Japanese Design Archive Survey


Designers & Creators

Kazuo Kimura

Industrial Designer


Interview: October 26, 2017 13:30 - 15:00
Location: Nagoya Gakugei University
Interviewee: Kazuo Kimura
Interviewers: Yasuko Seki, Akiko Wakui (Shiro Ina)
Author: Yasuko Seki



Kazuo Kimura

Industrial Designer

1934 Born in Osaka
1958 Graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Tokyo University of the Arts, and joined the Molding Department of Nissan Motor Co.
1972 Retired from Nissan Motor Co.
Secretary General of the World Industrial Design Conference Executive Committee
1974 Secretary General of the Japan Industrial Designers Association
1981 Executive Director and Secretary General, International Design Exchange Association
1987 Served as Secretary General of the World Design Conference Steering Committee
1992 Senior Managing Director, International Design Center
2002- Professor and Dean, Faculty of Media Arts, Nagoya Gakugei University
2006-2018 Dean, Graduate School of Media Arts and Sciences

Kazuo Kimura



Kazuo Kimura, who played a major role in the design of Shinkansen and other rolling stock, as well as in international design exchange, is a unique figure in the design world. Kimura's career spanned from the 1960s, when he worked as an in-house designer for Nissan Motor after graduating from university, to the 1970s and 1990s, when he left the company to work for the promotion of Japanese design as a board member of design organisations such as JIDA, and then to the 1990s, when he worked as a member of the board of directors of the Japan Institute of Design.Since 2002, he has worked as an educator in the field of design.
Since the 1980s, he has also been involved in the development of vehicle design, which could be called his life's work. There is probably no other designer who has been active in such a wide range of fields.
In the 1980s, when Kimura was engaged in design promotion and exchange activities, car and electronics manufacturers were trying to expand their business overseas, and with the momentum of the bubble economy in the latter half of the decade, international exchange was actively taking place in the Japanese design world. The peak of this activity was the World Design Exposition held in Nagoya in 1989, and its core project was the World Design Conference, for which Kimura served as Secretary General. Famous designers from all over the world gathered to discuss a wide range of topics from objects to cities. During this busy period, Kimura was also involved in the design of rolling stock, including the Shinkansen, and played a major role in improving its quality. Since Kimura's work on the 100 Series Shinkansen, the unique exterior and interior designs have been highly acclaimed, and the railway business has now grown into an export industry for Japan. Another thing that Kimura is known for is his "footwork" - he doesn't mind travelling back and forth between Europe and the US in three days and one night, visiting exhibitions and events, experiencing things, meeting people and talking to them... that's his motto, and his network is undisputed. In these days when people say that we are somewhat inward-looking, we hope that someone will follow in Kimura's footsteps.



"Nissan Silvia CSP311", Nissan Motor, Exterior and Interior Design (1965) "Nissan Sunny Coupe" Nissan Motor, Exterior and Interior Design (1968) Shinkansen 100 Series Japan National Railways, Exterior and Interior Design (1985)
Moha 281 Series Train "Haruka" JR West Japan, Exterior and Interior Design (1994) Shinkansen 500 Series "Nozomi" JR West Japan, Interior Design (1996)
Shinkansen 700 Series "Nozomi" JR Tokai + JR West Japan, Exterior and Interior Design (1997) Moha 285 Series Sleeper Train "Sunrise Express" JR West Japan + JR Tokai, Exterior and Interior Design (1998)
Shinkansen N 700 Series 7000/8000 "Mizuho" and "Sakura", JR West Japan and JR Kyushu, Exterior and Interior Design (2011)



Co-author of "The History of Modern Design Movement in Japan", Pelican Company (1990)
Co-author of "Declaration of Urban Industrial Revolution" (1994), President Inc.
The Marketing of Hit Products, Doubunkan Publishing (2001)

Kazuo Kimura works



The important functions of a design museum are excellent design, excellent planning, and excellent human resource development.

Becoming a Designer

 Mr. Kimura has played a central role in Japan's design promotion activities, including the design of cars and Shinkansen trains, as well as the secretary general of the International Design Exchange Association and the World Design Conference in Osaka. Today, I would like to ask you about design archives and design museums from the perspective of designers and design promotion. Mr. Kimura, your career as a designer began at Nissan Motor. Can you tell us about your career up to that point?


Kimura I first became interested in design when my junior high school art teacher was a graduate of the Tokyo University of the Arts and had a great influence on me. Then, in my third year of high school, when it was time to decide on a career path, I decided that I wanted to try architecture. However, I didn't know anything about it, so I boldly wrote a letter to Kenzo Tange, who was an active architect at the time, and to my surprise, he met me. But as we talked about various things, he told me not to do it. On the other hand, I was also interested in industrial design, which was finally becoming known at that time, so I visited the Japan Mingei Museum to meet Sori Yanagi. I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Yanagi at his office, which was located nearby, and he not only gave me advice but also guided me in my studies for the entrance examination. Thanks to these two great teachers, I was able to enter the Department of Craft Planning, Tokyo University of the Arts in 1954.


