One of the joys of wandering through Tokyo’s stores is coming across products that make you pause to reflect or smile. They’re usually small, simple items, often colorful, their use sometimes questionable, but they plug into the Japanese sense of kawaii or cuteness and illustrate the refined aesthetic sensibility of this culture, where the smallest details and the most humble objects are considered worthy of thought and effort. In Japan, design often has a sense of playfulness about it, and products designed from this perspective enrich the most mundane tasks.

Since 2002, the Tokyo based design firm h concept inc has been creating such products in collaboration with various local designers under their +d. label. The catalog consists of modest everyday items for the home or office, small compact products that re-imagine forgettable things such as shoe horns and slippers, soap holders and soup ladles. This post looks at four humble products that show design brilliance but don’t take themselves too seriously.

cupmen 2 nekko

tube splash mini

All original photos : : copyright h concept inc

CUPMEN

Instant cup noodles are one of the staple fast foods for Tokyoites. Combini as a matter of course provide urns of boiling water for customers to add to their noodles before leaving the store. The foil lid, when weighed down, covers the steaming noodles and in a few minutes the customer can slurp away. Designer Akira Mabuchi has taken soft colored silicone and moulded it into an object of delight. The colorful Cupmen are shaped to straddle the edge of the noodle containers and turn pale as the noodles cook, visually signalling that it’s time to eat. Mabuchi has created two designs: Cupmen 1 – Hold on; and Cupmen 2 – Relax (pictured). Cost 800 yen.

CUPMEN was created from the desire to be entertained by someone while you wait for your noodles.

NEKKO

In the compact living spaces that many Japanese call home, furnishings are similarly scaled down and decorative touches often have to be made with small gestures. The NEKKO vase is only 12 centimeters tall and holds a single flower, but its sculptural qualities give it a presence greater than its size. The design quartet of &design – Tetsu Miyazawa, Shigenori Ichimura, Keiichi Minamide and Maho Kusano – have produced an abstract, almost two dimensional, flowerpot containing a plant’s roots, from which your chosen stem appears. On its own, turned upside down, it also works as a decorative object, resembling a cactus. Cost 1500 yen.

Place a flower in this unique container to bring a bit of humor to your everyday surroundings.

TUBE

Few objects are more forgettable than the humble door stopper. In most countries, a visit to a hardware or homewares store for a door stopper would produce a wedge of black – or white – rubber. In the hands of designer Tetsuo Shibuya it has been given a cartoon like quality, reinvented in soft silicone rubber as a brightly colored tube of paint. The design is cute, kawaii, but also functionally clever, as the stopper can be stood up on its top, neatly out of the way when it’s not in use. Cost 600 yen.

I noticed the tube of paint in front of me somehow resembled the shape of a doorstop, so I wedged it between the door and the floor… It’s the things we see in our everyday lives.

SPLASH (and SPLASH mini)

SPLASH is a clever design that not only reduces an object to its most minimal form, it is adaptable for different uses and is a funky sculptural object in its own right. Inspired by droplets of water, Yasuhiro Asano’s umbrella stand looks more like a piece of Pop art. At just under 10 centimeters high, the colored swirl of synthetic rubber grips the stems of up to six folded umbrellas and holds any stray water droplets. It can also be used as a desktop holder of pens and other tools, and works well as a colorful vase. Cost 4000 yen for the larger SPLASH; 3500 yen for the mini.

An umbrella stand should hold various types of umbrellas in an orderly way, take up little space and be beautiful.

Click on the pictures above for further details and to see some suitably kawaii web animations of the products, designed by Takanori Iida of EXA18 Design.

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