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Japanese Design: What Do Japanese Really Like?



TassoBarbasso

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TassoBarbasso

Hi Guys,

 

I have a question about Japanese design, i.e., what do Japanese people actually like in a pen? I'm getting more and more interested in Japanese design and from what I can see, there seems to be a certain "dicothomy" in design styles, not just in terms of pens.

 

In a way, it seems to me that there is something that we "Westerners" like and associate with Japanese design, namely, the minimalist-looking, Zen-ish stuff such as this, this, or, to stay in the field of pens, this, or, more broadly speaking, this kind of aesthetics. This seems to be reflected in a lot of high-end Japanese pens, such as Nakayas, Hakase, the Namiki Emperor series, the Sailor King of Pens, and pretty much everything that is urushi-coated or maki-e: very minimalistic design, maybe with highly elaborated decorations, but on very plain background. We're all quite familiar with this kind of aesthetics from movies, books, and of course, drooling over pictures of amazing urushi pens that most of us probably cannot afford. I'll call this the "Samurai" tendency. However, my theory is that this is probably not what Japanese people really like/want/seek.

 

This is because if one looks at what Japanese companies offer in terms of mid-to-high-range pens (i.e., below the level of things like the Sailor KOP or the Namiki Emperor, but within the range of what most people can probably afford), it's hard to stumble across anything minimalistic/Zen-ish: look at the range of Pilot customs, or Sailor's pens. Everywhere one sees a lot of gold hardware, a clear reference to Western pen design, re-interpreted in a form that remains rather unique, without the ostentatious design of, say, a MB 149, an Omas or a Pelikan M800: Japanese pens tend to be smaller (probably only the larger Pilot Customs or the Platinum President can compete with the MB 149 in length), very rarely show off their logos, and sometimes have rather "kitsch" details (such as the new clips on Sailor pens or the clip of the Platinum President, or the cap band on the Sailor king professional gear) or use colour combinations that are either long out-of-fashion in the West, or are of questionable taste to say the least. I'll call this the "Businessman" tendency.

 

So, considering that...

 

- The current Japanese aesthetic seems to be more oriented towards the post-modern (and the Kawaii) style than the traditional styles usually associated to Japan;

- There are probably 1.000 "businessman" Pro Gear with their kitsch cap band sold for every super-elegant minimalistic "samurai" Namiki Emperor Urushi, even though...

- ... minimalist/"Zen" design is not necessarily more expensive (quite the opposite: look at LAMY!) and could therefore be easily used on mid-to-high-range-end pens; urushi is not always needed, after all;

- There seems to be a lot more variety in the design of mid-to-high-range pens, looking at least at the experiments done by Sailor on their Sapporo/Pro Gear lines;

- Maki-e coated pens were initially popularized by Dunhill for the Western market;

- Companies such as Danitrio and Nakaya that clearly target primarily the non-Japanese market specialize in "Samurai" design;

- The pens in maki-e and urushi seem to have boomed in the period of the Japanese economic stagnation after 1991, when the internal market contracted and manufacturers had to look for alternatives;

 

...I tend to believe that a Japanese person would probably prefer something like a Pilot 845, with its 6 (six!) gold rings, than a plain Sailor KOP, regardless of the price, and probably sees our beloved "Samurai" pens as something that "only foreigners like".

 

I'm talking here of what people like, not what people can afford. After all, if the "Samurai" style really were the "best" in terms of tastes in Japan, shouldn't we see a lot more pens being offered in minimalist designs? Shouldn't we see Platinum, Sailor and Pilot behave more like Lamy or Faber Castell, with their cheaper, affordable Studio or Ondoro lines?

 

Maybe I'm just talking nonsense, but I'd love to hear what you think about this (especially if you are Japanese or live there).

 

Cheers,

Fabio

 

 

 

 

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  • Algester

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I think what you have found is that Japanese people, like 'Western' people, have diverse tastes, and there is a market to appeal to every aesthetic. Generalization does not usually approach truth very effectively.

 

What 'Westerners' like about Japanese pens, all these buzzwords like 'Zen' and 'minimalist', are partially a product of the exoticizing of a living culture — trying to reduce them to only a few attributes, and turn them into a tidy category. It's a natural human inclination, but a potentially dangerous one.

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TassoBarbasso

I think what you have found is that Japanese people, like 'Western' people, have diverse tastes, and there is a market to appeal to every aesthetic. Generalization does not usually approach truth very effectively.

 

What 'Westerners' like about Japanese pens, all these buzzwords like 'Zen' and 'minimalist', are partially a product of the exoticizing of a living culture — trying to reduce them to only a few attributes, and turn them into a tidy category. It's a natural human inclination, but a potentially dangerous one.

 

I totally agree, and that was exactly the kind of point I was trying to get to :) What I'm wondering is, when we buy a supposedly "quintessentially Japanese" pen, are we in fact buying an overpriced toy made to appeal to the exoticized, artificial idea of "being Japanese" we have in mind? Is it perhaps that this is actually more -or at least as- representative of the current tastes than this?

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Dragonmaster Lou

Japanese culture is as diverse as nearly anywhere else. You got a lot of people who love the idea of a pink and white Hello Kitty pen, and you have a lot of people who like a simple, almost zen-like, application of traditional art in a pen. I mean, if you look at American music, you have quite the range of styles, from orchestral symphonies by the likes of Copland, to Jazz, to modern rock, pop, and rap. Different people have different tastes, and sometimes they like multiple genres (I like both the orchestral stuff and a lot of rock, for example).

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If I may: you ask two different questions here:

 

1) What is Japanese culture and esthetics? Here one have to consider history, the impact of modernity, traditions and interpretations of these traditions, and so on. I'd like to suggest a reading: Praize of the Shadows, by the great writer Tanizaki.

