Sitting somewhere between a garden ornament, architectural structure, a musical instrument, and performance art – this temporary xylophone (created by mobile phone company Docomo for an advertisement) is a sweet development on the deer scarer (shishi odoshi, 鹿威し) idea, and somehow sums up the attention to detail and sympathy with nature central to much of Japanese design. Not at all like the Swiss version, then.
When this blog visits Japan, one of the things that continually amazes us is the way that Japanese garden design, interior design, and house design is intimately connected with the elements, and in particular the seasons. Whereas Western design usually sees artifacts in an art-historical context first, or perhaps more abstractly, in space (with the energy efficiency and seasons an important, but secondary factors) it would be not to far a stretch to say that traditional Japanese design practices sees changing time as the foundation of all designs. This is one of the core Buddhism beliefs.
This understanding goes far beyond energy efficiency and environmental concerns, and is central to aesthetic conditions. My first insight to this was in the Emperor’s Gardens, built for his retirement, in the middle of Kyoto – next to the Emperor’s palace. Each part of the garden was designed with a season in mind: the bare trees revealing a certain view in winter, the leaves spraying the paper walls of a tea house a deep red color in autumn. And – as folks in New York and Berlin are seeing now – snow is not a time where the garden is hidden, rather, it is a time when the more formal, geometric structure can be seen, freed from our usual focus on color, foliage, and flowers.