Minimalist design, imported from Japan

Gift Guides / Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

Japan industrialization in the 19th century

Although industrialization came to Japan in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the incorporation of design industry, had to wait until the mid-twentieth century to appear timidly in products, mainly the electronics industry (Sony) and automotive (Toyota).

At the end of the Second World War, Japan began its economic recovery, through the revival of industrial production especially by offering cheap labor. At first, they copied and manufactured American and European products and then export them, but when the market was saturated of this type of goods, the Japanese began to explore other levels and focused on technological innovation.

The first Japanese pocket radio

In 1947 Bell laboratories announced the creation of a solid micro amplifier, called a transistor. The invention (which won the Nobel Prize to Shockley trio, Brattain, and Bardeen) remained under military secrecy for a few years, but soon became the key to the development of the modern electronics industry. The first step was the launch in 1954 of a small pocket radio produced by the Texas Instrument company and designed by the studio Painter, Teague, and Petertil. Admired by the technicians and designers, the TR-1 radio was unsuccessful in the North American market.

Within the general framework of the American economic aid, Western Electric granted the license to manufacture transistors to the Tokyo Electric company in 1953. Nobody imagined the Japanese capacity to take advantage of this type of resource. The following year-with the newly created Sony- the company launched its first transistor radio to the market. In 1958 began to produce the model TR-610, the first Japanese pocket radio. Smaller and thinner than any previous model. The TR-610 was just the beginning of the miniaturization race led by the Japanese industry. Sony is also the first Japanese company to present a portable television in 1959: a metal housing covered with push buttons, handles and knobs molded form of the kinescope and protected by a visor to attenuate the reflexes.

Perhaps the first outstanding product was the first Sony pocket radio model TR 610 of Sony 1958, becoming a sales success in the North American market.

The great success that Sony generated gave way to other companies such as Nikon, Olympus, Sharp, Nissan, Toyota, or Toshiba dedicated to the automotive and consumer electrical appliances., Where a large number of German and Scandinavian designers participated as well as departments of design. (Probably from this relationship has been created the great influence that still maintains the principles of Gute form in Japanese design)

Japanese innovation

Soon the Japanese placed themselves at the head of the development of new technologies and were the first to recognize and exploit the computer science applied to the design process. They are currently market leaders in areas such as optics, electronics or the automotive industry. In addition, the Japanese have the ability to assimilate the novelties, make them yours and improve them, manufacture any product of western origin adding more benefits, reducing its volume and offering a more competitive price. Most of these products are destined for export, with which Japanese companies are concerned about satisfying the tastes of foreign consumers leaving aside the disclosure of a Japanese style.

On the other hand, there are Japanese products related to crafts, furniture, and lighting, mostly dedicated to the domestic use and where we can observe the aesthetic characteristics of Japanese culture.

1965 Tokyo exhibition

Also noteworthy is the 1965 Tokyo exhibition, organized by the Japanese Industrial Design Council and the ICSDI exhibition (International Council of Industrial Design Societies) held in Kyoto in 1972. In both Japanese designers contemplated Braun products and assimilated its Bauhaus aesthetic, taking it further and mixing it in turn with the cultural and traditional features of the Japanese country.
In the 90`s it is when a Japanese design that shows its identity is spread to the general public. Appear simplified products, sober and close to Japanese traditions such as religion and spirituality. The term minimalism is the one that will be used to define this Japanese aesthetic, characterized by a formal depuration, elegant finishes, and chromatic sobriety.

In the 70`s Japan enters with great success with innovative products within the world of electronics such as CASIO watches, the Walkman, and the electronics revolution for children

In the 80`s Japanese designers like Arata Isosaki and Shiro Kuramata are part of the incorporation of Japanese designers to the design with theoretical bases of the postmodern dad.In the 90`s the technological advances in materials and miniaturization of electronic technologies allows the minimalist language to invade the Japanese aesthetic.

5 concepts of Japanese design


Kanketsu is simplicity, a product must be simple, stripped of all unnecessary embellishment. Dieter Rams said in his 10 principles of good design that a product should be discreet, it should be neutral and sober, creating a space of expression for the user. A good design process leads to a simple product.

2. Iki

It talks about something elegant and exquisite, but without highlighting it. In the beginning, it was used by the samurai to describe something honorable but over time the population gave it its new meaning. In Japan, the Geishas are considered iki.

3. Mono

It can be translated as “empathy towards things”. In Japanese design is to endow human sensitivity to things, stripped of any religious or moral belief that can create a prejudice. What we feel when we see or hear an event, from our human nature.

4. wabi-sabi

Perfection within the imperfection. Derived from the concept of non-permanence and the flow of time, the wear of things produces harmony and melancholy. Wabi-Sabi defines the principles on which the Japanese aesthetic is based and which could be equated with the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection of the West. The term that comes closest to Wabi-sabi’s translation is rustic in the sense of simplicity, a beauty without artifice. According to Leonard Koren in his book Wabisabi: for artists, designers, poets, and philosophers, the Wabi-Sabi is that imperfect, impermanent and incomplete beauty that emanates directly from nature. The asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, modesty, simplicity, everyday life and the natural degradation of the materials are some of the aesthetic characteristics of the Wabi-Sabi and which has traditionally been deeply rooted in Japanese craftsmanship. In the Japanese industrial design, the Wabi Sabi can be seen reflected in the use of nature as a continuous source of inspiration, using natural and rough materials, such as wood, and applying soft and organic forms. Bonsai or haiku are considered wabi-sabi

5. The void

the air that gives its own space and weight to things. Without anything you can not have something. We arrived at the famous design principle of “less is more”. The blank space is the “ma”. The Japanese carry it in their own daily life when making a bow they have to make sure that there is enough ma to endow the reverence with meaning and respect. There are several principles related to beauty and aesthetics in Japanese art, many of them related to Zen principles applied basically to the famous Japanese gardens