Raised in Japan, the Brooklyn-based artist and writer who goes by the moniker Johnny Strategy has been blogging about Japanese art and design at Spoon & Tamago since 2007. Having studied art education and art and visual technology, he also has a background in pottery and hones the craft when not generating independent research and original content for his website. Strategy talks to us about his favorite design categories, introduces contemporary Japanese design that has been influenced by the Great Eastern Japanese Earthquake and reveals his desire to someday live in a minimalistic space. Spoon & Tamago also has an off-shoot site where he chronicles more about his personal life and the two kids who will probably keep him from living in that sparse, uncluttered space anytime soon.
Tell us about the name of your blog
When my wife and I were dating, we took this Japanese online personality test that likened me to a tamago (egg) and my wife to a spoon. The details are murky, but I remember we liked the associations that an egg and a spoon have — think egg-and-spoon race — and decided to play along.
What made you start a blog on Japanese art, culture and design?
It actually started out as a general design blog — a place where I could catalog all the cool things I was finding on the Internet. At a certain point I realized that my readers were responding more to the Japanese-themed posts. And I felt like I could add my own voice to those posts by overlaying my past experience in Japan. That’s when I made the jump.
You’re also an artist. Is there somewhere can we view some of your artworks?
I actually stepped into the art world through Japanese ceramics. I did an apprenticeship with a Japanese potter when I was in high school. It continues to be a hobby of mine and maybe one day it’ll be something more, but I’ve long taken down my portfolio site.
Out of the wide range of design categories you cover, which are your two favorites and why?
I love graphic design because it’s arguably the most integrated in our daily lives. We see it on ads, on our clothes, on products we buy. I also love covering hand-made crafts probably, in part, because of my background in ceramics. I love seeing what people can do with their hands. On the flip-side, I find writing about architecture to be the most difficult.
Has Japanese design changed much in the past 10 years?
A lot of Japanese designers have gone out into the world and made names for themselves. This is a great thing because it inspires others, not just those in the arts, to be more “outer-looking.”
Do you think the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake has influenced the nature of contemporary Japanese design?
There has certainly been a slew of design projects aimed at not only helping refugees, but also getting them back to work. We’ve been cataloging these projects since the earthquake and it’s now by-far the largest sub-category of posts we have.
On a more subconscious level, I think it’s gotten designers thinking more about how they use materials. Energy consumption and nuclear power have been two major issues since the quake and people are more concerned about saving energy. It has provoked a lot of thought and discussion about how product design, graphic design and architecture can play a role in energy conservation.
You did a post on an Adobe study of how Japan is seen as a top creative country by much of the world, although the United States and Japan itself didn’t agree. Why do you think the Japanese are so unaware of their ingenuity?
This was an interesting study in that it revealed just as much about creativity as it did about the collective psyche of each country. I think the Japanese are just too modest to admit they are creative, whereas Americans have no problem casting a vote for themselves.
You had a very international upbringing. Did that affect your design sense? Did it make you think differently about how and where you will raise your kids?
I was born in Brooklyn but when I was 1 my parents moved to Japan and got jobs as English teachers. I spent my entire adolescent life growing up in Japan and moved back to the States, for the first time, for college. Talk about reverse culture shock. I went on to study art and art history, so I guess my design sense can be described much in the same way I would describe my upbringing: a Japanese foundation topped off with several layers of Western design.
Now I’m back in Brooklyn, raising my own kids. Japan has changed a lot since the early ’80s and, as much as I would like to, I doubt I can replicate my childhood for them. We’re happy in Brooklyn, but we make sure we travel back to Japan at least once a year to see both sets of grandparents and immerse the kids in all the country has to offer.
With your keen eye for design, how do you decorate your own home? And how do you remain satisfied when fresh ideas keep coming along?
It is very tempting to redecorate often, especially when you’re being visually bombarded by new ideas on a constant basis. One day I would love to live in a minimalist space but this isn’t very practical with two kids. For now, our house is an eclectic collage of clutter, which actually helps camouflage the toy bombs that keep detonating.
Can you recommend any good overseas outlets that offer Japanese designs?
OEN (based in the U.K.) has a great little shop. I especially love the ceramic teacups by Yumiko Iihoshi that they carry. Mjolk (in Canada) also carries work by some of my favorite designers like Masanori Oji and Takashi Tomii.