the robotic system stores the cycles in a 11-meter deep well PHOTO: GIKEN LTD

Developed by construction company Giken, the robotic system stores the cycles in a 11-meter deep well PHOTO: GIKEN LTD

If there is one problem that puts developed and developing countries on the same footing, it is parking space. And Japan seems to have found a way around it. At least for bicycles. Considering that they are carbon neutral and land value is high, hindering the commissioning of exclusive bicycle roads and parking lots, this idea could be the future. Eco-cycle is an anti-seismic mechanical underground parking lot for cycles, designed along the concept of “culture above ground, function underground”. So when in Japan, particularly around Kounanhoshi Park, head to this bicycle elevator. Wait as the electronic card reader scans your membership (fee around $15 a month) code, remove pets and all valuables from the cycle, and stand back as your wheels make an eight-second journey to its slot. On your return, scan the code and your ride reaches you in a jiffy. More pedal power to that someone who really gave parking some extra thought!

Detailed photos (and some Japanese) here.