Prof. Kasia Cwiertka, one of LeidenAsiaCentre’s directors, has assembled the exhibition “Too pretty to throwaway: Packaging Design from Japan” together with dr. Ewa Machotka. The exhibition illustrates through museum objects, consumer items and gift wrappings, how past and present are united in packaging design.
Product packaging forms a fascinating part of Japan’s consumer culture. Whereas modern-day technologies and marketing strategies often determine their form, the design is frequently inspired by decorative motifs such as those found on art objects from the past. The aesthetics of packaging is also strongly influenced by Japanese traditions of gift-wrapping.
The exhibition is structured around three themes: 1) “Artistic Japan”; 2) “The Alchemy of the Everyday”; and 3) “Embellished Intentions.” “Artistic Japan” shows the objects accumulated by nineteenth-century collectors of Japanese material culture, which provided an inspiration for the rise of the phenomenon of Japonism, a fascination with things Japanese. These objects continue to play a pivotal role in the global perception of Japan’s material culture today. However, this perception overlooks significant socio-historical and technological transformations that the packaging conventions underwent in Japan during the last hundred years.
The introduction of foreign technologies and materials has resulted in dazzling diversity of designs presented in the following theme of “The Alchemy of the Everyday”. The objects on display are selected from the award-winning entries to the biennial packaging design competition held by the Japan Package Design Association. Finally, we enter the world of “Embellished Intentions” represented by the gift-packaging practices of the Mitsukoshi Department Store, one of the most exclusive establishments in the country. Gifts represent a major form of consumption in Japan and are of particular importance for the revenues of the department stores. The Japanese practice of gift wrapping builds on the tradition of wrapping precious objects, but in the contemporary context its primary function is to emphasize the intention behind the gift.