Born in Toyama Prefecture in 1948, Kenji Kawasaki is the founder and producer of Tokyo Designers Week (TDW), as well as chairman of Design Association, an NPO seeking to create a new culture of “innovation” in Japan. The Japan Times spoke to him about where the concept of design is headed.
Originally TDW was a trade fair. What led you to open the event up to the public?
I thought that exhibitions from the 21st century should be different to those from the 20th century; that’s why I included consumers. I didn’t think the trade show model — business to business — was viable anymore.
How has the planning for this years event gone so far?
This year we have about 30 sections in Tokyo Designers Week, all placed beside a baseball stadium. It’s the biggest yet.
This year, TDW is being touted as a creative festival that includes music, art and design. Why the change?
In 2012 we had over 100,000 visitors for the first time; in previous years we had around 60,000 or 40,000 visitors. Last year was also the first year we began to have music events and art exhibitions, and we think that is the reason so many people came. We thought the 2013 event might get even bigger if we built it around the three pillars of art, music and design.
The Asia Awards are a new part of the festival this year. Why did organizers choose to focus specifically on Asia?
Asia is the engine of the world for the 21st century, growing faster than other regions. We wanted to make Tokyo a place for designers from all over Asia to meet. This year we supported designers from 17 countries. It’s difficult because we are an NPO but we’ve supported at least 50 percent of their costs.
What do you make of the current state of design in Japan?
There are no design museums here in Japan, but many art museums and music organizations. And yet, everything is designed in our lives, but we don’t actually think of these things as being design.
Why is Tokyo an important city for design?
The city has two faces; There’s contemporary Tokyo and traditional Edo. Other cities around the world don’t have this kind of dual history like Tokyo does.
Has it been difficult to attract foreign exhibitors due to the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant?
After the accident at Fukushima a lot of people from overseas did not want to come to Japan. I feel that starting from this year things have become better. People might have forgotten.
Design played an important role in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. What are your hopes for TDW in the lead-up to the 2020 games?
There are seven years left until the Olympics in 2020. After the ’64 Olympics, Japan — and the image of Japan — changed. Tokyo is going to be in the spotlight for the next seven years, and the 2020 Olympics will change Tokyo again. We want to make this event even bigger. We want this city to be a global hub for design.