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Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2008
Naoto Fukusawa, the peg pencil, Gallery Le Bain and more
By JEAN SNOW
Special to the Japan Times
Naoto Fukusawa: Beech Boy
What better way for a company to mark its 80th anniversary — which is what Hiroshima-based Maruni Wood Industry celebrates this year — than by launching a new collection designed by a man who has over the past few years grown into the poster boy for Japanese product/interior design, Naoto Fukasawa. The award winner has been collaborating with the company since 2004 — mostly on the Nextmaruni line, a series of chairs thought up by renowned designers. This year sees that relationship cemented with the "Traditional Series," which sees updates by Fukasawa to the company's "Mediterranean" and "Versailles" lines, as well as the new "Hiroshima" line. That new collection, comprised of wooden dining chairs and tables, is typical of Fukasawa's clean and subtle design aesthetic, with a beautiful natural wood finish that lets the beech-and-oak base stand out.
Writing's a snap
When is a pencil more than just a pencil? When it takes the shape of Yuta Watanabe's Peg Pencil. This snappy gadget barely resembles the lowly HB pencils of old. Looking more like a classic wooden clothes pin or peg, from which the designer took inspiration, the intriguing form is also functional, with the clamplike device providing an easy way to change the pencil lead. The Peg Pencil isn't Watanabe's first crack at innovative pencil design — he previously worked on a project called "A Dozen Pencils," in which he examines several conceptual pencil designs — and it shows a welcomed desire to spice up that segment of the stationery world.
Flip your lid
Living in Japan, the thought of the Big One striking is something on most people's minds. Some of the country's big brands are capitalizing on this, with the earthquake-disaster relief kits from MUJI being a good example. When it comes to preparing your emergency kit, you want to keep it compact, which is where the Tatamet collapsible helmet comes in. Easy to store anywhere, it still offers strong impact resistance, protecting your head from the dangers of falling debris. And with its futuristic shape — straight out of sci-fi anime — it even looks good.
A design fiend's all-in-one
In terms of interior shopping options, Tokyo probably deserves a medal of some sort for both quantity and quality. So with such a crowded retail scene, it takes more than just an attractive space and a dedicated buyer to stand out from the pack. Le Bain, located in Nishi-Azabu, has taken a route that seems to be a growing trend in shops these days: the creation of mixed-use spaces.
If the main showroom space — specializing in bath products — isn't enough to get you through the door, then maybe the Mitate shop, which carries a bespoke collection of bath accessories and boasts an adjacent gallery space, might. Then there's Gallery Le Bain, currently showing an exhibition of Naoko Fukasawa's recent work for Maruni until Feb. 10, and the Ori Higashiya gift shop, selling traditional Japanese sweets, with a small tea room to the side.
3-16-28 Nishi-Azabu (tel.  3479-3841); www.le-bain.com
The last few months of the year are crowded with various types of awards, and 2007 was no different, with the Kokuyo Design Award 2007, among others. Kokuyo is the country's major provider of stationery and business supplies (they're the ones behind those ubiquitous Campus notebooks), and with their annual awards they hope to find items that can someday be commercialized — past winners have included the popular Kadokeshi, an eraser with 28 corners.
The 2007 edition had the theme of "Adaptable Items," which was best exemplified in the grand prize winner, Sannin Hitokumi's Kami Kire, a piece of paper with perforated lines that doubles as a grid system and an easy to way to convert the page into smaller pieces, as well as runnerups such as Yohei Oki's Yajirushi magnet-equipped and arrow-shaped whiteboard markers. Yet to be mass produced, that it became the grand prize winner shows that the company places innovation and ideas above the need to put products on shelves.