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Panasonic Meets Crafts: Home-appliances that will resonate and enhance our everyday lives, designed in Kyoto

See & Do

art_craft

Panasonic Meets Crafts: Home-appliances that will resonate and enhance our everyday lives, designed in Kyoto

On April 2nd,2018, Panasonic Corporation consolidated its home-appliance design bases into a single new location in Kyoto and launched Panasonic Design Kyoto.
In this modern era in which diverse lifestyles continue to emerge, Panasonic Design Kyoto is exploring the meaning of owning home-appliances from a new perspective to create household appliances that will contribute to a more fulfilling lifestyle in the future. This design center is on its way to reform the very foundation of the design department, with the mission to create such new products.
What will the meeting of the finely-honed sensibilities of a designer group from a leading home-appliance company and the traditions of Kyoto result in? I visited Panasonic Design Kyoto to see what is happening now.

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KYOTO CRAFTS MAGAZINE was established with the aim of observing, reporting, and archiving the current and future aspects of lifestyle, culture, and industry of the locally rooted crafts and the people involved with them.

Content Partner

KYOTO CRAFTS MAGAZINE was established with the aim of observing, reporting, and archiving the current and future aspects of lifestyle, culture, and industry of the locally rooted crafts and the people involved with them.

Hitoshi Nakagawa, entertainment design department, Appliances Company Design Center

Designing in Kyoto, the town that knows the spirit of craftsmanship

 On the eighth floor overlooking the town of Kyoto, Panasonic Design Kyoto’s meeting space, the “HUB” could easily be mistaken for a stylish cafe or a hotel lobby. Hitoshi Nakagawa from Appliances Company Design Center’s entertainment design department welcomed us with a friendly smile. Nakagawa is one of the company’s mid-career designers, engaged mainly in the development and design of audio systems. I asked why Kyoto was chosen as the design base.

“Kyoto boasts a long history that has given birth to the versatile traditional culture, so we think of Kyoto as the ‘cultural capital’ of Japan. Especially when it comes to the bulk of personnel in the traditional fields, it has no equals. In addition, Kyoto is steeped in an academic atmosphere because of the many universities, so industry-university research and development projects are very active here. The city’s global acclaim is also drawing the attention of overseas designers who think ‘Kyoto would be a place worth working in.’ I think that Kyoto’s global recognition makes it possible to pursuit design at its heart.”
 
Basing their design center in Kyoto, now they are attempting to readdress home-appliance design from a holistic perspective, strengthening the horizontal cooperation to reform themselves into a design team that will not only design the product but also designs to create new “experience values.”
 
Sofas and tables comfortably laid out in the center, randomly placed booths for meetings and personal workspaces, and various foliage plants making the HUB a comfortable and airy space.

Creating novel products that will enhance our future lifestyles

It looks like a brass KAIKADO tea caddy, but there is a surprise inside.
There were two tea caddies placed on the table for the interview from Kyoto’s established tea caddy shop, KAIKADO. They have achieved global acclaim for the supreme functionality present in the way the lid elegantly glides its way down to close, and the beautiful design expressing the essence of Kyoto craftsmanship. 
One of the tea caddies had a subtle luster from its use over the years, and the other had a brand-new brilliant shine.
 
Nakagawa took the newer one in his hand and gently opened the lid. What followed took me by surprise. The sound of music flowed out from the tea caddy. Could it really be music from a tea caddy? Was this really a tea caddy? Or, was it a speaker? Of course, I have never seen a speaker in a tea caddy before. The first experience of looking, listening, and feeling, was so surprising that I found myself at a loss of words. Furthermore, this utterly new creation had the strangely nostalgic appeal of the Japanese sensibility. How did such an item come into existence?
 
A built-in speaker is in inside!
This audio speaker named Kyo-Zutsu was one of the products of the first of the new series of Panasonic’s Kyoto KADEN Lab. Project. It was a product designed, “envisioning the new definition of ‘living well’ in the future.”

Three years prior to the inauguration of Panasonic Design Kyoto, in November 2015, the Kyoto KADEN Lab. Project was launched as a co-production project aimed to explore the source of craftsmanship and Japanese sensibilities in partnership with the traditional industries of Kyoto. As the first of the project series, the six members of GO ON, a joint collaboration of the successors of Kyoto’s traditional craftworks, and the designers of Panasonic Design like Nakagawa worked together on the research and development to explore the future of home-appliances and crafts.

