“Japan’s long-selling products”


Staff Writer

P&P Gallery/Printing Museum, Tokyo
Closes Nov. 6

If you have ever seen a product on a store shelf in Japan and thought that its packaging was surprisingly retro, the reason could be that its design hasn’t actually changed much in the years since it was originally conceived.

O’Band rubber bands, for example, still come in the mustard-yellow-and-brown cardboard boxes labeled with a cursive font originally chosen in 1923. Suntory Whisky’s unusual faceted rectangular bottle and oval label, too, have remained virtually unchanged since 1937; and Akebono tinned salmon, designed in 1910, has an elaborate red-and-white striped label with a drawing of a salmon flipping its tail that is a far cry from other canned goods of today.

These are products and designs that have stood the test of time and are now charmingly old-school for some and comfortingly nostalgic for others.

The P&P Gallery has assembled around 300 products that have all survived 30 or more years on the market, spanning from as far back as 1597’s Uzu Kyumeigan baby-calming medicine to Muji’s No Brand series, which began in 1980. Though all the items on display are in their current packaging, the small exhibition labels that accompany them bear images of the original designs.

Some products clearly remind you of their longevity — such as ready-made Bon Curry, which still comes in a bright-orange box featuring the same kimono-clad woman it did in the late 1960s. Others, however, may turn out to be a little older than you would think. Meiji’s’ Apollo chocolates, which look like tiny pink-capped mountains and come in modern cute packaging, were actually launched in 1969 to celebrate man’s first moon landing. The chocolates were made to resemble the cone-shaped Apollo 11 command module, with the colored part representing its burning tip as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere.

This free show should appeal to anyone who likes product design, but since it’s quite small, the Printing Museum’s permanent exhibition (¥300 entry) is recommended. It covers the history of printing, from ukiyo-e woodblock prints to techniques used today, and has printing workshops at which visitors can create a souvenir with a letterpress. (Mio Yamada)

The P&P Gallery/Printing Museum, Tokyo is on the 1st floor of the Toppan Printing Co. Ltd.’s office building in Koishikawa in Bunkyo-ku; admission free (¥300 for the permanent exhibition); open 10 a.m.-6 p.m., closed Mon. For more information, visit www.printing-museum.org.