▲ Lotus: Bendable, tin lotus leaf-shaped chopstick holders bring the outdoors to your dinner table.
This year, Taiwan was voted the country Japanese people would most want to visit, the Taiwanese lifestyle brand Eslite opened its first store in Japan, and bubble tea shops are taking over Japanese streets with impressive vigor. From bubble tea to design, Taiwanese culture is deeply influencing Japanese consumers. Even Taiwan-Japan economic relations are deepening — and not just in terms of exchange of goods. Indeed, Japanese and Taiwanese companies are innovating together to bring out-of-the-box products on the international market.
For many years, Taiwan Design Center (TDC) has advocated for collaboration between Taiwanese and Japanese designers and industries. The challenge is not bringing together designers to create a work of art. Instead, the difficulty lies in creating a product that resonates with consumers in international markets. To bring Taiwanese designs into the hands of Japanese consumers, TDC has worked with several famous department stores in Tokyo — for example, Hankyu Department Stores, Parco, Tsutaya Books, and Loft — to bring Taiwanese designs into these elite stores, thus connecting Taiwan designs with Japanese consumers and simultaneously elevating Taiwan’s international image.
Design by Taiwan: The Newest Trend in Asia
While bringing Taiwanese designs into the international market is certainly commendable, it’s simply not enough. To push Taiwan design even further, TDC is actively working to facilitate collaboration between Taiwanese designers and international industries. To this end, TDC began promoting an initiative designed to connect exemplary Taiwanese design firms with talented artisan craftsmen. The first of these initiatives was between Sumida — a sector of Tokyo traditionally known for making artisan crafts — and Taiwanese designers, helping deepen Taiwan-Japan relations and enhance traditional crafts with a modern twist.
The following year — after recognizing Taiwan’s design talent — the Toyama Prefecture government decided to collaborate with TDC. A 400-year-old artisan casting tradition lay at the crux of the initiative. In an attempt to revive the casting tradition, a Taiwanese design agency and professional casters from Toyama, Japan designed six radically different chopstick holders — both modernizing the ancient casting tradition and also amplifying the international reach of “Design by Taiwan”.
▲ Dancing Dragon, Dancing Lion: A charismatic pair of chopstick rests that can be reshaped at will, due to tin’s flexible nature.
Design First, Business Opportunity Second
The road from design to production is long and winding — the real challenge begins after products come to market. However, it seems Taiwanese products seem to fare well on the Japanese market. Taiwan’s Hey Sheng Shi Chi and Tokyo Creative both received recognition at Japan’s Good Design Awards, and are currently favoring well in the eyes of Japanese consumers. Taiwan’s well-known illustrator, Gu Siao-Yin (古曉茵), designed a button hook for Orange Tokyo that is selling quite well at Haneda Airport, Shibuya Hikarie, and JR Kyoto Isetan. The “cuppot” — the fruit of collaboration between Balance Wu Design and Chang Long Industries — is being sold at the exclusive Shibuya Loft department store and is incredibly well-received. All this suggests Taiwan-Japan collaboration will only continue to grow, and that there is a clear place for Taiwanese design in the international market.
TDC is not just helping Taiwanese design agencies find business opportunities and potential ventures — but is also continuously challenging themselves to elevate Taiwanese industry through the lens of design. Starting in 2010, TDC worked with the Council of Agriculture Executive Yuan to create Taiwan Good Agriculture (TGA), with the slogan: “Grow a Brand, Promote Taiwan” (品牌好農・行銷台灣). This initiative encouraged 80 agriculturalists to strengthen their brand image, including YoungSun, Taiwan’s largest exporter of edamame to Japan; FunSun Taiwan Chicken; Old Pot Rice Noodles, the 100-year-old rice noodle that’s popular in Europe and North America; and Kavulungan Coffee, the internationally sold coffee brand grown by the Paiwan tribe. Solidifying agricultural brands with solid design increased sales by an average of 30%.
▲ Double Happiness: The Chinese character for good luck (囍) is nested within these chopstick rests, using a simplistic design style to express realism and purity.
While business development is undoubtedly important, developing people is key to building a genuine brand. Over the years, TDC has fostered relationships with a network of designers throughout Taiwan and Japan, allowing Taiwanese designers to work closely with Japanese professionals, manufacturing industries, and product consultants. Most of these actors are coming together to develop products for the international market; however, many are taking this goal a step further by focusing design and/or R&D with the specific target audience in mind.
Taiwan-Japan creative collaboration is only just taking off — and with superb results. For example, a reflective chopstick rest — the brainchild of a collaboration between Taiwanese Gridesign Studio and Japanese Nousaku — gained attention from the governor of Toyama Prefecture, and was thusly given as a parting gift to attendees of this year’s Taiwan-Japan Tourism Summit. Not long thereafter, Japan rushed to bring the chopstick rest to the Ginza district’s Matsuya Department Store — catching the eye of many Japanese consumers and calling attention to Taiwanese design in Japan. At the same time, Design Pin, the design select shop in Songshan Cultural Park in Taipei, is giving Taiwanese consumers a taste of what Taiwan-Japan design collaboration can bring — beginning today, the chopstick rests will be on sale. Come experience for yourself!