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Everything is Turning Japanese

2007_02_09-kikkoman.jpg
It’s tough to get excited about Kikkoman soy sauce bottles. They’ve been around since 1961, and you find them at every sushi dive in the city. But, at one time, they were the height of tableware innovation, and for that reason, they’re included in a new show at the Design Exchange: Japanese Design Today 100.
This exhibition, co-presented by the Japan Foundation, celebrates 100 everyday objects that each, in their own way, broke design barriers in Japan and worldwide. The Kikkoman soy sauce bottle is here, as is the Sony Playstation 2, the Toyota Prius (represented by a poster), that Aibo robot dog, and more mundane household objects like electric rice-cookers and bathroom scales.
Wait, the Playstation 2?
We too easily overlook the fact that the Sony Playstation 2 is a fascinating piece of design, miniaturization and technology. And the intent of this show is to demonstrate the indispensable role that design plays in our everyday lives.
Indeed, you could find more than a few of these items in any dorm room at U of T — the soy sauce photo above was taken with the same Canon SLR camera that’s found in one of the show’s display cases. Not to mention the fact that you probably have one of these soy sauce bottles in your kitchen.
(I was immediately reminded of my first visit to the New York MOMA’s design collection a decade ago. Specifically, a moment of excitement at seeing the exact same Macintosh computer I had at home preserved in a glass case — my otherwise ordinary household object elevated to the status of “high art.” You’ll likely spend much of your time at the Design Exchange exhibit with precisely that feeling.)
Banality aside, there’s something to be said for a culture who invents an personal ashtray for use outdoors (so butts don’t end up on the ground), a CD player operated by pulling on a string, and a chest that quickly transforms into a table. Japanese designers are certainly obsessed with smallness and items that serve multiple purposes. (There’s more than one camera-equipped cell phone on display.)
Perhaps Japanese design has infiltrated global design (and our psyche) so deeply that we take it for granted. As you walk through the 100-item exhibit, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’re walking around the Sony Store, or looking at the latest innovative items from a store like Ikea. It may not contain a ton of “wow” factor, but the show will leave you feeling that everything you own owes a small debt to Japanese design.
Japanese Design Today 100 is on at the Design Exchange (234 Bay Street) from now through April 29, 2007. Admission is $5 ($4 for students and seniors)

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