Johnny Strategy: Designer Interview
Johnny Strategy is the pen name of the author of Spoon & Tamago, a Tokyo / New York based design blog. Raised in Tokyo and educated in New York, Johnny holds a unique design perspective and shares it with viewers by providing a collection of beautiful and inspiring images from Japan, the United States, and across the globe.
It is easy to see that you are influenced by your upbringing in Japan and your higher education in the U.S. What was your first impressionable moment that involved design as a child? I was never that into art or design as a child, at least not consciously. It wasn’t until high school that I took a ceramics class with a really inspiring teacher, Mr. Nimori. That was when I first really discovered the Japanese aesthetic and everything about it suddenly made sense to me. He set me up to do a mini-apprenticeship with a Japanese master and even sacrificed a weekend to take me into rural Chiba to introduce me. That was an amazing experience.
What is it that you wish to bring to your American viewers that can only be found in the Japanese culture? I guess I’m just trying to share high-quality undiscovered work that I’m sure would inspire people around the world. It would be rad if someone saw something they liked and decided to incorporate a certain theme or concept into their own work.
It can be difficult to scour the online design world and find content worthy of blogging about. How do you seem to find a selection of such interesting finds for Spoon & Tamago? It is a difficult task and I couldn’t do it without my wife. Ninety percent of what we write about comes from our own independent research. We have an extensive database of designers, design shops and art galleries whose websites we frequent. And everything is so intertwined now that one thing usually leads to another. We are also associated with boheme, an artist collective based out of Tokyo, who we talk to occasionally and exchange information.
Are there designers who you work with or know in Japan that use your blog as a catalyst to their cross-cultural work? There are a couple gallerists and design collectives that we talk to, but we don’t work with anybody. However, designers have contacted us after we wrote about them, telling us how previously they had close to zero exposure and now have a couple interviews lined up with magazines. Correspondence like that has been one of the more rewarding things about running Spoon & Tamago.
What is your view on cutting-edge design in the United States compared to the work of Japanese design? I believe that the success of a designer lies in their ability to grasp and understand the future needs of people. And to look into the future one must first turn to the past. Therein lies the advantage of Japanese designers. An accumulation of culture and tradition rests in the past and is an immense resource for creativity and innovation. Their land is overflowing with stories of the past. There are arts and crafts, skills and techniques, religions and practices, all of which have been passed down from generation to generation. Some have complete historical records while others are known only in their current state. Nonetheless, they are all tools of the designer.
Blogging can be a great release for writers who need an artistic outlet or a great way for designers to share inspiring and creative work. What is Spoon & Tamago for you? It started out as a journal; a tool to catalog everything that I liked and was inspired by. If you go back to my earlier posts you’ll see there is much less geographic bias. However, my blog eventually took on a life of its own. I began to understand that I could really add value and make meaningful contributions because of my background in art (I majored in Fine Art, minored in Art History) and from growing up in Japan. I was able to place these designers in context and that’s when people really started to respond to my posts. And that’s when I started writing not only for myself but for others, as well.
Who or what inspires you to create and drives you to discover new things? I’m inspired by a lot of things. Lately I’ve been inspired by literature. I’m also inspired by food and the presentation of it, nature photography, animals, rust and other forms of deterioration, just to name a couple. I’m also inspired by my wife and two kids. Having kids has been great because they pull you into their world and you’re able to reunite with your childhood imagination; the stuff you thought you misplaced many years ago.
Is there any genre of design that interests you more than others – product design, fashion, photography, architecture? I suppose my background in ceramics inclines me towards sculpture. Industrial design, as well, because of the sculptural characteristics.
I can imagine that seeing art and design firsthand is more fulfilling in person than clicking links and searching online. Do you travel much from Asia to the States for your work? I do. I travel to Japan at least twice a year. And I’m always making new discoveries. During my previous trip to Japan I found myself in the corporate headquarters of a company in Shinjuku and I saw they had a small museum. Not thinking much of it I decided to kill some time there. As I was concluding the tour I arrived at their prized possession, which turned out to be the original Van Gogh “Sunflowers” painting! It’s been hiding there for the last 20 years. I thought that was pretty crazy.