Category Archives: Design

Japanese housing design, preconception versus reality. Kyoto, Japan

Japan is often portrayed as a rich country that is obsessed with design. Some people would even have us believe that many Japanese live in beautifully designed houses set in Zen gardens.


Sure there is the very small minority who can afford to do so, but for vast majority in Japan, economic expediency causes them to live in very different surrounds.


Moko (Maori face tattoo) Mask by John Collins.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been drawn to Maori design and have wanted to own some Maori sculpture. Last year My wife and I were in Auckland New Zealand on a stop over from a trip to the US and Mexico, so I thought it would be a good time to buy some Maori art.

I had foolishly assumed that buying a Maori wood carving would be simple. Firstly we went to the excellent Auckland Art Gallery to get a general feeling for the quality of traditional Maori art. After a couple of hours at the Art Gallery we went downtown and had a look in the various gift shops and galleries selling Maori carvings.

Chinese people, not born in New Zealand, who didn’t have a clue about what they were selling, owned most of the gift shops. A lot of what was presented to us was crudely carved and very expensive. To add insult to injury, the carvings, as poor as they were, were consistently handled in a very rough manner, further damaging them right before our eyes. Many of the storeowners seemed to be displaying an absolute contempt for the Maori carvings they were selling.

It can be argued that most indigenous art that is for sale, anywhere, tends to be “traditional” in that old designs are copied and there doesn’t seem to be mich room for innovation. In other words, much “native” art tends to be more about skillful craft than artistic expression.

After half a day of depressing traipsing from gift shop to gift shop I was about to give up any hope of buying any Maori art at all. Luckily we stumbled across a very small gallery called “Gallery Pacific“. The gallery’s main window had some local art glass and at first it didn’t catch our eye. Then my wife saw a beautiful Moko (Maori face tattoos) Mask by John Collins, carved from kauri that just knocked our socks off.


It was so different and so much more interesting than anything else, Maori, we had seen. Inside there were a few even grander and more expressive pieces that were way out of our price range. After much deliberation we bought the Moko mask for three times more than the budget we had allocated for such a purchase.

Inuyama Castle, Aichi Prefecture, Japan

Inuyama, near Nagoya, is the home of the oldest (built in 1537) Japanese castle in original condition. Much of the outer walls have been removed.


Most of the castles that one sees in Japan these days are modern reconstructions. The Japanese appear to care more about the aesthetics of something rather than the fact that it is old or historic.

This 180 degree panorama was taken from the top of the castle.


The river is called the Kiso and the local fishermen used to use cormorants to catch fish for them. Cormorant fishing is mainly done as a tourist attraction nowadays.


Without a doubt, this is the best manhole cover I’ve ever seen. It shows the castle and also a fisherman with cormorants.


Cos-play-zoku in Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan

A year and a half ago I revisited Japan with my wife. I hadn’t been in Japan since 1976, so I thought it would be interesting to see how the Cos-play-zoku scene on Jingu Bashi (The bridge that leads into Meiji Jingu, a most beautiful park) in Harajuku had changed over the years.


In the mid seventies the punk scene had just started and rockabilly had been rediscovered. Which meant that those were the prevailing fashions on display on Jingu Bashi . Lots of Japanese interpretations of Elvis and Sid Vicious were strutting their stuff. I thought I’d illustrate this with some photos but when I looked into my box of mixed up slides I decided that’s a huge task for another day.

Meiji Bashi is still the place to go if you want to see people, wanting to be seen and have their pictures taken with tourists.


The more recent (mid 2005) cos-play-zoku fashion seems to be divided into three main groups. The first being a type of sleaze-punk-gothic.


The Japanese love “cute”, so one can expect a little “cuteness” to be thrown into the mix.


The second type of style one will see is a sort of pierced fetishised French shepherdess-baby doll. More Japanese cuteness gone awry.



When in Japan it’s not uncommon to come across sexualised images of pre-pubescent girls. My wife and I were shocked to see a book in an art book store in Harajuku, that consisted of nothing but drawings of pre-pubescent girls in various fetish costumes with black eyes or fat bleeding lips in provocative poses, lifting up their skirts to expose infantile crotch. Very bizarre. I can tell you one thing though, if you published something like that here in Australia you’d attract the attention of the police, quick smart. So it looks like there is a desire in some sections of the Japanese populace to conform to such tastes.


There has been a disturbing trend here in the west to sexualise children in advertising and I think the warning signs about where this leads to, are walking on the bridge into Meiji Jingu.

The third type of fashion that may be seen on Jingu Bashi is a sort of “Hello kitty” look. To me this is a more “pure” type of teen Japanese visual expression. Cute as a Kewpie doll and as colourful as a pachinko parlour whilst still being quite childish. This cartoonish style seems to be based on the manga aesthetic that was invented and developed in Japan.