Art and Design

Read Japanese Modern

Read Japanese Modern

With enticing visuals and a fascinating text, Japanese Modern: Graphic Design between the Wars is the first book to examine an often igno…

Looked at the pictures, skimmed some of the text 😂 Much more detail than I was interested in 🤷‍♀️

Two styles of Japanese lettering in extra bold and extra fine
I appreciate seeing how different alphabets / scripts can be varied even if I can’t read them 😂
Red type on white background, a block of text forming a triangle with two oversized characters below in a similar shape
A little reminiscent of that Secession poster — but this is advertising lettering for athletic gear? 😂 By Kashima Mitsuo


Black and white icon showing two hammers hitting a rounded head in profile
This is funky but I like it – icon for Hardhead, a Tokyo agricultural tools company, 1935
Stylized geometric block drawing of two girls diving against black waters in pink striped suits
These illustrations are cute – Toyonosuke Kurozumi, mid-1930s ad for Osaka National Railway
Naked girl with shadows obscuring her breasts, holding a red glass of port
First nude advertising photo in Japan – 1922 ad for Akadama Port Wine by Inoue Mokuda and Kataoka Toshiro
Art and Design Society

Read In Praise of Shadows

Read In Praise of Shadows

This is an enchanting essay on aesthetics by one of the greatest Japanese novelists. Tanizaki’s eye ranges over architecture, jade, food, toilets, and combines an acute sense of the use of space in buildings, as well as perfect descriptions of lacquerware under candlelight and women in the darkness of the house of pleasure. The result is a classic description of the collision between the shadows of traditional Japanese interiors and the dazzling light of the modern age.

I’ve seen this essay mentioned several times recently by writers and creative folks I follow, so I figured it was worth trying. There is some weird race stuff and a lot of “get off my lawn!” but there is also some interesting reflection and a glimpse into a very different perspective on the world. It only took a little over an hour to read so not a huge time commitment.

Notes and quotes

“‘The sun never knew how wonderful it was,’ the architect Louis Kahn said, ‘until it fell on the wall of a building.’ … It comes with the thrill of a slap for us then to hear praise of shadows and darkness; so it is when there comes to us the excitement of realizing that musicians everywhere make their sounds to capture silence or that architects develop complex shapes just to envelop empty space.” — Charles Moore (foreward)

He ponders whether technology developed by Japanese first might have been created in a way to better suit Japanese culture.

Japanese music is above all a music of reticence, of atmosphere. When recorded, or amplified by a loudspeaker, the greater part of its charm is lost…Most important of all are the pauses. Yet the phonograph and radio render these moments of silence utterly lifeless…These machines are the inventions of Westerners, and are, as we might expect, well suited to the Western arts.

He contrasts Western and Asian aesthetics and preferences repeatedly. Apparently this was written during the 1930s, in a time of pro-Imperialism. On the one hand he seems very pro Japan and proud of his culture, but sometimes he doth protest too hard. (The afterword notes that he hired an architect to build a new home, who assured him they’d read this essay and understood what he wanted, and he was like “oh no I couldn’t live like that.” Good lighting may not be as beautiful but it’s a lot easier to live in.)

As a general matter we find it hard to be really at home with things that shine and glitter…While we do sometimes indeed use silver for teakettles, decanters, or sake cups, we prefer not to polish it. On the contrary, we begin to enjoy it only when the luster has worn off, when it has begun to take on a dark, smoky patina.

“Westerners attempt to expose every speck of grime and eradicate it, while we Orientals carefully preserve and even idealize it. Yet for better or for worse we do love things that bear the marks of grime, soot, and weather, and we love the colors and the sheen that call to mind the past that made them.”

“[O]nly in dim half-light is the true beauty of Japanese lacquerware revealed.” … “[I]n the still dimmer light of the candlestand, as I gazed at the trays and bowls standing in the shadows cast by that flickering point of flame, I discovered in the gloss of this lacquerware a depth and richness like that of a still, dark pond, a beauty I had not before seen.”

“Lacquerware decorated in gold is not something to be seen in a brilliant light, to be taken in at a single glance; it should be left in the dark, a part here and a part there picked up by a faint light. Its florid patterns recede into the darkness, conjuring in their stead an inexpressible aura of depth and mystery, of overtones but partly suggested. The sheen of the lacquer, set out in the night, reflects the wavering candlelight, announcing the drafts that find their way from time to time into the quiet room, luring one into a state of reverie.”

Modern man, in his well-lit house, knows nothing of the beauty of gold; but those who lived in the dark houses of the past were not merely captivated by its beauty, they also knew its practical value; for old, in these dim rooms, must have served the function of a reflector. Their use of gold leaf and gold dust was not mere extravagance. Its reflective properties were put to use as a source of illumination.

Makes me think of the high cost of light in the past, and what value the power and ability to extend the day has had.

“So benumbed are we nowadays by electric lights that we have become utterly insensitive to the evils of excessive illumination.”

“Remove the lid from a ceramic bowl, and there lies the soup, every nuance of its substance and color revealed. With lacquerware there is a beauty in that moment between removing the lid and lifting the bowl to the mouth when one gazes at the still, silent liquid in the dark depths of the bowl, its color hardly differing from that of the bowl itself. What lies within the darkness one cannot distinguish, but the palm senses the gentle movements of the liquid, vapor rises from within forming droplets on the rim, and the fragrance carried upon the vapor brings a delicate anticipation. what a world of difference there is between this moment and the moment when soup is served Western style, in a pale, shallow bowl. A moment of mystery, it might almost be called, a moment of trance.”

