entrance to Tokyo Designers Week
The entrance to Tokyo Designers Week, the city's biggest trade show
(Image credit: press)

Another week, another design fair. But there was no sign of fair fatigue in Tokyo last week, as the city's biggest trade show, the 27th Tokyo Designers Week (TDW) opened on its doors in Meiji Jingu Gaien park, while younger showcase DesignTide Tokyo once again sprung up in Tokyo Midtown.

TDW took place in a custom-built venue designed by architect Sou Fujimoto. As always, a highlight was its signature Container Exhibition, for which shipping containers are turned into temporary galleries. We were particularly struck by former graphic designer Shinn Asano's 'Sen' collection of steel furniture, which turned 2D lines into 3D forms.
 
The main exhibition suffered slightly from trying to cover too much: everything from kawaii (cute) fashion to furniture and, for the first time an art gallery and exhibition of architectural models - all under the slightly surreal slogan of 'Hello Design!' 

Nevertheless, inspiring design is clearly flourishing in Japan, with the TDW offering up work by a strong collection of well known creatives such as Tokyo-based architecture practice KDa, which presented its intriguing 'Super Model' skyscraper concept; and Malagana Design, who offered up a gravity-defying shelving system. A strong sense of a move back to traditional values and craftsmanship was led by newcomer Kenji Mizuno, who exhibited 'Kamidana' - a sublime modernist interpretation of a traditional portable shrine.

Meanwhile in nearby Tokyo Midtown, DesignTide Tokyo - less a trade show and more a curated exhibition, with bubblewrap forest-inspired interiors by origami artist Makoto Orisaki - is notable for new prototypes by younger, less well-known brands and creatives. Highlights included Food Work, a group show within the exhibition, incorporating products by Norwegian designers for preparing and presenting food. Eindhoven-based BCXSY also presented a beautiful collection of hand-blown glassware for Inframince, while newcomer Daisuke Kitagawa offered an interesting take on convertable furniture.

work of former graphic designer Shinn Asano

Tokyo Designers Week: At the annual Container Exhibition within the fair, we discovered the work of former graphic designer Shinn Asano. His 'Sen' series of furniture transforms 2D lines into 3D forms

(Image credit: Shinn Asano)

'Kage' table

Tokyo Designers Week: 'Kage' table by Shinn Asano

(Image credit: Shinn Asano)

'Kagome' stool

Tokyo Designers Week: 'Kagome' stool by Shinn Asano

(Image credit: Shinn Asano)

'Alant' sofa

Tokyo Designers Week: 'Alant' sofa by Keita Shimizu at TDW. This cream leather and steel lobby chair takes inspiration from airfoil shapes. It was developed and made by Itoki and Kilt

(Image credit: Itoki and Kilt)

'Seoto-D' timber chairs

Tokyo Designers Week: 'Seoto-D' timber chairs by Motomi Kawakami, of Kawakami Design Office

(Image credit: Motomi Kawakami)

'Isn't it' chair

Tokyo Designers Week: 'Isn't it' chair by Katsuhiko Togashi, of Togashi Design Studio

(Image credit: Katsuhiko Togashi)

traditional Japanese portable house shrines

Tokyo Designers Week: Newcomer Kenji Mizuno has reinterpreted traditional Japanese portable house shrines with this beautifully crafted modern piece called 'Kamidana'. Based on a 3D model of the Ise Shrine, the design is both thoughtful and practical. This particular shrine slides out from its wooden box and stands on a shelf, ideal for small living spaces

(Image credit: press)

practical yet look authentic

Tokyo Designers Week: Mizuno's shrines have garnered much hype, as they are the first shrine reinventions that are practical yet look authentic in hundreds of years

(Image credit: press)

'Kotori' chair

Tokyo Designers Week: Mizuno, who works with Mizmiz design, also created the 'Kotori' chair

(Image credit: press)

'Tea Glass' was specially designed for enjoying iced tea

Tokyo Designers Week: Daisuke Kitagawa's elegant prototype 'Tea Glass' was specially designed for enjoying iced tea. The size fits perfectly in the hand

(Image credit: press)

'Steps' bench

Tokyo Designers Week: 'Steps' bench by Kohdai Iwamoto of Design Soil, a group of teachers and students from Kobe university. Children can sit on the stool, positioned under the hole in the bench, using the bench as a table, while adults sit on the bench itself

(Image credit: Kohdai Iwamoto)

gravity-defying 'Equilibrium' shelves

Tokyo Designers Week: Malagana Design's gravity-defying 'Equilibrium' shelves

(Image credit: press)

curved plywood model


(Image credit: Hirose Daisuke)

Tokyo Designers Week: The architectural model exhibition is a first for the fair. Over 50 architects including Kengo Kuma, Jun Igarashi, Makoto Tanijiri, Toyo Ito and Sou Fujimoto showed models from major projects. The curved plywood model pictured is by Hirose Daisuke, who established Archicomplex in 2005. The structure was assembled without any glue, nails or screws. The designer wanted to create a weatherproof hut suitable for disaster sites that could be built in just a few hours, so he developed an envelope with finger joints of plywood panels (cut by laser cutter)

series of buildings themed ‘Incomplete Objects’

Tokyo Designers Week: Osaka-born architect Kiyoshi Sey Takeyama says he pursues poetic responses in architecture through a series of buildings themed ‘Incomplete Objects’ and houses themed ‘Counterpoint of Sky and Earth.’ We like his unconventional approach to modern day living

(Image credit: press)

school exhibition with 47 schools and 57 groups

Tokyo Designers Week: For the 11th year TDW included a school exhibition with 47 schools and 57 groups showing their creative works

(Image credit: press)

TDW also presented 'Hello Night'

Tokyo Designers Week: This year TDW also presented 'Hello Night', a series of talks held in a giant TDW dome. The first of these was a PechaKucha Night Special, including participation from people from all fields of the design community, including graphic designer Taku Satoh and Atelier Bow-Wow's Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, who talked about the work of ArchiAid in Tohoku

(Image credit: Taku Satoh and Atelier Bow-Wow)

'In Between' collection of hand-blown glass

DesignTide Tokyo - held in Tokyo Midtown and overlapping with TDW - is less a trade show, more a curated exhibition. Among the works on show was the 'In Between' collection of hand-blown glass by BCXSY for Inframince Inc, a skincare line that has also branched out into design objects. 