 

2) What do people like in Japan? Maybe there love... western esthetics? Manga? Pop commercial product? Steampumk? Spielberg or Bergman over Kurosawa?

 

I don't if the pen you talk about are designed as a product for what Westerners (which ones?) think Japanese esthetics is, like "chinoiseries", or if they are just a nostalgic interpretation of an dying Japanese culture, trying to survive through the love ofeople outside of Japan.

 

I hope other will answer your question, I've always thought that the way we consider a culture is fascinating. Thanks.

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Surely any "national" culture is a hotchpotch of living cultures? Perhaps there is error in assuming that culture is a zero-sum game where the manifestation of some values and aesthetics necessarily negates others? It might not be useful to ask if Germany is Lamy or MB, or if Canada is Montréal or Vancouver, or if the US is Trump or Lloyd Wright. The answer must always be yes.

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https://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/topic/294721-japanese-design-what-do-japanese-really-like/

 

I already said my piece here

either way if were going to talk about Japan's cultural arts one thing has been on their top of their minds is that no one is capable of replacing them literally speaking if you have seen through Japan's social woes its understandable and their government still has no idea how to properly tackle them

but to sum up

declining birth rate + aging population = population disaster

declining birth rate + no interest in cultural arts = no one to preserve the heritage

declining birth rate + rapidly modernization = tech means money (to a modern family)

these are just on top of my list at least these are the woes of the washi makers, swordsmiths, urushi makers, geisha arts, enka? in Japan at least we can see that they are at least 60 years old with or without apprentices

but eh I think this applies to any cultural heritage of any country

 

but I think this is a truly japanese problem

declining birth rate + death from over working (karoshi is the local term) = corporate problems

Edited by Algester
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What do western people like? What kind of pen do America's like? What do you like? Its hard to break down design to a single person, let alone an entire country. I like all clean, minimal pens, expensive or not. High end western pens tend to be pretty minimalist as well. A montblac is pretty simple on the outside, as is a pelikan. People like diffrent things. I would say it mirrors western stuff quite a bit. Look at Lamy vs Platinum. In the low end, both produce a lot of different designs, lots of bright colours, but in the high end, both are pretty minimal and clean.

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Yes, the design of the pen is quite unique.

 

The pen body look like old ivory paper on which somebody has dropped a bottle of apple green ink :lol:

 

Or a combination of wood and acrylic.

Edited by L.Velvet
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Yes, the design of the pen is quite unique.

 

The pen body look like old ivory paper on which somebody has dropped a bottle of apple green ink :lol:

 

Or a combination of wood and acrylic.

heck I'm not even sure if its acrylic it does look like acrylic and im still led to believe it is wood and acrylic not wood and celluloid...
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  • 2 weeks later...

Japanese culture is as diverse as nearly anywhere else. You got a lot of people who love the idea of a pink and white Hello Kitty pen, and you have a lot of people who like a simple, almost zen-like, application of traditional art in a pen. I mean, if you look at American music, you have quite the range of styles, from orchestral symphonies by the likes of Copland, to Jazz, to modern rock, pop, and rap. Different people have different tastes, and sometimes they like multiple genres (I like both the orchestral stuff and a lot of rock, for example).

As Douglas Copeland recently summed it up in the FT, some people's idea of luxury is a golden teapot and others would basically want to live in the white box their iPhone came in. Muji is an example of the latter, but there are plenty examples of the former as well

"If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live."

– Lin Yu-T'ang

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https://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/topic/294721-japanese-design-what-do-japanese-really-like/

 

I already said my piece here

either way if were going to talk about Japan's cultural arts one thing has been on their top of their minds is that no one is capable of replacing them literally speaking if you have seen through Japan's social woes its understandable and their government still has no idea how to properly tackle them

but to sum up

declining birth rate + aging population = population disaster

declining birth rate + no interest in cultural arts = no one to preserve the heritage

declining birth rate + rapidly modernization = tech means money (to a modern family)

these are just on top of my list at least these are the woes of the washi makers, swordsmiths, urushi makers, geisha arts, enka? in Japan at least we can see that they are at least 60 years old with or without apprentices

but eh I think this applies to any cultural heritage of any country

 

but I think this is a truly japanese problem

declining birth rate + death from over working (karoshi is the local term) = corporate problems

Thank you Algester - the U.S. is still in denial but basically facing the same problem; real estate inflation + death from overworking = social problems that no politician has yet found an answer for (but in the meantime, shanty towns are growing in urban areas)

"If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live."

– Lin Yu-T'ang

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TassoBarbasso/Fabio, thank you for the lovely post and for daring judging when it comes to bad taste. It reminds me a little of Major Winchester from MASH - who is, of cause, my all time favourite character from that show (along with Henry Blake).

 

I suppose that many Japanese like Western esthetics, just like Westerners like myself love Japanese esthetics, and I suspect that we have quite the same phenomenon in the West. I love traditional Japanese esthetics, whereas my daughter loves Hello Kitty and worships her like some sort of cute fenine deity. On the other hand, Japanese ministers of state use Montblanc and Pelikan and their children or grand children probably have some less tasteful objects from Europe or the US.

 

Good taste is always rare, whereas bad taste usually gets around.

Edited by Ursus
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Good taste is always rare, whereas bad taste usually gets around.

 

I will agree with this only when you have produced a definitive scale of good and bad taste against which all things may be compared. Until then...

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I will agree with this only when you have produced a definitive scale of good and bad taste against which all things may be compared. Until then...

Oh, no. No matter your personal taste, whatever you find is good taste will be rare :)

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