On one side, there are experts on creating practical and beautifully designed household items with their hands-on skills and sensitivity passed on for generations. On the other side, there are experts on supplying means for a more convenient and comfortable lifestyle through the research & development, and production of household appliances. The project went into action by the two groups with contrasting backgrounds; handwork and mass-production, individual persons (individual shops) and corporate designers; coming together in search of a more fulfilling, better lifestyle through tools and objects in everyday life.
 
GO ON is a joint collaboration of young owners and successors of established businesses in the field of traditional crafts, including Nishijin brocade, ceramics, bamboo-works, oke wooden buckets, and metal-knittings. The Panasonic designers are a group of product designers that design items such as vacuum cleaners, cooking appliances, audio systems, and air conditioners. (Photo provided by Panasonic Design Kyoto)

Challenging differences resulting in heightened sensitivity and energy

The first concept given to the project was “Electronics Meets Crafts.” Under this concept, the team developed ten prototypes of “home-appliances that resonate with memories and engage all five senses.”

“We wanted to begin by asking the question together, ‘What does truly living well mean?’ So, we started out by retreating in Ryosoku-in Temple and practicing Zen meditation (laughter). We wanted to reset our prevailing opposite sense of values regarding electronics and crafts to start over from a completely clear and fresh standpoint.”

All the members acknowledged the meaning and value of the project. However, it wasn’t smooth sailing from the beginning because there was a crucial difference in the ways we approach our work: the directions we were looking in were completely reversed.

“As a manufacturing company’s designers, we are always expected to create something new, and we are always at the forefront of a race with new things. On the contrary, the craftspeople’s basic principle is to delve in deep to pursue perfection and refinement tirelessly. We decide on the price of the product through marketing research, and then mass-sell, but they decide on the value of their products by evaluating their craftsmanship. That was a significant difference. It was certainly a state of ‘an odd mix of diverse talents.’”
Would product designers and traditional craftspeople be able to understand each other well? There is no doubt that they felt uncertainty towards that. Which is probably why they decided to start with a Zen meditation at Ryosoku-in Temple. Meditating together in the quiet temple hall, going to a sento public bathhouse, and sharing meals at the same table. From there, their relationship naturally set in. (Photo provided by Panasonic Design Kyoto)
Brainstorming together many times naturally resulted in the members finding each other’s buddy. Nakagawa paired up with the successor of the oldest maker of handmade tea caddies using time-honored expert skills, Takahiro Yagi.

“Based on the shape of the tea caddies, we were relatively quick on setting our goal on ‘making speakers using a tea caddy.’ The first challenge we faced is on finding a way to not only make something that looks cool but also incorporates the spirit of traditional craftsmanship. We wanted to go further than the superficial level, like coating the speaker with urushi lacquer or making the cover in bamboo. Other project ideas were also seriously considered then, like combining a matcha tea whisk with an electronic shaver to create an electronic tea whisk. I can only laugh at it when I look back now (laughter).”
 
The GO ON members were never enthusiastic at meetings over the table. They seldom seemed interested in the beautiful sketches that Nakagawa’s side prepared on computer screens.
 
“However, whether they are only rough models or not, as soon as we showed them the actual thing, a three-dimensional object, the look of their eyes suddenly changed and they became enthusiastic (laughter). I thought, so this is the way of a person who is devoted to craftsmanship.”

There were many instances when he felt the real essence of craftsmanship unveiled itself through communicating with the GO ON members, Nakagawa says. What is crucial is the sense of the hands: It was an insightful experience for Nakagawa, who felt how the profound presence of Kyoto crafts best exploits the hands of skilled artisans.

A new ground opened by craftsmanship that speaks to sensitivity

Nakagawa especially valued “what can delight our senses.” For example, the comfortable weight that sinks into the palms of hands. An object that, by just putting it there, could change the feeling of the air around it, and let a different atmosphere unfold. He was determined to create such an aura.

“Touching, listening, feeling. By experiencing a resonance with our five senses, we can feel an affinity towards the thing. Wanting to keep it nearby, and touch it. I thought that, if we are able to make people feel that way, then that would lead to enriching our lives in the future.”

