Designers, artists take stage for direct route to the people

Pecha Kucha open to all with a tale to tell


An unusual mix of designers, architects, painters, and non-artists gathered last month at SuperDeluxe, an event space in Tokyo’s Nishi Azabu. They had one thing in common — something they wanted to show and talk about.

There for the fun were some other 400 people, packing the warehouse-like venue and looking forward to an evening of show-and-tell, in this case, known as Pecha Kucha Night.

The night’s name comes from the Japanese word for the sound of chattering, a name co-founder Mark Dytham says was decided on after reading the onomatopoeic phrase in The Japan Times.

The regular event was started in 2003 by architects Astrid Klein and Dytham, residents of Japan for 20 years. It is held once a month in Tokyo except for the months of August and December.

The rules of the evening are simple. Anyone wanting to make a presentation can apply. Each participant can show 20 slides and talk for 20 seconds per slide. This brings the entire length of a presentation to just over 6 minutes, the maximum. The restriction was added, according to Dytham, because “architects talk too much.”

The show-and-tell event has attracted a wide variety of participants, experienced, unknown, young, old. One of the established artists participating last month was product designer Michio Akita, 55. Akita, who designed the security gates in Roppongi Hills and the LED traffic lights, was making his Pecha Kucha debut.

A love of tea brought Akita to the stage, where he spoke about his newly designed yunomi, a typical-looking tea cup made for Japanese tea, but with a difference. The yunomi has an extra layer of porcelain so the cup will not become too hot to handle.

“It was an exciting experience,” Akita said about the evening. “And it was interesting to see the presentations by creators from various fields and various countries.”

In contrast, Shohei Yamada and Miho Nakagawa, also first-time presenters, were neither architects nor designers. They were rickshaw pullers and spoke about a journey with rickshaw through Japan.

Yamada, 30, said he became fascinated by jinrikisha while studying at the university in Kyoto and decided to tour around the country by rickshaw. He believed it would help him communicate with people, that the conversations would be better and deeper.

“I love rickshaw” he said. “I love them so much that I decided I wanted to take leave from university” to pursue the passion.

After the event, Yamada was to resume his rickshaw journey, which had been broken off following an accident. He would be accompanied this time by his girlfriend Miho Nakagawa. The couple plan to get married at their final destination, Ise Shrine.

The members of the audience at a Pecha Kucha Night not only enjoy the presentations, but enjoy mingling with friends and making new friends. Many join the audience on a regular basis.

Michiko Asanuma, editor and translator, was at the event for her second time. “It’s interesting to see the artists’ presentations,” she said, adding that she was particularly interested in events on European culture and art because of her work at a Europe-related magazine.

“I came again because my Lithuanian friend’s friend, who is an artist, is going to make a presentation tonight,” she said.

For Amellia O’Brick, it was the first Pecha Kucha Night and also her first visit to Tokyo. “My architecture friends mentioned that this is their night tonight. It happened to be on while I’m here,” said O’Brick, a designer from Australia.

O’Brick said the idea of making a presentation herself was enticing. “If it happens in Sydney, I’ll actually get my studio to do the presentation.”

The creative show-and-tell that brings together people from various backgrounds has grown rapidly, and similar events are now held in 172 cities around the world.

“We still cannot believe it,” said Klein. “When we started, it was just a simple event to catch up with everybody.”

The first Pecha Kucha Night held outside Tokyo was in Bern, Switzerland, after Klein mentioned the concept at a lecture there, Dytham said. “People have really picked up on this.”

With no need for a press release or a pitch to media, designers and others are able to bring their ideas directly to a variety of people from many walks of life.

Klein even likened the event, because of its varied participants, varied backgrounds, and the ease of conversation on a variety of topics, to “a forum in ancient times in Greece or Rome.”

This week’s Pecha Kucha Night on Wednesday in Tokyo is the event’s 60th showing since its beginning in 2003.

As always, the evening kicks off at 20 past 8. In fact, there is somewhat of a tradition going with the number 20, says Klein. It stems from the fact that the very first event started at 20 minutes past 8 p.m., or 20 past 20, on the 20th of January.

According to Klein, from its small beginnings in Tokyo, venues around the world now begin their evenings at the same time.

For more information: www.pecha-kucha.org