Japanese Design Archive Survey


Designers & Creators

Naoki Iijima

Interior Designer


Interview: July 4, 2019, 1:30 - 3:30 p.m.
Interview location: Naoki Iijima Design Office
Interviewee: Naoki Iijima
Interviewers: Yasuko Seki, Tomoko Ishiguro
Author: Tomoko Ishiguro



Naoki Iijima

Interior Designer

1949 Born in Saitama Prefecture
1973 Graduated with a degree in Industrial Design, Department of Industrial Design, Musashino Art University
1976-1985 Super Potato
1985 Established Naoki Iijima Design Office
2004-2014 Japan Commercial Environment Designers Association (JCD)
2008-2014 President, JCD, KU/KAN Design Organization
2011-2016 Professor, Faculty of Architecture, Kogakuin University

Naoki Iijima



It was in the 1960s that interior design in post-war Japan turned the corner from architectural interior decoration to the world of independent design. Naoki Iijima is one of the designers who followed that era, studying interior design and creating a variety of commercial spaces. The year 1968 is said to be the inflextion point of the 20th century. In Japan, there was the incident at the University of Tokyo's Yasuda Auditorium involving the All-Communist Party and riot police, and in France, there was the May Revolution in Paris. Iijima, who entered Musashino Art University the following year, was never able to separate the interior design from the violent swell of the times.
In 1972, Takashi Sugimoto created "Bar Radio", which he describes as a work of art born of the times. After graduating from university, he joined Super Potato, which Sugimoto founded, and worked there for 10 years, standing at the forefront of interior design. After establishing the Naoki Iijima Design Office in 1985, Iijima has been involved in a wide range of spatial design projects from commercial spaces to office buildings, including the Sonia Rykiel boutique, the Shiseido 5S store in New York, the Shigesato Itoi Office in Tokyo, and the PMO office series for Nomura Real Estate Development. He has been involved in a wide range of spatial design projects from commercial spaces to office buildings.
Unlike the 1980s, when gorgeous commercial spaces were created one after another, the 1990s and after the collapse of the bubble economy demanded market-oriented design. Iijima believes that design can change communication and people's behavior, and he wants to express services in space.



EX (JUN) New York Store (1985); ARAI (1986); Sonia Rykiel, Roppongi (1987); CIBREO (1990); Kamiya (1991);5S New York (1998); Shin Bungeiza (Architectural design IIJIMA DESIGN + Bagueratta, 2000); SHUNKAN BACCARI DI NATURA (SHU/NKAN, 2002); blupond Seoul (2003); Saikabo Nihonbashi (2004); Tokyo Shigesato Itoi Office (2005); Shinjuku Takashimaya (Environmental Renovation, 2007); Ao Building (Commercial Environment Planning, 2009); PMO (Office Building Design, 2008-); Total Workout Roppongi, Shibuya, Fukuoka, (2014-); Lighting experimental space STUDIO E139 (2017); Kogakuin University Learning Commons, Shinjuku, Hachioji, (2017); Dolls (exhibition, 2018)



Co-authored "Interior Design: Relationships, Images, and Elements of Space", Rikuyosha (2003); "casuistica Naoki Iijima's Works 1985-2010" Heibonsha (2010); Co-authored "The Method of Design by 11 Designers of the First Decades" Rikuyosha (2012)

Naoki Iijima works



The problem is that interior design has too few tools to communicate that it is not positioned as a genre

Two Trends and Revolutions in Interior Design

 We have conducted a number of interviews about archives, but unfortunately, we must say that the archives of interior design are weaker than those of graphics and products. We came here to ask about the actual situation.


Iijima I have been reading the reports of your archival research, and I am very happy to see that such research reports are being made. Everyone understands the need for archiving in interior design, but it is not something that an individual can do easily, and the reality is that everyone has been unable to do anything about it until now.


 Mr.Iijima, you served as the president of the Japan Commercial Environment Design Association (JCD) and also taught at Kogakuin University. What are some of the movements related to archives in schools and design organisations?


