Rediscovering Japanese spirit and aesthetics
When I lived in California, I drove a Lexus LS. It seemed to me to be the perfect car for those long, sprawling neverending highways and I was happy with the feeling being in an egg - a secure object that has no visual protectors, but a place with a true inner sense of security.
Thanks to the opportunity to visit a gallery and factory dedicated to Lexus, I learned a lot more about these cars, which Toyota Motor Corp., the biggest automobile manufacturer in the world, successfully launched in the U nited States in 1989 and introduced at home in 2005, re-establishing itself as a luxury Japanese brand in the eyes of the world.
Being an artistic type, I thought the world of Lexus would be very different from my own. But to my astonishment, what I actually found was that they have a lot in common, which is somewhat analogous to what attracted me to Japan many years ago. My knowledge of Japanese language and culture comes from an innermost need I felt to grasp Japanese aesthetics when I experienced them in films; these aesthetics led me to fall irretrievably in love with Japanese cuisine.
The philosophy behind Lexus as a luxury brand is Japanese “omotenashi“ (hospitality), which means to treat or entertain someone sincerely and warmheartedly. At the core of omotenashi is attentiveness to the needs of others, by reading the atmosphere, sensing the mood and feeling the invisible energy pervading an occasion. Ultimately, or ideally, it means not entertaining a guest to achieve self-satisfaction, but to be quick in perceiving the guest's needs, desires, and overall mood, and entertaining the guest accordingly.
For example, in a traditional Japanese “Kaiseki“ restaurant it is not just about serving a delicious meal, but its true value is in the customized experience created by the whole process from the selection of tableware to the coordination of the room, giving thought to the way to the venue and the specific situation of the guest. And the carefully decorated pre-seasonal flower placed on the wall may be the first glimpse a guest has of the next season.
Such attentiveness is seen in every function of a Lexus, including the pinpoint indoor lighting system that perfectly accommodates user's needs; and power windows that slow down slightly when closing to reduce noise, much like the well-mannered way in which a “fusuma“ (sliding door) is closed, which should never be heard at sophisticated Japanese restaurants.
Also, this philosophy is reflected in its cutting-edge, yet elegant, design based on carefully thought-out simplicity and composed of elaborately crafted parts. One such elaborate detail is the “Shimamoku“ (striped wood) trim used in the Lexus LS sedan. The wooden part is made by Tendo Mokko, an established furniture manufacturer, using very thinly sliced veneer - similar to the “katsuramuki“ method of peeling in Japanese cooking - which is glued, pressed and heated into the desired design, in alternating bands of light and dark wood. The master craftsmanship put into Shimamoku, a careful process that takes 67 different steps over 38 days to complete, adds to the impressive LS interior, providing drivers a new experience in the fusion of tradition and modernity.
This philosophy of attentiveness leads to perfectionism in the factory build process and provides the gallery with the ability to offer a wide array of services, which is exactly the case in Japanese restaurants.
How the people work together in an assembly line is much like the way a kitchen runs when a team of chefs is working on a full course menu. There was a place on the assembly line where the dashboard was being installed. A sign there said “touchless.“ How does one work bending over the engine holding a good size piece of equipment and not touch the car? It is like plating a group of “zensai,“ or hors d'oeuvres, onto a brilliant mirrored lacquer platter without allowing a single drop of anything to hit the surface in any place that it shouldn't. The movement, the action, the breathing and visual judgment of the location all come together in one place.
To truly appreciate Lexus products, the Lexus International Gallery Aoyama in Tokyo welcomes visitors with heartwarming omotenashi, catering to all five senses. Through the aromatic fragrance; the almost subliminal sounds of nature; the natural light coming through the large windows in the high-ceilinged space; the feel of the smooth leather and wooden steering wheels; and the taste of a seasonal drink offered at just the right time, visitors will be welcomed to the world of Lexus. They are subtly touching all five senses and, almost exactly as in traditional restaurants, customers will be given subtle hints and in turn it is up to them to open up and take in the experience being offered.
It is more than just adding up all of those milliseconds and millimeters and preparation and refining. All of this is forgotten, for now it is the final product ... or is it? This is my question, for I see Lexus the car as a plate or dish, which by itself is still an incomplete, empty object. A plate needs food to be presented on it to make the art perfect.
Even then, only after continuous use of the plate or car does it receive the breath of life. That is, in car terms we realize this by giving a car a familiar endearment such as “my set of wheels“ or “baby“ or lovingly referring to our car “she“ or “he.“ I feel that when the Lexus you are driving has made you comfortable enough to call it by one of these names then you have something you truly love.