In 2003, post-bubble Japan was in the doldrums, both financially and creatively. In an open letter to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, fashion designer Issey Miyake suggested a way out. Design, he wrote, was an area in which Japan had historically excelled. The country needed a space that would recall past trailblazers, showcase the country’s latest and best design and refocus a nation bent on financial growth and profit. “We should remind ourselves that merely to consume is not enough,” he wrote. “It is also important to create.”
Miyake gathered a brain trust of design talent, including iconic architect Tadao Ando, and together they opened 21_21 DESIGNSIGHT in 2007. Pronounced “twenty-one twenty-one,” the name refers to 20/20 perfect vision, and the museum’s mission to generate keen-eyed and forward-thinking design. Ando’s low-slung, modernist structure sits on the grounds of the Tokyo Midtown development in Roppongi and has showcased exhibits on everything from bones to chocolate and water. I saw “Design Ah!” — a wildly creative exhibit focused on fostering a “design mind” through movement, drawing, origami techniques and close examination of everyday objects. Every country should be so lucky to have such a beautiful space dedicated to thinking outside the box.