Nacasa & Partners

“Japan Living” essence by Marcia Iwatate

In September 2008, the book entitled Japan Living went on sale at bookstores worldwide stirring international interest in Japanese residential architecture. Japan Living was written and produced by Ms. Marcia Iwatate, a leading figure in the design and food industry. A bilingual figure working in Japan as well as internationally, Ms. Iwatate's perception is unique in that she is able to analyze Japanese culture and design from both within and outside of the country.

The book launch for Japan Living was held on October 31st at the Arti Showroom in Minami-Azabu in Tokyo. Ms. Iwatate shared inside stories behind the book, shortly before the party began.

01. The First Encounter with Nacása & Partners

02. Nacása & Partners' Photography
03. Underlying Theme of Japan Living
04. Market and Contents
05. Thoughts on Publishing
06. Japanese Residences Viewed from Abroad.
Advantages of a Suburban Environment

Marcia Iwatate写真

Ms. Marcia Iwatate, well known in the design and food industry for her creative direction, has been involved in fashion advertisement in Tokyo and New York as well as numerous restaurant and product design projects in the East Asia region, including Shunju restaurants and Arti furniture collection in Tokyo, and a new restaurant Sushi Cho at The Westin Chosun Hotel (Seoul) in November 2008. She is currently principal partner of Marei Ltd.

She is also the author of Eat.Work.Shop. New Japanese Design and co-author of Shunju, which received the James Beard Award in 2004, Japan Houses, Japan Living, and Korea Style.

01. The First Encounter with Nacasa & Partners

I discovered that they were mostly works of Nacása & Partners.

My relationship with Nacása & Partners began with a book entitled Eat. Work. Shop. New Japanese Design. Published in 2004, this book featured works of seven of the foremost Japanese interior designers. I planned to make the book with photography provided by the designers themselves. As I continued to review and select the photography, I discovered that they were mostly works of Nacása & Partners.

As the book had a tight budget, it was crucial to obtain free publishing rights from Nacása & Partners. So, I contacted Mr. Nakasa. He was thrilled with the idea of the book and granted me the publishing rights without any second thoughts. Thus the book was completed soon after.

I continued to remain close with Mr. Nakasa even after the publication of Eat. Work. Shop. New Japanese Design. A book on residential architecture had been on my mind for several years so one day I questioned Mr. Nakasa, ”Would you be interested in collaborating on a new book, with completely original photography?” His answer was, “Absolutely!”

At the time I made this proposal, there was a growing interest in architecture and many architectural books were being published worldwide. Unless they were monographs of a single architect's work, most of the books were published with photographs collected from the different architects and consequently taken by different photographers. Having worked with photography throughout most of my career, I found it disturbing to have inconsistent qualities of photography within a single volume. Needless to say that is to be expected since each architectural work is captured by a different photographer, under different conditions.

A uniform tone throughout a book is imperative, and I was naturally able to pursue that in Japan Houses with Mr. Nakasa and the photographers of Nacása & Partners. This book's success led to the next book, Japan Living.

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02. Nacása & Partners' Photography

To understand the architect's concept and capture it accurately.

The photographers at Nacása & Partners are impressive in that they work from an architect's perspective. Whenever I meet with Mr. Nakasa, I am inspired by his insight and appreciation of design and architecture. Many of the photographers at Nacása & Partners have studied architecture so it is no wonder that they have a deep understanding of the subject.

Through my experience with other photographers, I have been disappointed that some have very subjective interpretations of architecture. While the photographers at Nacása & Partners study plans and often preview the architecture to grasp the architect's design ideas, in order to capture it accurately. Such work ethics are so important in architectural photography.

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03. Underlying Theme of Japan Living

Residential photography that resonates spirit and lifestyle.

The underlying theme of both Japan Houses and Japan Living is “machines à habiter” (machine for living) the famous phrase from French architect, Le Corbusier. Serenity, aesthetics of function, interplay of light and shadow - hallmarks of Japanese design - are captured beautifully in these books. The works also reflect the many changes in the dynamics of Japanese society, including an aging society, life after retirement, childless couples, energy efficiency, diverse lifestyles and hobbies.

