All About Zakka: The Japanese Antidote To American Hyperconsumerism

Exploring the allure of humble, nameless design

The mantra of capitalist economies is that you can always buy a solution to any problem. Want to make fresh tortillas without getting your hands dirty? There’s an appliance for that. Lonely? Buy a lifelike “companion.” Need to escape coworkers? How about a felt bubble for a modicum of privacy. There’s just too much damn stuff that falls in and out of style and inevitably ends up in landfills.


Enter zakka, a Japanese concept that roughly translates to “miscellaneous things” but—as with other imported lifestyle trends like the Danish concept of hygge—there is no precise English equivalent. However, it can understood as a celebration of humble, everyday objects that bring its users great satisfaction. Zakka aren’t antiques, they’re not expensive, they’re not flashy; they’re familiar and timeless. A metal tea pot, whisk brooms, glassware, and generic tabletop soy sauce dispensers are examples on view in Zakka: Goods and Things, an exhibition at the Tokyo gallery 21_21 Design Shift through June 5.

“People have grown weary of new things and are disoriented by the speed at which the times change,” Naoto Fukasawa, the exhibition’s director, wrote in his curator’s statement. “This is why zakka bring us a sense of calm.”

One of the most famous examples of the trend is the Japanese housewares brand and lifestyle cult Muji. Fukasawa, a celebrated designer, riffs on the idea of familiarity and memory in his work, such as with this rice cooker, which has an integrated spoon rest.

“It seems to me that zakka have emerged as another category of things that have an allure that is distinct from the allure of design, art, antiques, folkcraft, and handicraft,” Fukasawa goes on to say. “This is also perhaps one of the reasons that zakka always make us feel nostalgic about times that have passed not too long ago. It occurs to me that they affect emotions associated with relief, always making us feel, ‘That was good.'”

The sentiments surrounding zakka sure sound more appealing than a perpetual cycle of buyers remorse and acute design fatigue. Take this as your cue to turn off QVC and step away from that subscription box.

All Images: courtesy Design Sight


About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.