Made In Japan
by Reed Darmon
There are so many things to see in Japan, but the most interesting sights aren’t temples, mountains or scrolls hanging on a wall, they are smaller, more discrete and ubiquitous. I’m talking about the design and artwork found on everyday items like matchbooks and candy boxes. Reed Darmon’s book Made in Japan is an extensive, full-color collection of such objects.
Darmon explains that during the eighteenth century, the Japanese government levied consumption taxes in order to prevent opulent displays of wealth among the middle class. This resulted in craftsmen and artists honing their trade on small, personal items such as lacquer boxes and hair combs. Eventually, this fixation on perfecting the tiniest details made its way out of the home and onto the market.
The book is full of examples of great package design, poster artwork, children’s toys, Noh masks, game design and clothing. Through these photographs, we see how the West borrowed design ideas from Japan, as well as what art movements of the early twentieth century influenced the modern Japanese aesthetic. Some of the highlights include a Bauhaus-inspired matchbook advertising a coffee shop, glorious art deco posters from the 1930s, and powerful futurist war propaganda.
A few especially interesting things for me were an advertisement from 1938 for Morinaga’s milk caramel, whose box hasn’t changed one bit in almost sixty years, some paper fans from the 1940s with pictures of Japanese beauties lithographed on the front (during the summertime in Japan paper fans like these are given out all over the country, but instead of depicting girls in kimono, now they are covered with advertisements), a 1960s poster for a movie called Record of Blood about professional wrestling (which I really have to see), and a Mazinger G board game with the full cast of characters on the cover, because who doesn’t love Go Nagai?
Made in Japan is packed with more than two-hundred photographs depicting the genesis of modern Japanese design starting in the late nineteenth century through the 1970s. While I’ve found that many photo-heavy art books tend to skimp in their descriptions, Darmon doesn’t take any shortcuts. Each item he has collected comes with a detailed description of exactly what it is, often giving us the historical context, and translates the Japanese into English, so we aren’t left guessing as to what’s going on. It is Reed Darmon’s attention to detail that makes Made in Japan not just a cool book to flip through, but something anyone interested in design or Japan should have on their bookshelf.