First, they chose brass as the material for the tea caddy. The subtle tone of color, and the way the luster and shade changes over the years are the appeals of brass. The tactile sense you receive from it when you touch it is not stiff. Cherishing the aging of a product was a completely new sense of values. The way the lid smoothly glides down and closes itself tightly is already the trademark of KAIKADO’s tea caddies; nonetheless, Nakagawa requested for the speed of the lid to fall to be made even slower.

“I remember I got goosebumps when I first opened and closed a KAIKADO tea caddy. Which is why I wanted to be extra particular about the way the lid closes. In addition, because it feels better to hold when there is a sense of weight, and because it can improve the audio quality, the thickness of the plate used to make the tea caddy was changed from two layers of 0.5mm plates to a 0.8mm plate for the inner layer. I think that even 0.3mm was a big change for people who craft them by hand.”

There were times that Nakagawa’s and Yagi’s opinions clashed, but they shared the same objective of making better products. The fusion of electronics and crafts gradually came to reveal itself, day by day, as the time of completion came closer. After taking almost a whole year, as a result of the many trial and errors by the buddy pairs, the ten prototypes were completed. The fruits of labor were taken to the Milano Salone 2017 exhibition. There, they were able to achieve global acclaim, including the Best Storytelling Award. 
(Photo provided by Panasonic Design Kyoto)
The exhibition venue of Milano Salone. The product design steeped in Japanese sensibility and the eye-catching story-like display received high appraisals from a large number of people. (Photo provided by Panasonic Design Kyoto)

Craftsmanship and electronics: Appealing to the heart of the world with the potential of “Made in Japan”

After that, the Kyoto KADEN Lab. project team proceeded to its second act, setting the new concept of the project as “Electronics Meets Crafts: Engraving Phenomena.” They elaborated on “experiences that resonate with the five senses” to create five new interdisciplinary worlds with motifs of elements such as fire, sound, light, and wind.

And, surprisingly, they are already maneuvering to start on their third project. Although, this time they will not be satisfied by just creating the products. “We want to produce them as commercial products so we can actually deliver what we believe would be life-enhancing to our customers,” Nakagawa stresses.
“Now, we are at the stage of having to wrestle with the engineering and business sectors, in a good meaning, to commercialize the Kyo-Zutsu (laughter). Being able to offer our inspirations at their best to consumers: that is what I think would contribute to a more fulfilling life for the coming generations.”
The first of the project series, “products that resonate with the five senses,” secured an excellent reputation overseas, and the commercialization of the products are globally anticipated. Nakagawa’s audio system Kyo-Zutsu has been officially decided to go on sale in around the spring of 2019. 

The emphasis in the value of authentic essence, the experience of resonating with the senses, and the fact that it can be put to practical use. The beautiful home-appliance that incorporates all three of these elements: Kyo-Zutsu.
 Kyo-Zutsu was created by using the essence of Kyoto’s sensibility underlying in the commitment to pursuing functional beauty, safeguarding it, and transmitting it. What could it bring to our everyday life? Just thinking about what it could bring to our daily life is enough to make one’s heart beat faster. Panasonic Kyoto Design’s initiation is definitely showing us a new way of thinking about home-appliances. We look forward to watching their further development in the future. 
(Photo provided by Panasonic Design Kyoto)
(Photo provided by Panasonic Design Kyoto)
The second of Kyoto KADEN Lab. Project’s series “Electronics Meets Crafts: Engraving Phenomena’s” products. The heat and beauty of the brightly burning flames, the comfort of the gentle breeze blowing: emanating from what people have been experiencing from time immemorial, the primitive senses and memories deeply embedded in the core of our corporal existence. The experience of coming into contact with these senses is what is essential to “living well.” (Photo provided by Panasonic Design Kyoto)
REPORT
TEXT BY MAE KOORI
PHOTOGRAPHS BY KUNIHIRO FUKUMORI
18.08.09 THU 19:00
 

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KYOTO CRAFTS MAGAZINE was established with the aim of observing, reporting, and archiving the current and future aspects of lifestyle, culture, and industry of the locally rooted crafts and the people involved with them.