The stirring anticipation of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics provides Japan with plenty of room to showcase its full color and flavor. In the spirit of gift giving, so predominant in Japanese culture, the 79th Tokyo International Gift Show Spring 2015 opens a spectacular three-day event and exhibition, from February 4 to 6, at Tokyo Big Sight (Tokyo International Exhibition Center).
Established in 1976 and organized by Business Guide-Sha, Inc., the Tokyo International Gift Show introduces and promotes the latest trends in Japanese products both locally and internationally. The show also brings together various product portfolios of small and medium-sized companies from around the world. This year’s theme is “Visit The Gift Show! Experience the Charm of Japan’s Hospitality,” which allows foreign visitors to taste the richness of Japan’s natural environment and cultural heritage through a deep discovery of the country’s indigenous crafts, advanced technology, and growing global consumer market. Approximately 2,500 participating companies and 200,000 visitors come to this show every year.
All over the world, Japanese products have always been a source of curiosity and admiration. Tracing as far back as the 15th century when yuzen, the art of dyeing kimono, first groomed the emperor and aristocratic families in Japan, traditional handicrafts have withstood long and delicate years of rigid training, discipline, and unmatched precision in perfecting the Japanese sense of beauty. This alone may be reason enough to check out the newest products on display and sale at the Gift Show. The items range from toys, anime goods, stationery, home furnishings, beauty products, fashion, and more. It would, especially, be a unique experience to meet talented and creative designers at the “Active Design” and “Craft Design” corners where Japan’s noted “G” mark products can be viewed.
In 1957, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry launched the Good Design Awards (“G” mark) as an incentive for product designers to create innovative and original goods that both outline Japan’s superior craftsmanship and effective use of advanced technology.
I had the chance to speak with Hiroaki Nishikiori, a design producer, consultant for design and brand promotion, product planning and development, and “G” mark award winner. Nishikiori has been a steady and active advocate of product design promotion and development in Japan for more than thirty years. On Thursday, February 5, he’ll be spearheading a seminar at the Gift show with guests Mako Kamiyama of Taiyo Toryo Co., Ltd. and Ippei Tanaka of Tokyu Hands regarding the challenges of creating and selling products that adapt to today’s lifestyle. As a preview of the discussion, Mr. Nishikiori spoke about the current situation of designers and creators in Japan, saying:
“Many years ago, I was responsible for the international exchange activities between the current Japan Institute of Design Promotion (JIDP) and foreign designers and educators. At that time, the need to define a ‘proper’ design philosophy and strategy for Japanese design to compete successfully in the international market had already been a critical issue. Now, a lot of Japanese designers have been promoting themselves overseas, but rather than showing the world the ‘Japanese-like’ style, I think what is more important is to create original designs. However, recently, Japanese design has a tendency to focus too carelessly on the goal of design rather than using color and form to address issues, such as lifestyle, industry and society. Designers have to bridge the connection between the user as the ‘consumer’ and the company as the ‘creator.’ I would like to disseminate this essential value of design to the world.”
The former Ergo Design magazine Editor-in-Chief and Tokyo Design Network Coordinator goes on to explain that Japanese designers today face a dilemma of designing too much, but not being able to sell their creations. “Product design in Japan is very active in huge companies that sell home appliances and IT equipment that take advantage of current technology. But, I feel that there should be a stronger design commitment to local artisans and small business owners.”
Perhaps at The Tokyo International Gift Show consumers will be able to evaluate the effective balance between “good design” and cost. “Products that are not designed well have a short lifespan. To develop products of good design involves not only consideration of production cost, but also the necessity to form a deep collaboration with designers, and for designers to understand the benefits of their designs to companies,” Mr. Nishikiori remarks. “The problem for small and medium-sized enterprises is always to determine the ‘correct’ percentage of the design fee and the retail price. For Japanese design to succeed widely in the international market, companies and designers need to re-evaluate the total value of the design and not just the product itself, without sacrificing design to cost.”
With the prevailing current of consumer taste for high-end digital products and online merchandise, designers face a serious and enormous challenge to revive the raw sense and appreciation for crafts, tradition, yet novel and modern, original creations that address our simple needs in everyday life. The Tokyo International Gift Show intends to cultivate this quest for “good design” and gesture of gift-giving that keep Japanese creativity and hospitality glowing to the fullest.
The 79th Tokyo International Gift Show Spring 2015. TOKYO BIG SIGHT (Tokyo International Exhibition Center). East Halls (1-6 Halls), West Halls (1-4 Halls), and West Atrium. 3-11-1 Ariake, Koto-ku, Tokyo 135-0063. 03-3843-9851. Nearest Station: Kokusai-Tenjijo-Seimon. firstname.lastname@example.org