Playing Japanese

 

MUJI CD Player, Naoto Fukasawa

MUJI CD Player, Naoto Fukasawa

Kawaee!! That’s what Japanese schoolgirls shriek when they see something irresistibly cute. They make “funny face”, squirm their eyes and hide their giggles behind their hands. Their mothers and fathers find a lot of things kawaii, too. They may not giggle, but they will probably buy the same stuff. Cuteness is everywhere in Japan, from political party mascots to the dangling things people carry on their mobile phones.

Hello Kitty has been for decades famous for being the poster kitten of kawaii. Everything about her and her friends, her scented rubbers and notepads, her stickers and even the silly English she speaks through her ears is kawaii. She has always been excessively, compulsively kawaii. That’s what I wanted to find at the 42nd Street Sanrio shop this afternoon. This was the New York home of Hello Kitty, right in the middle of Manhattan’s district of sensorial overload. I wanted to experience an overwhelming sensation of kawaii, as if somehow I would enter and everything would be bright and colored and scented and cheap and throwaway. I wanted to find the katagana and kenji characters I can’t read and the English sentences I can’t make sense of.

But instead I found myself in this sad excuse of a “flagship store”, surrounded by Ibiza lounge music, too much patent lather and red velvet pumps. This store is like a cheap, downgraded version of Victoria’s Secret for people with too much money and very little cuteness. There were too many semi-kinky pieces of clothing, too much fake fur and not enough kawaii. Then I found the Hello Kitty charm bracelet, all diamonds and sapphires and other pretty shiny stones and a 2800-dollar price tag. Since when did Hello Kitty grow up, when did kawaii turn bling, when did petite Japanese girl in short plait skirt become Imelda Marcos!? This bracelet made me think that all this stuff wasn’t even designed in Japan – it couldn’t have been. Maybe it was just a weird derivation of Hello Kitty’s “brand values” for the American market (whatever that means in 42nd Street), maybe something was lost from Tokyo to New York when the store reopened recently – I thought, as I left it with a sense of disappointment and disbelief.

Two blocks down, I regained my faith in Japanese design or esthetic values. Or rather, the little I know about them and what they mean to me. MUJI is my safe haven of “enough”. Nothing is colorful, loud or kawaii here. It’s all about good materials, textures, proportions, finishing. On my second visit to the MUJI flagship store I could hear some kind of Icelandic choir. I could instead be listening to Junichiro Tanizaki’s famous “In Praise of Shadows” lecture on a loop: there aren’t any gold or lacquered surfaces there, but I feel his presence. “Even the greatest masterpiece,” Tanizaki wrote in 1933, “will lose its worth as a scroll if it fails to blend with the alcove, while a work of no particular distinction may blend beautifully with the room and set off to unexpected advantage both itself and its surroundings.” One does then understand the ethos of this Japanese super-non-brand: the whole is not more than the sum of all products. The whole is that sum. Nothing is more important, nothing stands out. It’s all about a haptic experience of our home and surroundings; we are compelled to touch things, hold them, appreciate them in their relation to each other. Everything matches, nothing shouts. It’s as if the thousands of items on display are whispering, rather than shouting at you.

A good example of that is the wall-mounted CD player by Naoto Fukasawa. When I want to play a CD in my bedroom, I pull the player’s power cord. The disk spins until it becomes pure movement and blends with the room. I won’t be able to tell what I’m playing, or even know the track number – there is no display for that. If I want to switch it off, I pull the cord again and the CD stops. There are only two buttons: back and forward. It also has a volume dial on top, but there isn’t much use in turning up the volume too much, as the player’s sound quality doesn’t go that high. This really is a perfect illustration of the “enoughness” I appreciate in my version of Japanese design. Even if I didn’t buy anything at MUJI today, I still know I can always come home and press play.

__

This text was written for Karrie Jacobs‘ Urban Curation course. For this assignment, titled Scavenger Hunt #4: Muji v. Hello Kitty, Jacobs had us read “I Have No Mouth and I Must Purr” by Charlie Haas, in “New West Magazine”, December 1980 and “Modern Boys and Mobile Girls” by William Gibson, The Observer April 1, 2001. We were also told to visit the Hello Kitty store on 42nd Street and the Muji Store in the New York Times building, pick an object that exemplifies the best aspects of Japanese design and one that exemplifies the worst, then write a brief essay, 750 words, to contrast and compare.



490 Comments

  1. Feel free to surf to my page: superior singing method scam (http://tesla27.com/?document_srl=104990)

  2. How it is manifested is either covered by the spell description, or
    even by DM roleplay.

    My blog post; http://www.tennis-bel.ru/?option=com_k2&view=itemlist&task=user&id=340860

  3. Look at my site – online singing lessons; http://www.augmentedideas.com/,

  4. Hye wrote:

    ?o matter if some one searches for his necessary
    thing, so h?/she needs to be available th?t in detail,
    therefore that th?ng ?s maint?ined over here.

