09 May 2011

Japanese Package Design Exhibition

One of the more interesting cultural events organised by Nippon Connection this year was the Japanese Package Design Exhibition. The accompanying text suggested that the curators were interested in comparing and contrasting Asian and Western attitudes towards design and packaging. One of the key texts cited by the curators was Richard E. Nisbett’s The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently. . . And Why (2003).

The exhibition space was AustellungHalle (Schulstr. 1a) in Sachsenhausen. The gallery is tucked inconspicuously down an alley. I would have walked straight past the entrance if someone had not cleverly stuck some brightly coloured Tohato Caramel Corn packages on the iron gratings.

The event space was minimalistically conceived. An open, white space with cardboard boxes placed in rows. On the left hand side of the entryway was an example of a clear plastic convenience store umbrella with clear plastic disposable sheath. Upon entering, I was first drawn to the giant Pretz display in the corner on the right. These Pretz (a Japanese version of pretzel sticks) boxes were designed with pop-out arms so that they can be hooked onto handbags. They were also designed to look like cute little animals.

On the right hand wall, there was a long explanation of the theory behind Japanese package design. In short, they evaluated the packaging in terms of three principles: the principle of connection (Zusammenhang), the principle of opposition (Widerspruchs), and the principle of change (Wandels).

Each of the cardboard boxes was an individual display case for an item. The item itself was in a little nook and spectators were encouraged to handle and examine the item. In order to learn more about each item, one had to open the crate. Each flap contained photographs of the product which emphasized the key elements of that item. Once open, the spectator could read a detailed explanation about the theory behind the design of the packaging.

Items featured included the collectable faces of Tohato caramel corn, Fit’s Lotte gum with a wrapper designed so that you never have to touch the gum, ILOHAS crushable drink bottles, UFO instant noodles with a built in strainer, the convenient bottles of Suntory tea , Meiji Curls with Norio Hikone’s characters on the packaging, the versatile and elegant Tirol chocolate packaging, Pos-ca gum that comes with a tissue for throwing the gum away once chewed, Kirin drinks designed to resemble exotic postcards from far-away lands, ingenious convenience store onigiri plastic wrap, Glico pudding with its air seal, Hyotan mineral water in a fancy bottle “too lovely to throw away”, and Meiji Xylish gum with its colourful exterior and silver under-wrapping.

It was a trip down memory lane for me. I only wish that some of the products had been available for purchase at the gallery. It made me quite homesick for Japanese bottled ice teas and salty snacks.

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2011
Nippon Connection 2011