Iijima First of all, it is difficult to define the concept of interior design. It is a part of architecture and "interior decoration," but in Japan, it has been recognised as design since the 1960s. Such history itself has not been studied much. It has not been properly positioned as a genre. There is no single administrative body for interior design. In addition to JCD, there are about 100 other interior design organisations, including the Japan Interior Designers Association (JID), the Japan Spatial Design Association (DSA), the Japan Interior Planners Association (JIPA), and the Japan Interior Coordinators Association (ICON).
From 2019, the DSA and JCD have merged their awards to create the Spatial Design Awards, but they have once again recognised that they are very different from each other. They each live separately and are disparate.
I studied at Musashino Art University (Musabi), but the only thing I was taught was that there was a Kappei Toyoguchi and that it was in the vein of Bauhaus. In recent years, we started researching the history of the art world, compiling it, and sending it out in a small way.
Recently, there was another exhibition that triggered this. It's the "Impossible Architecture" exhibition, which has been touring since February of this year, starting with the Museum of Modern Art, Saitama. The exhibition focused on unbuilt architecture that could not be realised, and included Vladimir Tatlin's Third International Monument, Mies' glass skyscraper, and a model of Zaha Hadid's proposed new national stadium, conveying the spirit of the architects. There was also a display of Renshichiro Kawakita's "Proposal for the International Design Competition for the Ukrainian Theater" (1930). This was the first work by a Japanese to win an award in an international competition, and it was awarded fourth prize. At that time, the eighth prize went to Walter Gropius, and the first prize went to the Vesnin brothers from Russia. Kawakita's name is hardly known even in the field of architecture, but he was the first president of JCD, which was established in 1961, and I barely knew his name. Taro Igarashi, who supervised the exhibition, described it as "proof that Japanese architects who studied modern architecture were already up to the world's standards at that time". The internal structure of this theatre is amazing. It was unique because it incorporated a donyaku, which was influenced by kabuki.
JCD is an organisation of people like Kawakita, who are free to do things on their own. In the early days, the chairman of the board of directors, Kazuo Watanabe (brother of Mizumaru Anzai), was involved in the restaurant club "Serina", but it was a kind of wilderness that was different from the official position.
On the other hand, JID was founded in Sendai by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (now the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) to spread the modern Western style of craftsmanship in Japan (the Tokyo head office opened in 1940). Bruno Taut was the leader of the JID, which produced artists such as Isamu Kenmochi, Kappei Toyoguchi and Riki Watanabe.


 Based on the JID, which followed the flow of government, and the JCD, which worked on an individual basis, interior design expanded its field of activity with the support of further rapid economic growth.


Iijima But the revolution in interior design started from a completely different place from those two in the late 1960s. It started with Shiro Kuramata, and was followed by Shigeru Uchida and Takashi Sugimoto. In the background was the influence of Italian design, and in particular, many designers admired Joe Colombo, who died at a young age, and Mr. Sugimoto even went to see him.
From the late 60s to the 70s, American minimal art, counterculture, and the hippie movement occurred in a dumpling state and entered Japan. There was the "Zenkyoto" (All-Academic Joint Struggle Conference), and in the 60s the Whole Earth Catalog was published, and in the 70s Takarajima (Takarajimasha, 1973-) and POPEYE (Magazine House, 1976-) were launched. We were under that kind of influence, and the strong stimulus of the 60s and 70s was a mixture of many things, and that's where design was born. Mr. Sugimoto's "Bar Radio" (*) was also born under this kind of influence.
This is a departure from the JID and JCD trends. It can only be described as the influence of the times. Because of this, we didn't pay much attention to these organizations at first. But in the early 1990s, after the bubble economy burst, Hideya Takamura, who was the chairman of the board at the time, said, "It's not good if interior design continues to be disjointed. We should think about the industry as a whole," he said, and about 50 designers, including Uchida and Sugimoto, joined JCD at once.


The Bar Radio

*The Bar Radio was designed by Takashi Sugimoto.
It was a legendary bar that dared to set the bar high and was crowded with designers and cultural figures.
Photo by Yoshio Shiratori


Little textbook literature and weak academics


 In the first place, the interiors of commercial facilities are not permanent, and when their role is over, they disappear without a trace, which also makes archiving difficult.


Iijima There is also the weakness of academia. There is the Interior Design Society of Japan, but it's hard to say that it has created a scene that pushes the power of design in the world. Many designers are graduates of art colleges, and they create artworks at university, not write papers. Lectures are limited to general histories and do not include the kind of real-life stories that we are discussing today. Compared to architecture, there is very little in the way of theoretical analysis of design. First of all, there is no literature to serve as a textbook.
Mr. Noriyoshi Suzuki and Mr. Souhei Imamura published "The History of Interior Design in Japan" (Ohmsha, 2013), but textbooks have barely appeared in the last five years or so. In terms of academia, some schools such as Kogakuin University and Waseda University Art School are trying to absorb interior design into architecture. Interior design is very popular.


