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kombu seaweed produced by one company for 110 years, available at the long life design store, Kyoto, Japan
The Anthropocene invites us to take a look around — what’s here? How much longer might the objects that we use everyday continue to be available? The foods we eat frequently? Our ability to travel with such ease? All these affordances? Suddenly, there’s a lot less certainty surrounding their longevity in our lives.
The Anthropocene also invites to stop and consider how we arrived at a mind-set where we actually imagined all this consumption and accumulation could last? Humans have been incredibly busy over the past 70 years, building, expanding and traveling. What kind of narratives had to be told (and material realities ignored) to make us think that the trajectory we’ve been on could continue indefinitely?
For FOP, one outcome of our humble attempts to “live the Anthropocene” has been to slow down and take a closer look at objects we regularly come into contact with in daily life. The basic stuff, like food, dishes, what’s in our apartment, etc. How do we interact with these things? Nearly every object we touch, whether we pick it up at a 99 cent store or a high-end design studio, requires massive amounts of energy, resources and labor to exist. All objects are actually a bit like gold when you consider their links to the systems of global flows that make up the Anthropocene: extraction, production, emissions, packaging, waste, shipping, labor, etc.
Objects and materials we live with are mediums of incredible meaning. As we were recently reminded by curators in Hiroshima, objects are direct shapers of human life. They inform our experiences of the world and how we assemble together to interact with each other and the world. Some objects actually help us slow down and connect. Some assist us with work or survival. And they can entertain and distract us.
As we started looking more closely at the collection of drinking cups in our apartment, we also started thinking about how long (or incredibly short) we keep things in our lives. How might we treat things differently, for example, if we actually couldn’t, or were suddenly no longer interested to, buy a replacement the second one broke or went out of fashion? Could one outcome of the Anthropocene be that more and more of us in consumer cultures will no longer expect new objects to be available, or decide that maybe at this point in planetary history, we simply have enough?
This summer, FOP encountered an inspiring practice related to these thoughts at the Bukko-ji temple on a Kyoto side street.
A ten minute walk south from Kyoto’s bustling Nishiki market within a maze of small rise buildings and tangles of powerlines sits Bukko-ji. Bukko-ji was founded in 1212 as a thatched hut by the monk Shinran. This temple, one of the 1,600 that can be found in Kyoto, opened a design store last year called D&Department Kyoto. It’s the local home for “long life design.”
Long life design is a concept developed by designer Kenmei Nagaoka. The Long Life Design store in Kyoto, named D&Department Kyoto, is the result of a three way collaboration among Nagaoka, Bukko-ji temple and the Kyoto University of Art and Design. Here, you can purchase designs of objects that have been produced by generations for decades, sometimes for over a century. All items have been carefully curated to endure.
“‘Long life design’ literally means a design which life will last for long time, or in other words, a universal design that will not die out according to the times or be affected by trends. Just like other previous stores, D&Department Kyoto will carry items selected from all over Japan without limitations on age, brand, whether it’s new or used, reconsidering functionality and design of the object itself. The 99 square meter wagosho building inside Honzan Bukko-ji temple was renovated for the shop with more than 400 items including food products and publications, making this shop a department store of long life design. The shop will explore and introduce traditional art and crafts, local industries and local long life designs, while inviting artisans and artists for workshops and talk events to re-discover the uniqueness of Kyoto and to spread its appeal. There will be a gallery and space for Kyoto tourist information, making it more than just a store but a place where various design movements are seen. Formally a tearoom used for morning sermons and as a local community space, at “d Dining”, visitors can enjoy Japanese dishes cooked with local seasonal ingredients or Japanese tea and coffee. Other food events will be planned to make this a space where people can interact through food.
The entire process of establishing the store, from negotiation with selected manufacturers and shop set up, planning and gallery event organizing, was carried out by the students. In August, a study group was held to consider “an easy-to-understand Temple.” It invited a priest from Bukko-ji templ to reconsider the significance of opening a shop inside a temple. This is the first time that a “temple” and a “university” have cooperated to run a commercial project with the mission of attracting attention to the diversity of cultural practices across Japan’s distinct regional areas through design. The project is gaining attention as a new model for design education and for a new way to evaluate objects through the transformation of religious establishments for the future.”
As the founder, Nagaoka has written:
“All long-lasting things have an essential core.
We created this place so that everyone could take the time to consider “long-lasting things.” By everyone, I mean our customers, staff and manufacturers of the products we sell. At their core, all long-lasting things have something that we value in our lives. It’s nice to keep up with trends, but it’s even more satisfying to incorporate things that have long existed in our community, into the foundation of our lives. We believe that these things can fill one’s life with fundamental strength and substance.
This place is neither just a store nor a restaurant. If there’s a problem with a product, we’ll have the manufacturer fix it. If we find something good, we’ll share it with everyone that gathers here. Our hope is that this place will make more people aware of long-lasting, meaningful things.”
Kenmei Nagaoka, D&Department Founder
FOP visited the store and temple multiple times while in Kyoto. There was something magnetic about the environment that was being created. The temple halls across the courtyard from the shop were open everyday, and were nearly always empty, offering a welcome respite from the surrounding urban environment. The store and cafe were bright, inviting and full of lively people and objects, but it didn’t feel overly trendy. It seemed to be a shop that wasn’t really about shopping. At the store we were amazed to find “new” products that had been produced for decades, as well as old objects returned to the store for resale because the owner deemed them capable of a “long life” based on five criteria:
KNOW: We know the maker
USE: We use the product
BUYBACK: We can buyback the product
LONGEVITY: The product is repairable for long-term use
If you’re interested in learning more, check out the twenty-minute program about the concepts behind the store on the NHK program, Design Talks. If you happen to be traveling to Japan, D&Department has created an iPhone app and a series of travel guidebooks focusing on long life design being practices in restaurants, inns and shops in all 47 prefectures in Japan.
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