    My page – google play gift card [Hye]

  5. I seldom comment, but i did a few searching and wound up here Frederico Duarte » Playing Japanese.
    And I do have a couple of questions for you if you don’t mind.
    Is it simply me or does it look like some of these remarks come
    across like left by brain dead people? :-P And,
    if you are writing at additional sites, I would like to follow anything
    new you have to post. Could you make a list of
    the complete urls of all your shared pages like your
    twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

    Feel free to surf to my site :: option strategy

  6. site wrote:

    Everyone loves what you guys are usually up too. This kind of clever work and exposure! Keep up the good works guys I’ve added you guys to our blogroll.

  7. Milagro wrote:

    Feel free to surf to my webpage; superior singing method bonus (Milagro)

  8. Reyna wrote:

    Also visit my blog post: how to sing better (Reyna)

  9. Porno gratis wrote:

    Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

  10. Free Traffic wrote:

    Hi there everybody, here every one is sharing these kinds of know-how,
    thus it’s nice to read this weblog, and I used to pay a visit this weblog every
    day.

  11. Valentina wrote:

    I see you don’t monetize your site, i know how to make good
    passive income using one simple method, just
    search in gogle for; Coisin’s tricks

  12. Aisha wrote:

    When I initially commented I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments aree added- checkbox and now each time a
    comment is added I get 4 emais with the exact same comment.
    Is there a means you are able to remove me from
    that service? Appreciate it!

    My weblog :: custard e-liquid (Aisha)

  13. Look at my webpage: superior singing method (http://www.tianxianmeimei.com)

  14. how to sing wrote:

    Here is my web page: how to sing

  15. Roman wrote:

    Also visit my blog post: how to sing better; Roman,

  16. Whether or not you’re booking a deep clean or a
    common cleaning, you’ll be far more than satisfied with the thorough job of your maids.

    my homepage: ???? ??? ?????? ?????? ???????

  17. Annabelle wrote:

    Check out my web site – online singing lessons (Annabelle)

  18. imp source wrote:

    Thank you for the good writeup. It if truth be told was a enjoyment account it. Glance complex to far introduced agreeable from you! By the way, how could we communicate?

  19. I’m extr?mely please? to discover this great site.
    I want to to thank you for ones time for this parti?ularly wonderf?l read!!

    I definitely ?oved eve?y part of it and i also have you s?ved as ? favorite to see new t?ings in your blog.

    Here ?s my blog post … iphone 7 giveaway

  20. Ahaa, its good dialogue on the topic of this article here at this weblog,
    I have read all that, so at this time me also commenting
    at this place.

  21. Melodee wrote:

    Check out my web site superior singing method bonus – Melodee

  22. Deangelo wrote:

    Using the playtest spell checklist, that is actually
    harder to validate, yet as others have stated that isn’t the checklist the Psychic
    will eventually deliver along with.

    Feel free to surf to my weblog: ms.cdyee.com (Deangelo)

  23. It’s going to be end of mine day, except before finish I am reading this impressive piece of writing to improve my knowledge.

  24. Jorja wrote:

    Here is my web blog: how to sing better (Jorja)

  25. Hey, you used to write great, but the last several posts have been kinda boring… I miss your great writings. Past few posts are just a little out of track! come on!

  26. No matter if some one searches for his vital thing, thus he/she desires to be available
    that in detail, thus that thing is maintained over here.

  27. Elijah wrote:

    my web blog :: superior singing method scam; Elijah,

  28. Muhammad wrote:

    Having read this I thought it was extremely enlightening.
    I appreciate you spending some time and energy to put this content together.
    I once again find myself personally spending a lot of
    time both reading and leaving comments. But so
    what, it was still worth it!

    Also visit my blog post; armorgames.com (Muhammad)

  29. As you’ll be able to see, we’ve already arrange a little online store that
    sells vintage postcards andd envelopes.

    My blog post … shopify themes with drop down menu

  30. Thank you for this post, I’m a big fan of this site would like to be updated.

    Feel free to surf to my web site – sytropin hgh reviews

  31. Claribel wrote:

    Feel free to surf to my website – superior singing method bonus (Claribel)

  32. Hey there! Someone in my Facebook group shared this website with us so I came to give it a look.
    I’m definitely loving the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting
    this to my followers! Fantastic blog and outstanding design.

    Here is my web-site: garcinia cambogia vs green coffee bean

  33. The thickness of a king size mattress will make you are feeling comfy regardless of bbed body.

    Also viswit my web page :: recliner chairs

  34. That is a great tip especially to those fresh to the blogosphere.
    Short but very precise information? Thanks for sharing this one.
    A must read article!

  35. My brother suggested I might like this website. He used to be totally right.
    This post truly made my day. You can not imagine just how much time I
    had spent for this info! Thank you!

  36. Now I am ready to do my breakfast, when having my breakfast coming
    over again to read other news.

Leave a Reply