Designers Yoshiko Tajima and Ansgar Vollmer met and fell in love while students at Koeln International School of Design in Cologne, Germany.
In April 2003, Vollmer came to Japan and began his research at the Institute of Advanced Media Arts and Science in Ogaki, Gifu Prefecture, on a scholarship. In summer 2004, Tajima returned to Japan after finishing her thesis and graduating from KISD.
The couple married during the cherry blossom season in 2005 and eventually opened a graphic design office in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward. Together, they create works ranging from book covers, application forms and annual reports to Web pages and corporate designs like logos and style guides.
In 2006, their entry was selected from among 2,773 to receive the Asahi Shinsho book cover design award. They communicate in both German and Japanese.
What are your favorite foods of your partner’s country?
Ansgar Vollmer: Oh, the favorite question of my partner’s country! I like teriyaki barbecued chicken.
Yoshiko Tajima: I usually don’t drink beer, but Koelsch (beer from Cologne) is tasty and easy to drink. My favorite German food is “kartoffelknoedel” (potato dumplings).
Do you find cultural differences in design?
Ansgar: People in Japan like soft colors such as pink and pale blue, while vivid colors are preferred in Germany.
Yoshiko: Japanese tend to put as much information as possible in a document such as a corporate annual report. As a result, it’s difficult to tell the main point in the document. Maybe Japanese feel uneasy if there is lots of space on the page.
Ansgar: Japanese design is often varied in detail rather than conceived as a holistic design. For instance, this book cover (showing a book cover created by a Japanese designer) uses various types of letters, such as Gothic and Ming fonts, in different sizes and colors. I can see an analogy in traditional Japanese cuisine where various dishes are served on individual plates. In German cuisine, you are served the main course on one big plate. So you can tell the big plate is the main dish that the cook poured his energy into.
How do you cooperate in creating works?
Yoshiko: For instance, when we were working on the book cover design for the Asahi Shinsho book series, Ansgar first proposed a design that had red lines drawn by a computer. Looking at it, I thought it gave a cold feeling, so I told him that Japanese want to have warm feelings from a design.
Ansgar: And so I drew the lines with my classic Lamy ball-point pen. We refine our works through discussion.
Yoshiko: But we often have conflicts working together. When I don’t want to compromise, I think about how I can persuade him overnight and try to change his opinion the next day. But if my theory fails to convince him, I have no choice but to compromise.
Do you feel constrained in living in Japan?
Ansgar: We can’t travel. I want to have a vacation that lasts at least four weeks. Taking a couple of weeks for a vacation is normal in Europe. The reason is: When I travel to another place in the world, my body moves to the destination in a few hours, but my soul needs more than a week to follow (the change). Only when both (my body and soul) are in the same place will I be able to adjust to the new environment.
What do you think about your partner’s country?
Ansgar: Japanese are kind to others but Germans are strict. What bothers me is everything here is small for me. I was surprised at the small size of the bathtub. I often hit my head on the beam above the doors or the ceiling of the Ginza subway station. (He is 190 cm tall.)
Yoshiko: I liked staying in Germany because I could express my opinions candidly. What annoyed me there was that the image of Japan in Germany is not so good. Germans I met had an image of Japan as having a problem with “karoshi” (death caused by overwork) and of Japanese as workaholics. Every day, they would ask me about serious issues like Japan’s war responsibility and whaling, and it was hard.
What is your dream for the future?
Yoshiko: We would like to do more international projects that can bridge countries with different cultures. When global companies dispatch information to and from Japan, we can help them by integrating their ideas into designs that can be understood by people from different cultures. This will be part of our social contribution.
Ansgar: Besides work, I would like to really travel. Going to Sendai or Izu in Shizuoka Prefecture for the weekend is just like a walk for me. I want to go on a voyage to explore more about the distinctions in our wonderful world.
Reader participation is invited fo this series, which appears every other Saturday. If you wish to be featured, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org