Global Greening Lifestyles: Japan

Trending MeaningOf late CultureofFuture hasbeen called to speak at a number of venues and more and more it is a requestfor direction and meaning. The think tank Demos.fl of Finland brought us topresent a LoCarbon Lifestyle Trend presentation to 20 journalists and aMeaningful Brands presentation to over 200 creatives in Helsinki via SUBtv.Demos knows how to influence a topic forward! We will write more on this experience later, but it gave us many ideas one of which is a call to various trenders to submit content on meaningful trends.

Trending Meaning
Of late CultureofFuture hasbeen called to speak at a number of venues and more and more it is a requestfor direction and meaning. The think tank Demos.fl of Finland brought us topresent a LoCarbon Lifestyle Trend presentation to 20 journalists and aMeaningful Brands presentation to over 200 creatives in Helsinki via SUBtv.Demos knows how to influence a topic forward! We will write more on this experience later, but it gave us many ideas one of which is a call to various trenders to submit content on meaningful trends.


Kristina and I met while presenting at the lovely Malmo,Sweden sustainable design conference and exhibition. Kristina issharing here her perspective as she spends time in Japan.

Factors that influenceJapan’s approach to sustainability
Kristina Dryza,

Least possible wastage
Historically, the small sizeof the country and its limited resources meant extravagance in the use of spaceand materials was seen as immoral. Getting the most out of every thing isdeeply engrained in the Japanese psyche. This is why recycling is such a strongfeature of daily Japanese existence.

Blaine Brownell, anarchitect and sustainable material researcher, said in an interview that manyJapanese architects practice sustainable design in Japan without necessarilylabeling it as such. They just naturally make the most of limited space andresources with highly imaginative solutions. They are conscious of space andknow how to enhance it.

While today Tokyo is thesky-high neon city we all know, there are still objects and utensils used whoseproduction hasn’t changed in centuries. The secret behind this long lastingnessaccording to the Louis Vuitton City Guide is “the simple fact that from theirorigins, the objects produced in Edo were meant for daily use. They werefunctional, adapted to the lives of ordinary citizens and not objects of grandluxury intended for ostentatious display – like the daimyo – who held power.They were designed in a spirit of craftsmanship where economic imperatives(such as the least possible wasting of materials) were key.”

In previous centuries thehumility poverty instilled led the Japanese to appreciate a rustic simplicity.This quiet dignity and Zen austerity still influences their designs todayallowing them to refine concepts down to their essence. True beauty is notshowy; it’sconsidered and thoughtful and gets to the heart of all things.


Life in Japan is driven bythe seasons. The four seasons are so clearly felt, seen and experienced, andthe whole culture supports the celebration and acknowledgment of seasonality.

Japanese cuisine especiallyplaces paramount importance on expressing the joys of each season. For example,Japanese sweets (called wagashi) representthe different seasons with both elegance and feeling. They are inspired both bynature and emotion, and express natural and abstract phenomena. These sweetsare to be served graciously, enjoyed leisurely and appreciated delicately andattentively. Each bite brings with it the emotion of the season.

The Japanese also know wheneach food is in its prime – like the first harvest of a seasonal crop – whetherit’s bamboo shoots, melons or wild mushrooms. The ‘first of the season’ idea isincredibly important to a culture so attuned to the cycles of nature.

Attention to detailThe Japanese ability toattend todetails is what made the nation the economic powerhouse it istoday. Their efficiency and precision is known the world over. This attentionto detail and the ubiquitous pursuit of perfectionism leads to fast adaptation,compact editing and their clean, modern design aesthetic.

Shigeru Uchida in his book‘Japanese Interior Design – Its Cultural Origin’ says the physical sensibilityof the “culture of sitting down” and “culture of taking off shoes” means theJapanese pay attention to fine details. “People of the climate, of the forests,sit on the earth and observe nature, imagine and infer. Their attitude is onethat pays careful attention to very subtle occurrences, and one that discoversbeauty hidden in fine details. The manner of being one with nature is felt bylistening to the insects in the garden, appreciating the changing seasons andadmiring the glories of nature in the peaceful flow of time.” Thesesensibilities are directly reflected in the design of Japanese spaces.

Traditional Japanese flowerarrangement (called ikebana) is notjust about floral display. It’s used as a tool to convey the creator’s ownfeelings.


Flowers and plants aren’tjust beautiful, pretty things to be admired – they have their own energy. Ikebana artists learn to read andenhance the energy these plants have. As nature tries to grow to the sun, the ikebana artist finds the best expressionfor each branch by finding its ‘front face’ – its highest possiblerepresentation.

