Cardiff: Kizuna Japan Design Exhibition

Posted by in Culture, Design

Welcome to Kizuna


Having always had a thing for JAPAN (the country as well as the band) my timing back home could not have been better for the KIZUNA design exhibition at the National Museum. Kizuna meaning a bond or link between people relates to the relationship between Wales and Japan whose connections date back at least 400 years.

One foot in Japan but not even ANA could get me there.

Of course I was tinged with sadness on completing the questionnaire having to answer the question ‘Have You Ever Been to Japan?’ With a no, having come so close in China yet never being able to make that all important final stepping stone. Could this be a strange omen? Was Japan simply not meant to happen?


Who knows, but I’ve been attending Japanese exhibitions since 1991 when the Japan Festival was showing in both London and Cardiff at the then inner city gallery known as Oriel (see Kazuo Katase’s Spring Snow image which I used for the cover of Mezzanine Smile though that piece was strangely omitted from the exhibition itself).

Five years later, an ill fated attempt to get to Japan as a new graduate on the JET program was thwarted. A lot of hoops were jumped through just to apply but my naivety at the Japanese Embassy interview in London would ensure I got nowhere near the Nippon sun.


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Losing out to a question about loss of face, something I now know only too well from my experience in China. Fortunately the Chinese are a lot more workmanlike and didn’t expect me to know everything about the country prior to going there.

Worse still, I knew in that moment it was curtains as far as my application went. Same with NOVA a few years later; on that occasion much ado about nothing. Suffice to say I was not enamoured with their way of doing things any more than the JET programme. So the fact that I’ve never managed to get to Japan still stirs up emotions from anger to bewilderment at what might have been in the 1990s.

The trunk is first known connection between Wales and Japan, the walkman probably not.


But I’m not here to paint negative imagery, Japan remains an alluring if elusive prospect, the above incidents only stalling momentum. To the exhibition and I’d have to say it’s a little stereotypical – think the Walkman, Bullet Trains, Kimonos and Tea Ceremonies. The only thing missing is a grey suit and a poster for the Yellow Magic Orchestra (but we’ll get to the latter later).

The first thing that greets is a chest (c1620) of wood embellished by sharkskin, lacquer and mother of pearl and the reason for that is it’s the first known link between Wales and Japan. Behind sits a green Honda N600 from 1971.

Other product design is rounded out by the aforementioned Sony Walkman from 1983 and to reel back to the 19th century, more lacquered wood in the beautifully resplendent golden Kushi comb with its maple leaves and cherry blossom design.

The pesky Pikachu, be afraid!

Japan’s quirkier side is represented by the Pikachu (imaginary monsters to you and me). Like the Leprechaun is to Ireland, the Pikachu are a Japanese tradition of imaginary creatures whom inhabit the everyday world around us and who are in turn caught, trained and fought against by humans.

Graphic Olympic


Several posters from Japan’s various Olympic campaigns; four of which come from designer Yusaku Kamekura showcase their proud achievements in hosting major sporting events, incredibly the first time photography had been used to promote the games.

A third image is from UCLA’s Asian Performing Arts Institute, this time by Ikea Tanaka, is almost an orientally Mondrian as he marries geometric form and colour to Japanese subject matter. My photo is diluted by the ambiance of its surroundings as the glass reflects silhouettes and ghostly frames of objects hanging opposite, adding further dimensions to the minimalist shapes and colour of Tanka’s original image.


To Transport and long before China overtook Japan’s neon shimmer with their own astonishing long nosed beasts, the Shinkansen bullet trains were zipping along Japan’s railways made of steel from Wales. Now it is the Japanese who are supplying the smart new Hitachi trains in the rich deep greens of the GWR company servicing the Swansea to London line.

Sakamoto in absentia


The only unfortunate omission from this exhibition was there wasn’t space to accommodate music design into the fold. Perhaps Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Heartbeat, Beauty or Sweet Revenge imagery or perhaps Playing the Orchestra with its unique box of pebbles as well as Susumu Yokota’s bird illustration cover design for his Sakura album.

Overall KIZUNA is a good team effort and well thought about with extra events such as Tanabata, external to the main exhibition. Tanabata celebrates the legend of two gods Orihime and Hikoboshi who can only meet on the 7th day of the 7th month when the stars align. So again perfect timing with the usual things associated with Japan such as calligraphy, tanzaku (wish strips), kimono dressing and Taiko drumming.


Thanks for reading here, should you be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, check out the MEDIA page, and/or the UNIVERSITY page for my teaching ethos. 

Meanwhile, stay tuned with things here at Kulture Kiosk via THE ATLAS or on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world.

Prelude (from BTTB) – Ryuichi Sakamoto
Mt Fuji and the Mime (from Words of a Mountain) – Wally Badarou
I Miss the Tokyo Skyline (from Rewind the Film) – Manic Street Preachers
Life in Tokyo – Japan

Photo Credits: My own other than the album covers courtesy as always to discogs