 So there is a demand in that sense.


Iijima Although there is a demand, it is in limbo because the receptacle and the way to push it out become vague. For example, at Musabi, interior design is taught in three departments: the Department of Architecture, the Department of Industrial Arts and Crafts, and the Department of Spatial Design. There was a suggestion to merge them rather than separate them and become impoverished, but it disappeared. Another problem is that we have too few tools to communicate. There are no books. It would be good if we could archive them on the internet, but it would take a lot of time and money, so no one would do it.


  Interior design books will have beautiful pictures, but not a lot of narrative.


Iijima There is no place to present and communicate narratives. In graphics, we hold exhibitions based on archives, and there are many spaces for that, but when it comes to interiors, it's difficult. The lack of critics who can tell their stories is also a fatal situation. JCD has been trying to give lectures, but it has not been possible. It's important to have critics who write on behalf of the artists and record their work. The Tokyo Design Center has started an archive called "Space Design Concierge" on the Internet to promote inbound (https://space-design.jp/about/). Ms. Coco Funabiki, the president of JCD, asked me to write a review of 30 properties for the site, and it was very difficult even though it was short. I also wrote a review for "The Method of Design by 11 Designers of the First Decades" (Rikuyosha, 2012).


What I learned from Takashi Sugimoto is "Be conceptual"


 By the way, why did you decide to join Mr. Sugimoto's Super Potato after graduating from university?


Iijima After graduating, I worked in the furniture decoration department of the Seibu Department Store for about a year and a half. At that time, I would hang out in the bars that Mr. Sugimoto designed, and he became like a big brother to me. After graduating from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts, Mr. Sugimoto did various things without finding a job. 1972, when he created "Bar Radio", Ikko Tanaka came and Seiji Tsutsumi of Seibu Distribution Group came. The following year, Mr. Sugimoto established Super Potato, and work started pouring in like a funnel. It was all born from Bar Radio.
Mr. Ikko had been appointed creative director of Seibu, and Seibu was about to change from a single department store to a special department store. I joined the company in 1976 and was in charge of a lot of work for Seibu. It was interesting to work on designs that people wouldn't complain about even if they went out of business in six months.
I was with the company for 10 years. We were allowed to be experimental in design, for example, we tried to do formalism techniques that did not go off the grid, and we introduced louvers and stripes. Louvers are a device of presence, a value that seems to exist but doesn't exist, that creates something between spaces. I think this was inherited by Kengo Kuma. Ikko saw that the source of Sugimoto's concept was inspired by the Russian Formalism of the 1920s and 30s, and he once said to me, "Sugimoto and his team are Neue Sachlichkeit (New Immediacy)".
The renovation of Bar Radio was in 1982, and around that time, Mr. Sugimoto began to pursue materiality, sensuality, and the eroticism of things, etc. I was in charge of MUJI's first directly-managed store (Aoyama) in 1983, and the trend changed to an awareness of materials by reconstructing spaces with old materials.


 How did you work with Mr. Sugimoto?


Iijima I was in a position like a watchdog, so fortunately they left me in charge and I was able to do pretty much what I wanted to do. After I left the company, I heard that he started to give instructions on every detail. "Being conceptual" is something I learned from Mr. Sugimoto. There is a genre of interior design that is unique in the world. In Europe and the United States, most interior decorators are gay, but their aesthetic tendencies are supported by celebrities and there is a certain demand for their work. Mr. Sugimoto rebelled against such a world and said, "I don't design rings. I'm designing a concept". In the end, he replaced the ring with a beautiful shape, but it was the concept in front of that that should be replaced.


 When did the tide of interior design turn after that?