(Image credit: Photography: Kiyotoshi Takashima)

six different colour gradations, from transparent to white

DesignTide Tokyo: The collection comes in six different colour gradations, from transparent to white. 

(Image credit: Photography: Kiyotoshi Takashima)

items for storage, preparation, presentation and eating

DesignTide Tokyo: Eight independent Norwegian designers teamed up for a group show called Food Work within the exhibition. Offering items for storage, preparation, presentation and eating, the designers were inspired by their own take on Japanese culture. Pictured is 'Place', a set of trivets by Hallgeir Homstvedt. 

(Image credit: Photography: Hallgeir Homstvedt)

'Gram' collection of boxes

DesignTide Tokyo: This 'Gram' collection of boxes was designed by Oue with the size determined by weight: although made from different woods like cedar, teak and walnut, and of varying shapes, all weigh exactly 100g

(Image credit: Oue)

forged steel knife with an oak handle

DesignTide Tokyo: 'Umami Mana-ita', designed by Per Finne for the Food Work show, is a forged steel knife with an oak handle, connected with a traditional peg mechanism. The shape of the handle supports a variety of grips

(Image credit: Photography: Per Finne)

housed in a solid oak cutting board

DesignTide Tokyo: The knife is housed in a solid oak cutting board, with a sliding mechanism for opening

(Image credit: Photography: Per Finne)

Miso bowls

DesignTide Tokyo: Miso bowls by Per Finne for Food Work

(Image credit: Photography: Per Finne)

wood tools are inspired by traditional tools found in Norway and Japan

DesignTide Tokyo: Per Finne's wood tools are inspired by traditional tools found in Norway and Japan. The tactile experience of smooth wood is just as important as the visual aesthetic and functionality, says the designer

(Image credit: Photography: Per Finne)

'Lines,' a series of stools inspired by people sitting on the edge of a guardrail

DesignTide Tokyo: Kanazawa Art and Craft University-trained Kitagawa founded Daisuke Kitagawa Design in 2011. 'Phew' is a series of products designed around taking a break. Among the collection is 'Lines,' a series of stools inspired by people sitting on the edge of a guardrail. They can be used horizontal or vertically or extended by combining with a tray

(Image credit: press)

can be used horizontal or vertically or extended by combining with a tray

DesignTide Tokyo: Kanazawa Art and Craft University-trained Kitagawa founded Daisuke Kitagawa Design in 2011. 'Phew' is a series of products designed around taking a break. Among the collection is 'Lines,' a series of stools inspired by people sitting on the edge of a guardrail. They can be used horizontal or vertically or extended by combining with a tray

(Image credit: press)

Limited edition coat hanger

DesignTide Tokyo: Limited edition coat hanger, made from birch plywood, by TAF for Cibone and Merci. The hangers were part of 'Hangers Addict' - a presentation on the history of clothes hangers given by Daniel Rozensztroch at what is known as 'Tide Table', a large presentation area where designers can gather and talk about their designs

(Image credit: press)

'Traditional' series, including this sofa

To coincide with Tokyo Designers Week and DesignTide Tokyo, Maruni launched the remodelled 'Traditional' series, including this sofa, by Naoto Fukasawa, in its Tokyo showroom

(Image credit: Photography: Yoneo Kawabe)

'Club' chair

Maruni: the brand also launched the 'Club' chair by Jasper Morrison. 

(Image credit: Photography: Yoneo Kawabe)

what Swedish design looks like today

At Tokyo's Midsori.so, Katrin Greiling and Gustaf Kjellin curated an exhibition titled Contemporary Collected for the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design, examining what Swedish design looks like today

(Image credit: press)

Katrin Greiling and Gustaf Kjellin curated an exhibition

At Tokyo's Midsori.so, Katrin Greiling and Gustaf Kjellin curated an exhibition titled Contemporary Collected for the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design, examining what Swedish design looks like today

(Image credit: press)

cast in layers and coloured by different pigments

Contemporary Collected: 'Sedimentation' series by Hilda Hellström. The jesmonite collection is inspired by patterns found in sedimentary stone. The pieces are cast in layers and coloured by different pigments

(Image credit: Hilda Hellström)

'Figurine Containers'

Contemporary Collected: 'Figurine Containers' by TAF for Praxis

(Image credit: TAF)

Contemporary Collected: 'Figurine Containers' by TAF for Praxis

Contemporary Collected: 'Kaleido' trays by Hay

(Image credit: Hay)

Catherine Shaw is a writer, editor and consultant specialising in architecture and design. She has written and contributed to over ten books, including award-winning monographs on art collector and designer Alan Chan, and on architect William Lim's Asian design philosophy. She has also authored books on architect André Fu, on Turkish interior designer Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu, and on Beijing-based OPEN Architecture's most significant cultural projects across China.