Posts tagged
with Japan


A Detailed Documentary Traces the Process of Making Artistic Manhole Covers in Japan

January 19, 2023

Kate Mothes

There are myriad structures and objects in the built environment that many of us rarely give a second thought to, like the materials that make sidewalks and streets, the pipe systems below the pavement, or the manhole covers that keep those networks secure and provide essential access. In Japan, though, form follows function in a recent tradition of creating manhole covers that feature bold and colorful designs.

Video creators Process X visited the Hinode factory to document the manufacture of the ubiquitous lids from start to finish. Workers first melt metal and stamp the molten material into a form that produces a distinctive raised outline. The covers are then cooled and transported to a station where others hand-paint the details, heat the pigments to create a durable finish, and ready them for installation.

Japan’s aesthetic solution to an otherwise banal infrastructural object is thought to have originated back in the mid-1980s when municipalities were invited to design their own manhole covers, making costly sewerage updates more palatable. Following a handful of local contests and documentation by photographers and publications, the phenomenon continues to add vivid, unexpected designs to everyday surfaces.

Process X documents a wide range of manufacturing systems around Japan and publishes videos regularly on YouTube. (via Kottke)


A still from a short documentary about the making of manhole covers, which are colored and painted.

All images © Process X

A still from a short documentary about the making of manhole covers, which are colored and painted.

A still from a short documentary about the making of manhole covers, which are colored and painted.

A still from a short documentary about the making of manhole covers, which are colored and painted.

A still from a short documentary about the making of manhole covers, which are colored and painted.

A still from a short documentary about the making of manhole covers, which are colored and painted.





Kengo Kuma Designs a Dramatically Vaulted Cafe to Evoke Japan’s Sloping Tottori Sand Dunes

December 10, 2022

Grace Ebert

A photo of a wooden building with a pergola at night

All images ©︎ Kawasumi-Kobayashi Kenji Photograph Office

Overlooking Japan’s vast Tottori Sand Dunes is a new two-level structure that connects earth and atmosphere. Dubbed a “staircase to the sky,” Takahama Café is one of architect Kengo Kuma’s latest projects that reflects the surrounding environment. The dramatically vaulted building, which totals 199 square meters, is constructed with cross-laminated timber and reinforced concrete and features a balcony topped with a pergola for visitors to view the region. Sand from the dunes textures the Washi paper pendant lights inside, and in honor of local craftspeople and traditions, the studio tasked the Tottori Mingei pottery workshop Nakai-gama with creating the bathroom sinks, which are cloaked in its signature blue-black glaze.

For more from Kuma (previously) and his team, visit the studio’s site. (via designboom)


A photo of a wooden building with a pergola

A photo of a wooden building with a pergola and overlook cafe

A photo of a sloping wooden building with stairs on the side

A photo of an indoor cafe

A photo of an indoor cafe

A photo of a wooden building with a pergola

A photo of a dramatically sloped wooden roof




Photographer Masayuki Oki Focuses a Humorous Lens on Japan’s Feline Residents

December 9, 2022

Kate Mothes

A photograph of a motorized scooter with two cats sitting in the seat, appearing as if they will drive it.

All images © Masayuki Oki, shared with permission

The archipelago of Japan consists of more than 6,800 islands, of which around 280 are inhabited, and in a few places, known as neko-shima or “cat islands,” felines vastly outnumber the human residents. Fishing villages like the one on Aoshima, the most well-known of around a dozen cat islands, introduced the creatures in the early 20th century to combat rodent infestations. Their prolific progeny, perched on walls and scampering underfoot, have been a continuous source of fascination for photographer Masayuki Oki.

For the past eight years, Oki has documented clowders of cats in his home city of Tokyo and on islands around the nation, focusing on the feral animals’ interactions. Viewed through a an anthropomorphic lens, the images capture playful pounces and awkward entanglements with humor and a knack for good timing.

You can follow Oki’s feline adventures on his blog and Instagram. He releases annual calendars featuring some of the year’s best photographs, and he also updates a YouTube channel with short videos of furball shenanigans.


A photograph of two cats, one walking in the foreground and the other looking about ready to attack its mate.

A photograph of a black cat climbing down a vending machine full of drinks.

A photograph of two cats sitting on a box, one massaging the other's back.

A photograph of a cat carrying a fish in its mouth.  A photograph of a cat grabbing at a dog's leash in the street.