Iijima That was in the 1990s. A new generation emerged from the Osaka area. They were Yasumichi Morita, Akihito Fumita, and Yoshihiko Mamiya. In Tokyo, there was Masamichi Katayama. Their work has an aesthetic touch and is overly decorative. This aesthetic touch is also emerging in Japan from time to time. Although Mr. Sugimoto denied it, I think it's interesting to overlap architectural theory with the mysterious world of aesthetics.
In the 2000s, the trend changed again, and awakening design dominated, with young architects throwing in the concept of affordance. Most of the architects studied under Jun Aoki, Kengo Kuma, Kazuyo Sejima and others, and for many years the awards and prizes were dominated by architects rather than interior designers.
Now the trend has changed again, and we are entering an aesthetic era that could be called a new material school. At the same time, organised firms are creating new trends. nendo created a space design company called onndo with Nomura Kogeisha in 2016. The map of the industry is also changing. Major firms such as Nikken Space Design and Ilya are also exploring ways to work with independent designers in order to be more competitive with Western design firms.


What is the ideal archive?


 How is Japanese interior design regarded around the world?


Iijima In the Asian region, Japanese interior design is still a role model and an example. In Seoul, Taipei, and Hong Kong, designers are influenced by Japanese interior design and are studying it. But if you look at the level of design alone, it has changed drastically from 10 years ago, and there has been a rapid increase in the number of basic, highly sensitive items in the international style. The level has risen considerably, and there is no doubt that we will soon be overtaken.


 What is the connection between the West and the rest of the world?


Iijima Until the 1990s, there were magazines that covered Japan, but now the connection has been severed. On the other hand, young Japanese artists are aiming for European and American awards rather than Japanese awards. There is a wide range of lineup, and it's become a situation where you can only hit a few. When you win an award overseas, you get a higher priority when you come back to Japan.


 You have designed a Learning Commons (a facility intended to support learning) place at Kogakuin University, and also a Working Commons (a creative environment that induces an ambitious workplace) facility. The scope of interior design seems to be expanding.


Iijima I'm interested in public spaces. I'm working more and more on common spaces and showrooms in office buildings and universities. Japan's public spaces have been left behind by the rest of the world, and I feel that if we could clean them up, everyone would be happy. By making small changes to the way things work, we can change the way people behave and the way they are.
The same goes for offices. In the past, most people would just order an office from an office manufacturer and arrange chairs and tables. That's changed drastically now, and it's becoming an object of design. Shuffling the human relationships in a company and creating new ones is becoming the norm in office design. In addition to offices, it is expected to be introduced in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.
Last year, we held an exhibition called "Dolls". We exhibited a model of an office building that could be transformed like a dress-up doll, and explored the nature of a working commons. The office is like a tool for creating a network of people, things, and things.
I'm getting older, and I don't know how long I'll be able to keep my design office. That's why this year I moved out of my old office and started working at a new base where I share space with my friends. I have friends from my Seibu days here, as well as young people from Hong Kong who have newly launched the SKY DESIGN AWARD, which matches designers with businesses. There is also a playroom, and we are exploring new things together.


  It's truly a next-generation work style. Now, Mr. Iijima tell us what you personally do with your archives.


Iijima Maybe it's because the tradition of Super Potato is to be frank, but we don't leave any drawings. There are no drawings of Bar Radio. In keeping with that tradition, I've thrown away most of my hand-drawn drawings and models, although I still have some digitised ones. I only have one hand-drawn drawing and a sketch from New York. I think most interior designers are like that. But I do take photographs. Based on those photographs, I published a collection of my work, "casuistica Naoki Iijima's Works 1985-2010" (Heibonsha, 2010).
At the moment, I'm writing about my own experiences, and I'm thinking that it would be interesting to parallel what I experienced and what happened in the aesthetic world before the 1970s, because people in that world are not known at all.
When I was teaching at the Kogakuin, a student created a grand hand-drawn timeline that included cultural and social events. Interior design is connected to society and culture. I'm referring to that timeline as I move forwards.
Kazuhiko Moriyama, who was the editor-in-chief of "Japan Interior Design", showed Italian design to everyone and dragged them into the revolution. Now that Mr. Moriyama has passed away, it's hard to see the background of how new things were born. If we don't at least hear from Masaru Kawatoko, who worked with him, we will never know.


 Just as Michelangelo's pupil Giorgio Vasari's biography of Renaissance artists such as da Vinci and Raphael became a major source of information for future generations, records by people close to the scene are invaluable. I have high expectations for the future activities of the archive of Mr. Iijima. Thank you very much for your time.




Contact information for locating Naoki Iijima's archive


Naoki Iijima Design Office