Critical design in Japan

Material culture, luxury, and the avant-garde

By Ory Bartal

Critical design in Japan


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-3997-9
  • Pages: 248
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: July 2020
  • BIC Category: Art History, History of art, ART / Asian / Japanese, DESIGN / History & Criticism, Japan, Society & social sciences / Material culture, History Of Fashion, The arts / Art & design styles: from c 1960
  • Series: Studies in Design and Material Culture


This book tells the story of critical avant-garde design in Japan, which emerged during the 1960s and continues to inspire designers today. The practice communicates a form of visual and material protest drawing on the ideologies and critical theories of the 1960s and 1970s, notably feminism, body politics, the politics of identity, and ecological, anti-consumerist and anti-institutional critiques, as well as the concept of otherness. It also presents an encounter between two seemingly contradictory concepts: luxury and the avant-garde. The book challenges the definition of design as the production of unnecessary decorative and conceptual objects, and the characterisation of Japanese design in particular as beautiful, sublime or a product of 'Japanese culture'. In doing so it reveals the ways in which material and visual culture serve to voice protest and formulate a social critique.


'Systematically and eloquently taking us through the most important thinking on design and its place in our symbolic and social order, Ory Bartal brings out the myriad social critiques in Japanese material culture. He ranges from the new aesthetic milieu of the postwar miracle to the pioneering designs of Ishioka Eiko and Suzuki Hachiro, the radical fashions of Rei Kawakubo, the Arcadian retail vision of Mujirushi Ryokin, the theatrically phantasmagorical designs of Hironen, and then into the digital age of design in the twenty-first century. Richly illustrated, entertaining and insightful, this book is essential for anyone seriously interested in Japanese design.'
Toby Slade, Keio University

'Bartal uses critical theory to present to the reader the outcome of multilingual scholarship, which has resulted in a wealth of information and detail that deserves attention, recognition, and further exploration.'
Design and Culture review

'[.] Bartal's extensive knowledge of the designers, institutions, and organizations that created the complex and diverse landscape of design and media in postwar Japan is evident. Bartal's analysis shows thoughtful and close observation, rich with theoretical references from a multitude of disciplines. This book should be celebrated for its intensely researched and engaging material that astutely weaves together the seemingly discordant waves of designers and movements with the complex sociopolitical context of postwar Japan.'
CAA Reviews


1 Postmodern critiques, Japan's economic miracle, and the new aesthetic milieu
2 The 1968 social uprising and subversive advertising design in Japan: the work of Ishioka Eiko and Suzuki Hachiro
3 From cute to Rei Kawakaubo: fashion and protest
4 Mujirushi Ryohin and the absence of style
5 Hironen and the representation of the other
6 Digital design as social and critical design in the twenty-first century


Ory Bartal is Head of the Department of Visual and Material Culture at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem

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