I personally am perplexed with the direction of residential architectural photography in Japan, mostly photographed before the homeowner moves in. OK, it's understandable from an architect's perspective that they prefer to record their work in pristine conditions before it is so to speak “contaminated” by the resident. But after all, residential architecture is for the residents, their lifestyle and belongings. And I strongly believe that the photography should reflect this. Needless to say such photography is subject to full cooperation from the house owner and at times, this is difficult to negotiate. But we have been extremely fortunate in that house owners are thrilled to be included in our books so we have the luxury of pursuing the perfect season, weather conditions and time of day suited for each architecture.

Each of the 30 exceptional residential projects selected for Japan Living are dearly loved and maintained by their inhabitants. As a result, we were able to capture the individual “spirit” of each residence

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04. Market and Contents

What I believed to be comprehensive to readers…

The previous book, Japan Houses, focused more on the architectural elements. Upon the start of Japan Living, my publisher and CEO of Tuttle Publishing commented, “Japan Houses was mostly purchased by professional designers and architects. So in order for Japan Living to appeal more to the mainstream market, the book should include more interior design elements, furnishings and Japanese essence.”

Japan Houses included floor and elevation plans for each residence. Little did I know that if a book contains plans or diagrams, it is then categorized as a technical book, instead of a design book by US bookstores. So Japan Houses ended up on shelves of the architectural section while I expected it to be placed in the interior design or lifestyle section, an unexpected disappointment for all of us.

I included the plans and diagrams believing that they would help the reader to understand each residence three-dimensionally, and also the location of the photographed rooms. Whether to include them in this book became an issue that my publisher and I discussed at length. In the end, my publisher proposed that I make the final decision warning me again that it would really make a difference in sales given the categorization standards of US bookstores. After much thought, I decided to exclude the plans. It was an unfortunate decision, but I felt that it was more important that the book be placed in more visible areas of bookstores to reach a wider market.

After each book is completed and goes to press, my publisher remarks, “We love your books and working with you. But your books are always too impeccable in taste and not for the mainstream customer.”

It is truly difficult to strike a balance between what I want to express and what appeals to the market.

05. Thoughts on Publishing

I always used to vow, “This is going to be my last book.” But I am addicted!

Books are extremely time-consuming, requiring lots of energy including long discussions, sometimes arguments, with my publisher. So, I always used to vow, “This is going to be my last book.” But I am addicted! My work involves producing commercial catalogs and posters, which is also very gratifying work but I must admit that they are impermanent. Books are somewhat like creating restaurants, until their completion, they remain under my creative control. But once completed each book is hopefully purchased by someone and a restaurant is turned over to its owners and staff. And they both assume their own identity and life. The thought that perhaps my ideas might outlive me is always intriguing.

06. Japanese Residences Viewed from Abroad. Advantages of a Suburban Environment

My motive is to change the foreign reader's stereotype of Japanese houses.

In recent years, there has been a great international interest in the extremely compact residences, an eccentric solution to the scarcity of urban land in Japan. But I wanted to inform the world that they only represent a small percentage of Japanese architecture. There are many exceptional architects in Japan and their work is on par with global standards. That is my motive for writing these books.

I must admit, though, that it is difficult to find such residences in Tokyo. A large plot of land with beautiful surroundings is much easier to purchase in suburban areas. Through researching architecture to feature in these books, I have discovered that house owners outside of urban areas tend to have a much greater insight and passion towards architecture. I have also witnessed suburban and resort communities filled with great architecture, one good architectural work motivating another to be built in the same vicinity. I think such so to speak urban planning inspired from one architect's work is a very positive movement.

The remote locations obviously make it difficult for foreign readers to actually go and interact with these works so I hope that Japan Living can bridge the distance between great Japanese residential architecture and the world.

Location Cooperation: arti showroom (Arti Inc.)
Text: Hiroki Yanagisawa (Free Editor), Marcia Iwatate
Interviewer/Editor: Nobuko Ohara (Nacása & Partners Inc.)

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