A photograph of a black-and-white cat playing with a flower in a pot.

A photograph of a black cat embracing or attacking a white cat.

A white cat sitting on the top of the wall, meowing at the photographer. A photograph of two cats, one with its paw on the shoulder of the other.



Art History Illustration

A 500-Page Book Explores the Japanese Folkloric Tradition of the Supernatural ‘Yōkai’ Entities

September 28, 2022

Grace Ebert

All images courtesy of PIE International, shared with permission

Translating to “strange apparition,” the Japanese word yōkai refers to supernatural beings, mutant monsters, and spirits. Mischievous, generous, and sometimes vengeful, the creatures are rooted in folklore and experienced a boom during the Edo period when artists would ascribe inexplicable phenomena to the unearthly characters. Japan’s Miyoshi Mononoke Museum in the Hiroshima Prefecture houses the largest yōkai collection in the world with more than 5,000 works, and a book recently published by PIE International showcases 60 of the most iconic and bizarre pieces from the institution.

Encompassing a range of mediums from painted scrolls and nishiki-e woodblock prints to kimonos and metalworks, Yōkai is a massive volume of 500-plus pages of colorful illustrations, paired with text by author, collector, and curator Koichi Yumoto. The book reproduces rarely seen works by artists like the renowned ukiyo-e printmaker Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, showcasing the pieces in incredible detail and contextualizing their role in the broader tradition and art history.

Yōkai is currently available on Bookshop.




Design History Photography

Photos by Noritaka Minami Document the Famed Nakagin Capsule Tower Prior to Demolition

September 21, 2022

Grace Ebert

“B1004” (2011). All images © Noritaka Minami, shared with permission

An icon of Japanese Metabolism, the Nakagin Capsule Tower stood in the Ginza neighborhood of Tokyo from 1972 until it was demolished earlier this year. Conceived by the famed designer Kisho Kurokawa, the building featured two central concrete towers, with 140 individual pods slotted into the main structures. A circular window allowed light into the small modules, which were created with the intention that they could be removed and replaced as needed.

This flexibility was an essential component of Metabolist architecture, which fused the concept of megastructures with organic growth, meaning many of the designs of the period embraced prefabrication for its ability to “regenerate” every few decades. Unfortunately for the Nakagain Capsule Tower, though, structural issues prevented the pods from being easily swapped, and the building fell quickly into a state of disrepair.


“Facade” (2010)

Until it was disassembled back in April, the complex served as a beacon of the pre-war movement that began in the 1960s and was one of the few remaining structures of its kind—Kurokawa’s similarly futuristic Capsule Hosue K is still in use in Nagano woods. Today, some of the tower’s capsules are being shipped to museums and institutions or converted into single accommodations, and one company is also working to digitally preserve the building.

Artist Noritaka Minami documented the complex prior to demolition, and his photographs of the facade and residential units are on view this week as part of 1972/Accumulations at MAS Context Reading Room in Chicago. Framing the living quarters from the same angle, the images compare the structural similarities and personal effects of each space. The photos, most of which Minami took between 2010 and 2021, capture a certain intimacy within the austere uniformity and preserve what once was an architectural innovation.

1972/Accumulations runs from September 22 to December 8. See more of the series on Minami’s site.


“A503” (2017)

“Artificial Land” (2021)

“A703” (2017)

“B605” (2021)

“B807” (2021)

“B702” (2012)

“A905” (2018)




A Temporary Sanctuary at Hitokotonushi Shrine Provides Fresh Water for Japan’s Honeybees

July 11, 2022

Grace Ebert

All images courtesy of Hitokotonushi Shrine

Established more than 1,200 years ago in 809, the historic Hitokotonushi Shrine just outside of Tokyo becomes a secondary sanctuary for local pollinators each summer. The on-site water basins, which are designed to hydrate humans, undergo a miniature makeover complete with moss, tiny architecture, and climbing surfaces so that the spaces are hospitable to the region’s bee population, offering a clean source used for drinking, feeding their offspring, diluting honey, and helping to stabilize the hive’s temperature. Just like humans and other animals, bees sometimes struggle to find clean water in hot weather, and when they do, they risk drowning if there aren’t enough spots to land. According to the shrine’s Twitter, this year’s oasis is already buzzing with visitors, which you can see in the video below. (via Spoon & Tamago)



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