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Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Pecha Kucha! Ping! Monozukuri gets hot!
By JUSTINE PARKER
Special to The Japan Times
Good things come from small packagers, according to new online design magazine PingMag MAKE.
The Web site delves into the Japanese art of monozukuri ("making things"), a broad concept encompassing anything from traditional fabric-dyeing techniques to luxury-luggage design or the latest feat of robotics.
"It's about craftsmanship in the broadest sense of craftsmanship," explains Tom Vincent, President of Yes! Communications, publisher of PingMag and PingMag MAKE.
Billed as "The Japan-based interview magazine about making things," the bilingual Web site was launched on Christmas Day 2007 as a sister publication to PingMag.
Whereas PingMag focuses largely on design and creation in and around Tokyo, MAKE editor Takafumi Suzuki scours rural Japan for stories of crafts-people quietly carving out their own niche.
"Most Japanese companies are small and, while their products might get publicity, no one is telling their stories," Vincent says. "Often they don't even have a Web site, and, not surprisingly, certainly not one in English."
Japanese and foreign media coverage of these inventors and entrepreneurs tends to focus either on their products or on high-profile boom and bust stories, according to Vincent.
MAKE instead publishes weekly interviews in which the people behind these ventures discuss their motivations, struggles and passions.
"A lot of the stereotypes that one has about Japanese people and Japanese society are completely thrown out listening to these people talking," Vincent says. "For instance, you have some of the toughest women bosses in the world — and that's not an image you have of Japan."
About two-thirds of PingMag and MAKE's audience is outside Japan, with visitors coming from more than 180 countries per month, Vincent says.
"It feels like there's a longing — especially in the West — for people with skills polished over a lifetime, who are that committed and focused on what they do," Vincent says.
The organizers of Tokyo's Pecha Kucha Night are in celebration mode. Last month, they hosted the 50th installment of their creative "show-and-tell," and they have just released a book to commemorate the worldwide success of their event — "Pecha Kucha Night: A Celebration."
Pecha Kucha was launched in February 2003 by Klein Dytham Architecture (KDa) as a venue for people working in creative industries to meet, network and present their work — from Japan or internationally-based — in public.
But it wasn't driven purely by altruism. First KDa, with graphic designers Namaiki and Tokyo Ale brewery, moved its event space, Deluxe, from the KDa offices to a new location in Nishi-Azabu — SuperDeluxe. Then, realizing it needed to host events every night to pay the rent, it scrambled for new ideas.
Inspired by "design show and tell" events held in its offices, and seeking to avoid the drudgery of regular lectures and Q&As, it came up with a rapid-fire presentation format dubbed "20x20." To keep things moving, each presenter has 20 seconds to show each of a maximum of 20 slides, for a grand total of 6 minutes, 40 seconds — ideal for those with a short attention span.
Named Pecha Kucha after the Japanese for "chit-chat," the event has since spread to almost 120 cities around the world, says Mark Dytham, one of the two founders of KDa.
"The book was just really to celebrate that growth and what's happened," Dytham says. "It's just a record; a celebration of something we didn't really think was going to happen."
Previous presenters include star Japanese architect Toyo Ito, U.K.-based designer Ron Arad, and the 5-year-old daughter of KDa founder Astrid Klein. Topics have ranged broadly from Japanese hearse designs to food porn, flower pots to experimental typography.
Pecha Kucha is open to anyone with bright ideas and a good sense of humor — and Dytham strives to keep it that way, citing the London version of Pecha Kucha, which he says has been marred by the celebrity factor.
"It just felt like a microcosm of London in Pecha Kucha night," Dytham says. "There were too many famous people in it — it wasn't very open or flat, but in Tokyo it is very open and flat."
About half the Tokyo presentations are in Japanese and half in English, but Dytham says presenters can hold forth in any language as long as they have something interesting to say.