7.30 Tue 17:00 START
The talk salon event NEXT VISION, a new joint endeavor by the economic news social media platform NewsPicks and LEXUS, was recently recorded at INTERSECT BY LEXUS – TOKYO. Based on the CRAFTED spirit of always thinking and making things through a human-centered approach, the talk searched for the future of Japanese craftsmanship with special invited guests.
NewsPicks Studios CEO and former NewsPicks editor in chief Norihiko Sasaki opened the event: “Centering on the LEXUS philosophy of CRAFTED, we are bringing together both globally renowned legends and the rising stars of the next generation to rethink Japanese craftsmanship today through a talk salon that shares new visions and values.” The event featured an eye-catching choice of guests: the world-famous architect Kengo Kuma and Kenji Kohashi, the producer and head of LeaR. “From these two guests who strive to create communities and places for people to gather, I hope we can hear more about their philosophies and aesthetic approaches,” said Sasaki, “and then propose some new values for craftsmanship.”
The first half dealt with the themes of wa (a Japanese word meaning both Japan and Japanese culture as well as harmony) and Japanese aesthetics. Asked by Sasaki about his awareness of wa or how it comes out in his work, Kuma responded: “I am not actually so particular about wa per se. But I was born in Japan and, while I have offices around the world, my main base is in Japan and I work the most with my local Japanese team, so Japan is certainly a fundamental part of who I am. That being said, clients seem recently to want not wa but tolerance.”
Kuma went on: “Increasing numbers of Japanese people are working overseas and I think this is because the Japanese sense of tolerance or openness is in demand around the world.” “By accepting noise, I then harmonize,” Kohashi said. “I don’t overtly emphasize wa in terms of content, but lying behind my output is an awareness of wa in the sense of a focus on harmony or the in-between.”
Commenting on his own architectural style, Kuma explained that he originally became interested in using wood in around 1990. “It started when, having lost my job in Tokyo after the economic bubble burst, I went out to the regions and was inspired by the trees I saw. Then for around ten years, I kept working with wood in an attempt to find a way of using it that felt right for me, which I finally did.” Kohashi had a similar experience during his career. “I quit working as an actor and went traveling overseas. When I got back to Japan, I had no job. But serving as the ‘producer’ for my own birthday party was the trigger that led me to start producing events. Something that seemed initially negative has made me who I am today.”
Sasaki followed this up with a question: “So are setbacks a necessary part of becoming a legend?” “Well, people are always trying to copy themselves, or what they had been doing until now,” Kuma answered. “So when you hit a setback, what that means is you become aware that you should kind of ‘destroy’ yourself in order to move forward. When I went to rural Japan, I was amazed at the masterful craftsmanship I found in almost any mountainous area. From a global perspective, the diversity of Japan’s mountains is truly astonishing.” As the producer of STAR ISLAND, a futuristic firework display event, Kohashi remarked that creating fireworks involves different kinds of artisans at different stages of the process. “These layers mean that when one firework is launched into the sky, there is something profound about what is happening that almost transmits vibrations deep into your body. The skills of master craftsmen are something truly amazing, like a kind of aesthetics that conveys the invisible.”
Following a break, the guests returned to discuss the LEXUS NEW TAKUMI PROJECT, for which Kuma serves as one of the collaborators helping to support young artisans practicing crafts around Japan. “The project started in 2016,” Kuma said, “and we have finally reached the point where we can start making things with two of the artisans. One of the projects is a pavilion large enough for people to go inside, which a kumiko wood joinery craftsman based in the mountains of Kochi is making. And the other is a large piece by this incredible curved wood artisan in Nara, whose work makes you wonder just how wood can bend like that.”
As the event drew to a close, there was time for one more question from Sasaki. “What are your ideas about the future values of craftsmanship?” Kohashi was first to respond: “People in Japan have this knack of incorporating all kinds of elements into what they do. If you go out and see the world and then feed that into your regular output, it will transform into something with a spirit of wa even if you are not consciously trying to do this. I aspire to create a Japanese kind of entertainment and produce ways for overseas visitors to experience it.” “What’s important when it comes to craftsmanship and making things,” remarked Kuma, “is surely that it’s also fun for you. If you do a project that you personally enjoy, that will come across in the results.”
The salon finished with the legend and rising star guests answering questions put to them by the invited “pro pickers,” who are NewsPicks-certified professionals of the new era working at the cutting edge of economics, business, healthcare, technology, and more. All the attendees then mingled and chatted during the informal after-party as the curtain came down on this successful first edition on NEXT VISION.
Born in 1954, Kengo Kuma is an architect. He completed postgraduate studies in architecture at the University of Tokyo and set up his own architecture firm in 1990. He was inspired to become an architect after seeing the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, which was designed by Kenzo Tange for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. To date, he has designed buildings in over 20 countries worldwide and received numerous prizes at home and abroad, including the Architectural Institute of Japan Award.
Born in 1979, Kenji Kohashi is a creative director who made his debut in the entertainment industry at the age of eight. He went on to appear in numerous television dramas, films, and plays. He then abruptly put his acting career on hiatus at the age of 27 in order to travel the world and start producing films and events. He made his directing debut with the feature film DON’T STOP! His wide-ranging activities include producing the futuristic fireworks spectacle STAR ISLAND.
Nothing is Crafted Like a LEXUS (Japanese only)
LEXUS NEW TAKUMI PROJECT (Japanese only)
CRAFTED FOR LEXUS