Japan has been synonymous with innovative design in the last few decades, with Blade Runner famously encapsulating the country’s revered position as a global leader in technology and design, by depicting a future-vision LA saturated in Japanese products and design aesthetics. However, Japan’s refined design culture predates Harrison Ford by a good few hundred years. Kizuna is a classic portrayal of new meets old, like watching your grandparents trying to use a smartphone.
The exhibition incorporates classic 19th century pieces from Utagawa Kunisada, whose radical approach to Japanese woodblock print, redefined the genre – alongside original examples of Inro and Netsuke, whose innovative design is still prevalent in modern society. These historical pieces are juxtaposed besides contemporary examples – highlighting the changes that have occurred in the Japanese design scene, as well as depicting the nuances of influences that continue to impact upon current design across Japan across the globe.
More specifically, the name Kizuna, which means bonds, refers to friendship, with the exhibition exemplifying the historic yet often overlooked trade relationship between Wales and Japan. In the early 1900s Japan was a large importer of Welsh coal, which was key to powering their naval vessels. In the aftermath of the coalmine closures, the reciprocity of this trade relationship was felt, when the investment of a number of Japanese companies helped reboot the economy of Wales.
Kizuna will be in National Museum Cardiff throughout the summer, where visitors will be able to appreciate an incredibly diverse range of Japanese historic art and design – with exhibits ranging from a 400-year-old hand-painted scroll; to spectacular 1.6m by 3.6m painted screens of Tokyo. In addition to the exhibition itself, there are a number of supporting events, including the Tanabata Star Festival on Sat 7 and Sun 8 July, commemorating two Japanese gods, and a performance by renowned Japanese/Welsh musician Hiroko Sue. Many of the items included in the exhibition have never been seen before in the UK, so this is certainly a great time to start investigating the richness and diversity of Japanese art and design. THEO HUNG
National Museum Cardiff, Sat 16 June-Sun 9 Sept. Admission: free. Info: 0300 1112333 / www.museum.wales