Exhibit shows essence of Japan

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Exhibit shows essence of Japan


Left: Humidifier Ver. 3 created by Naoto Fukasawa is minimal in its design. / Right: Inkan (seal) case created by Norio Tanno

Wa, which means harmony in Japanese, is a concept deeply rooted in Japanese culture and is prevalent today in Japanese design.

“Wa: The Spirit of Harmony and Japanese Design Today,” at the Korea Foundation Cultural Center in central Seoul, calmly demonstrates the traditional concept of wa with design works reinterpreted in a contemporary context.

The exhibition is being held to mark the 20th anniversary of the Korea Foundation Cultural Center, which has co-organized the exhibition in conjunction with the Japan Foundation and the Japan Information and Culture Center of the Embassy of Japan in Korea.

The exhibition presents a total of 161 items by contemporary Japanese designers and categorizes them into 12 different functions: tableware, bathware, consumer electronics, digital technology, play products, stationery, miscellaneous housewares, apparel and accessories, wraps and bags, transportation, furniture, and lighting fixtures. These items, which are commonly used in daily life in Japan, are further categorized according to six keywords present in Japanese design: cute, crafted, fine-grained, tactile, minimal and thoughtful.

The concept of wa in Japanese design is evident in the spirit of the works. Japanese products are often recognized as user-friendly, compact and non-clashing.

The works connect with traditional Japanese designs as represented by refined lines, lacquerware, paper wrappers and polished wooden furniture.


Guitar players do not have to bother their neighbors with the Silent Guitar by Yamaha.

The philosophy underlying the designs brings past and present together in a harmonious way, allowing high-end technologies to merge with traditional methods of crafting exquisite products. These techniques bring out the subtle but unique sensibility in Japanese designs.

In the first room, the items are carefully organized in glass cases and the exhibit resembles a miniature department store. The products range from push pins to soy sauce bottles to bicycles - all of which give viewers a clear sense of the characteristics of Japanese design.

In the next room are 12 products that best represent wa in their design.

Here, the products are spread around the room on pedestals or on the ground, giving the entire display a more carefree feel.

Visitors may walk around and take a closer look at the products, which in one case allows for a closer examination of the neatly polished sheen, and get a better sense of how wa functions in design.

For example, the Butterfly Stool, created by Sori Yanagi and manufactured by Tendo Co., Ltd., is a representative wa creation. Its smooth lines and whimsical shape bring to mind the keywords “thoughtful,” “cute” and “fine-grained.”


Sori Yanagi’s Butterfly Stool is the essence of wa. Provided by Korea Foundation

Another product exhibited in this room is a two-person bench that goes by the name of Obi. In shape, it resembles the obi sash typically worn with kimonos. The traditional motif harmonizes with high-tech fiber-reinforced plastic and carbon fiber that make the bench look as though it was lacquered in a traditional way.

Visitors are also invited to try some of the products, including one called Hand Roll Piano, a regular electronic piano that can be rolled to fit into a small space.

The Silent Guitar is designed for apartment dwellers in densely crowded cities. The product enables them to play the guitar without disturbing their next door neighbors. It can be regarded as an attempt to harmonize different wants and needs in a pluralistic society.

*The exhibition continues until March 19. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays and until 9 p.m. on Wednesdays. The gallery is closed on Sundays and public holidays.

Tours are available at 3 p.m. on Wednesdays and at 4 p.m. on Saturdays. The Korea Foundation Cultural Center is on the first floor of the Joongang Ilbo in central Seoul. Admission is free. For more information, call (02) 2151-6520 or visit www.kfcenter.or.kr.

By Oh Yoon Contributing writer [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

Related Korean Article[연합]

"和는 대립요소가 공존ㆍ융합하는 것"

"전통 공예와 첨단 기술의 결합, 일본적인 것과 서구적인 것의 상호작용, 전통 소재와 현대적인 관점의 융합 등 언뜻 대립적으로 보이는 요소가 공존하고 융합하는 것이 `화(和)`의 정신입니다."

한국국제교류재단(이사장 김병국)과 일본국제교류기금이 공동으로 12일부터 한 달여 간 개최하는 `일본의 현대 디자인전-화(和)`에 대해 큐레이터 가와카미 노리코(川上典李子) 씨는 이같이 설명했다.

노리코씨는 11일 개막식을 앞두고 열린 기자 간담회에서 "일본에서 지금까지 축적된 기업의 기술이나 전통 제조업의 기술을 미래에 살릴 수 있는 요소로 활용하려는 시도가 활발해지고 있다"면서 "일본의 조화의 정신이 물건을 만드는 데 다양한 측면에서 활용되고 살아나고 있다"고 일본 현대 디자인의 흐름을 소개했다.

이번 전시회엔 일본인들의 일상용품 중 조화의 정신을 담은 161개 작품이 `귀여운`, `공예적인`, `미니멀한` 등 디자인 성격을 나타내는 6개 키워드와 주방용품, 가전제품, 문구 등 제품 기능에 따른 12개 범주로 나뉘어 전시된다.

전통 칠기를 연상시키는 폴리카보네이트 소재 가습기, 전통적인 옻칠 공예와 현대적인 디자인 개념이 조화된 스피커, 전통 삼나무 `벤토`(도시락)를 연상시키는 전기밥솥 등 `화`라는 단어로 집약될 수 있는 디자인 작품들이 선보이고 있다.

노리코씨는 "이번 전시회는 최첨단 디자인을 소개하는 전시회와 그 성격이 조금 다르다"며 "2000년 이후 제작된 작품이 많이 포함됐지만 일본 역사 속에서 중요한 물건들, 특히 50년 이상 꾸준히 제작되면서 일상생활에 침투하고 사람들이 즐겨 쓰는 물건의 디자인이 포함됐다"고 전했다.

그는 "지리적으로 가깝고 문화적으로 공통점이 많은 한국인이 이 전시회를 어떻게 받아들일지가 흥미롭다"며 "이번 전시회가 일본의 제조업 문화 뒤에 숨겨진 배경과 다양한 요소를 느낄 기회가 되길 바란다"고 덧붙였다.

일본 현대 디자인전은 국제교류재단의 창립 20주년을 기념해 열리는 첫 전시회이자 올해 일본국제교류기금과 일본 외무성이 서울에서 개최하는 문화 교류 행사인 `한일 신시대: 함께 만들어가는 미래`의 서막이다.

국제교류재단은 다음달 19일까지 이어지는 전시 기간에 현대 일본 디자인의 현주소와 한-일 디자인의 차별성과 영향관계 등을 다룬 특별강연 시리즈를 매주 토요일 재단 문화센터에서 진행할 예정이다.

또 1950년대부터 2000년대까지 일본을 대표하는 영화 23편이 상영되는 `일본특별영화제`도 마련했다.

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