By reading deeper into theenergy it’s possible to have a two-way communication with nature that enhancesthe artist’s own creative expression. Ikebanateaches its students to step back and see the bigger picture, yet also topay attention to details. Ikebanaartists learn to work in multiple dimensions balancing space, containers andmaterials.

But one of the centralaspects of ikebana is theappreciation for the different stages of nature, respecting each of the changesthat happen to a tree. For example, the wilting bark, the falling leaf and thehole the bug made in the leaf. As Kisho Kurokawa, an architect, concurs, “Weused to consider things that could live forever to be beautiful. But this wayof thinking has been exposed as a lie. True beauty lies in things that die,things that change.”

Sense of quality
It’s well known that theJapanese have a keen sense of quality. But more than that, they have a deeprespect for exquisite quality that goes beyond the product to include theperson who sells the item to them, the creator, and any thing and every personthat touches the item in between. This sense of holism means the Japanese lookbeyond the surface of things and equally judge quality by what is not visibleto the naked eye.

Japanese concept of beauty
Soetsu Yanagi, a famedhandicraft authority, described the keys to Japanese beauty using the terms shibui, yugen and myo. Myo refers to a special spirit thatimbues the truly beautiful, a spirit that goes beyond mechanical skill toexpress a delicate mystery. Yugenexpresses both a mystery and subtlety that lies modestly beneath the surface ofthings in delicate, perfect harmony. And shibuirefers to a restrained, highly refined beauty that epitomises classicsimplicity and also exhibits the quality of myoand yugen.

This is why there isartistic merit in almost every item in the Japanese home. This holisticapproach to beauty leads the Japanese to have a refined aesthetic sense thatthey take with them into all aspects of their lives.


Bringing the outside in
Gardens in Japan aren’t justfor palaces or Zen monasteries, but to be brought into one’s own world. TheJapanese have always been bringing the outside into their homes and officebuildings. As author Boye Lafayette De Mente says, “Shintoism, the nativeJapanese religion, holds that all things in nature, including trees and rocks,have a spiritual essence of their own. In this philosophy, the apprenticecarpenter cannot fully master his craft until he is able to recognise andrespect the spirit of the wood used in his trade.”

Learning to look to thespirit that lies beyond all things means nature is not something separate tothe Japanese. Bringing things that are a part of nature into their surroundingsis essential to promote the flow of spiritual harmony.

Some examples of theseapproaches in practice:
Least possible wastage

Reben is a wall paint thatconsists of powdered Japanese washi(paper), seaweed glue, scallop-shell powder, titanium dioxide and naturalpigments that actually ‘clean’ the air:

Seasons As the season’s change, sodo the look and taste of Toraya’s sweets:

Attention to detail
Utilising computer networktechnology,Toyota’s new Home Energy Management System candisplaythe amount of energy consumption and control operations of homeappliances:

The Cerulean Tower TokyuHotel employs ikebana artistEikou Sumura to craftinstallations as aform of communication with their guests:


Sense of quality
The directors of 21_21Design Sight – Issey Miyake, Taku Satoh and Naoto Fukasawa – each create indifferent mediums and exhibitions here are testament to their holistic view ofdesign:

Japanese concept of beauty
The porcelain in designerGaku Otomo’s tea cups is so fine, green tea literally ‘shines’ through:

Another view: Leonard Koren’s classic books on Japan explore Wabi Sabi For Artists and Poets, Japanese Flower Arranging and How To Take A Japanese Bath.
For complete collection of books on Japan:

Bringing the outside inThe ‘Fiber City: Tokyo 2050’concept describes four strategies – Green Finger, Green Web, Green Partitionand Urban Wrinkle – for an alternative metropolis:

Cultureof Future is Jody Turner, the founder, and Kathy Baylor, the VP of research.Jody holds US West Coast and European perspectives from San Francisco and LosAngeles, while Kathy covers Asia and East Coast perspective from NYC andTokyo.

Whileanyone can track trends, we have the time and resources to do so. Our missionis inspiring and assisting country, community and company in the redesigning ofhow we live, work, and play with creative and conscious consumptioninnovations.


Our client list includes top brands and top innovation influencers. Ourdynamic culture network includes some of the world’s influential designers,style arbiters, eco power players, retail gurus, tech innovators, artists and entertainment media pros. Kristina Dryza is one such brilliantinfluencer.


About the author

A dynamic social researcher, cultural narrator, future trendhunter and strategic designer, Jody Turner works and speaks globally via her west coast company and the London group Client engagements have included Apple, BMW, StyleVision France, Adidas, Starbucks, The Gap, Unilever Istanbul and multiple others.