It hadn’t occurred to me that not being able to see your food when serving it could be seen as a benefit, and have gotten rid of some dark plates I had in favor of white so you could see the food better. High contrast allows for easier sight. It’s interesting how different perspectives can be on the same thing.

Such is our way of thinking–we find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.

“One of the oldest and most deeply ingrained of Japanese attitudes to literary style holds that too obvious a structure is contrivance, that too orderly an exposition falsifies the ruminations of the heart, that the truest representation of the searching mind is just to “follow the brush.” … “It is not that Japanese writers have been ignorant of the powers of concision and articulation. Rather they have felt that certain subjects — the vicissitudes of the emotions, the fleeting perceptions of the mind — are best couched in a style that conveys something of the uncertainty of the mental process and not just its neatly packaged conclusions.” — Thomas J. Harper (afterword, main translator)

I like that.

Lifestyle Nature

Small Seasons

Bookmarked Small Seasons (

Prior to the Gregorian calendar, farmers in China and Japan broke each year down into 24 sekki or “small seasons.” These seasons didn’t use dates to mark seasons, but instead, they divided up the year by natural phenomena.

I really like this way of breaking the year up into smaller pieces based on what’s happening in the world around you. I don’t pay enough attention to nature to have this level of detail, but there’s markers in the garden I notice, mostly what’s blooming and when the frogs are singing 😉 Winter always sucks for me so it’s nice to have a way to track the progression of winter into spring — when the oregon grape blooms, then the crocuses, then the red flowering currant and indian plum, and now the tulips.


Idyllic Afternoon Beneath the Cherry Blossoms

Liked by Gabriele Corno (Twitter)

Blossom trees and Fawn in Nara, Japan 🇯🇵

So peaceful 🌸

(Appears this may be the original)


Art and Design Fantasy

Re-watched Princess Mononoke

Watched Princess Mononoke from

On a journey to find the cure for a Tatarigami’s curse, Ashitaka finds himself in the middle of a war between the forest gods and a mining town.

Took the opportunity to watch this while we had an HBO subscription because otherwise you have to buy it.

Gorgeous scenery – Miyazaki is a master at the majestic setting. The magical creatures are inventive and a little creepy in their otherworldliness.

There are no pure villains in this, everything is complex. It felt a little frustrating that the people wreaking environmental destruction didn’t seem to learn anything, and the two people closest to villains suffered little consequence.

Long! And unfortunately the ending suffers a rushed resolution, particularly between the prince and princess. They deserved a longer closing conversation with closeups on their faces for more intimacy and emotion. Howl’s Moving Castle suffered the same problem, even worse, maybe Miyazaki gets carried away by the middle and feels he needs to wrap up the close fast?

Cool History Society The Internet

Human Scale

Bookmarked Ri — The Distance Walked in an Hour by Craig Mod (

A ri is a unit of measure, it’s about how far a person can walk in an hour at a reasonable pace…Remnants of the ri system are scattered along the old roads of Japan. During the Edo period, ri were marked recurrently by hulking earthen mounds that flanked the road — ichi-ri zuka, “one-ri mounds.”

The idea of a single ri is old, simple, and human scale.

Human-scale things at a human-scale pace.

I feel like human scale is missing in so much of the world these days. Our cities are built at a bigger scale, our sprawling suburbs disconnected from a human pace and reliant on car travel. Walk? No one can fulfill their lives by walking — yet that is the most human of movement (no disrespect meant to those who cannot walk).

The internet is vast and contains multitudes, with few spaces that acknowledge our humanity — websites are designed for growth, more more more, never content to stay small. Never forming community at the scale people build community, because that’s not profitable enough, because community isn’t the real goal. Looking forward to seeing how non-profits and small groups can invent more, smaller public spaces online that operate on a more human level.

See also: Skittish, another experimental online gathering space that works to embody participants. Sounds similar to Gather.


Watched Tōkaidō — 47 — Seki Suspension Bridge

Watched Tōkaidō — 47 — Seki Suspension Bridge by Craig Mod from Youtube

A moment on the suspension bridge just heading out of Seki up into the woods towards Suzuka Pass.

A natural silence, one made of wind and bird song and lapping water.

This binaural audio is surprisingly intimate, you can even hear him swallow.


Watched Tōkaidō — 31 — Sotetsu Tree, Josenji, Akasaka

Watched Tōkaidō — 31 — Sotetsu Tree, Josenji, Akasaka by Craig Mod from YouTube

Looking into Josenji at Akasaka-juku, the famous Sotetsu tree is off to the left side, hidden by the ginko tree and the falling leaves.

Watched with my purring cat draped over my lap.

A moment of resistance, knowing it’s three minutes of silence, not wanting to commit to stillness and potential boredom. Despite years of meditation practice.

A reminder that life goes on, everyone in their own spaces, even as our own lives become more local.

Where, here, can I find these moments, these places to commit to for a few minutes? Nowhere right now, when even a walk around the block feels fraught with risk, everyone else unmasked.

Art and Design Resources and Reference

Color Palettes from Sanzo Wada

Liked (
Sanzo Wanda’s Combination 300

A huge range of color palettes from Japanese designer Sanzo Wada. Some really bright fun colors and cool retro combinations, and if you like a particular color you can see all the palettes it’s used in.

Combination 325
Combination 74
Combination 77
Combination 262