 I was surprised that the masters, Mr. Tange and Mr. Yanagi, met with a single high school student. Mr. Kimura's energy to go and visit them is also amazing. I can feel a glimpse of the Mr. Kimura of today.


Kimura During my university years, in addition to studying design, I set up various things such as university festivals, on-campus exhibitions, design competition entries, planning and running independent design courses, and actual design work. At the time, design education in Japan was lagging behind that of Europe and the United States, so I think I had a strong desire to take advantage of a variety of opportunities to study.


 Did you start working on car and vehicle design when you were a student?


Kimura  I chose "commuter trains" as the theme for my graduation project. I've always liked trains, but I wanted to make the commuter trains that we use on a daily basis more comfortable, not the special ones like sleeper cars and express trains.
The requirements for car design differ depending on the railway company and line, but I chose the Hanshin Electric Railway, which I have been familiar with since I was a child, as my theme. I went to the rolling stock department of the company and interviewed them, as well as getting advice from engineers from the Japanese National Railways and Nippon Sharyo at the time. The result is displayed in a 1:45 scale model and 6 panels.


 Why did you join Nissan Motor after graduation?


Kimura  I wanted to work for Mr. Shozo Sato, who was the chief designer of Nissan Motor at that time. Unfortunately he left the company after just one year and I didn't get much guidance from him, but in my fifth year I was put in charge of the CSP311 (Silvia) and was responsible for the development of the exterior, interior and emblem with just three designers. During the course of the project, German designer Albrecht von Goertz joined us as a consultant and gave us advice, which left a lasting impression. This car was presented at the 1964 Motor Show as the "Datsun 1500 Coupe" and was sold as the "Nissan Silvia" from 1965. It then went on to design the "Sunny Coupe" and other models before leaving the company in 1972.


 You were working as an in-house designer at Nissan, but what did you do with the materials at that time?


Kimura Basically, anything from the in-house era belongs to the company.


 So do you know what the status of the design archive is at Nissan?


Kimura Nissan has an organisation called the "Katachi no Kai" (Association of Shape), which is mainly made up of alumni. With the strong backing of Mr. Shiro Nakamura, who retired in the spring of 2017 but was the Chief Creative Officer (CCO) for many years, that is where we organised the materials, focusing on cars from the 1945 to 1950s. The members of the association take it in turns to organise the blueprints, sketches, photographs and models two or three times a month in a room at the Global Design Centre in Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, where they are stored as an archive. I think this is a good idea, because it is best to organise the archives by the people who knew them at the time, and there is also a possibility of exchange between old and new designers through this activity.


 That's right. I think it is a very effective attempt to inherit the DNA of Nissan design. By the way, how is the storage of the actual car?


Kimura The Nissan Heritage Collection is a collection of about 400 vehicles (300 of which are open to the public) at the former Zama Plant in Kanagawa Prefecture. Seventy percent of the vehicles are stored in a roadworthy condition. Anyone can visit the museum, although application is required. In addition, the first floor of the Nissan Global Headquarters in Yokohama is open to the public as a gallery, where various models are displayed according to themes. The Silvia and Sunny Coupe that I worked on were also displayed. This kind of project could also be called a design archive activity in a larger sense.


Pioneer of Japanese vehicle design


 How did you get involved in vehicle design after leaving Nissan?


Kimura In the days of the former Japan National Railways (JNR), vehicle design was the responsibility of engineers and designers from vehicle manufacturers, and the JNR itself had no designers. What triggered my interest in design was a recommendation from Mr. Akira Hoshi, an engineer at the Japan National Railways who had guided me through my graduation project in 1979, and I joined the Technical Committee for Rolling Stock Design as a member. At that time, there was finally a growing awareness within Japan National Railways of the importance of vehicle design, and I joined the committee together with Tetsuo Matsumoto and Masamichi Tezen. Mr. Hoshi remembered my graduation project.


 What exactly was your job?


Kimura I had high expectations of what kind of work I would be doing, but my first task was to select the colours for the curtains and gable walls of the 200 Series Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen, which was then in its final stages. Later, I was involved from the planning stage for the 100 Series, the first new type of train since the 0 Series, and we were able to achieve great results.


 After that, when Japan National Railways (JNR) was privatised in 1987, you, Mr. Kimura, Mr. Matsumoto, Mr. Tezen, and Mr. Tetsuo Fukuda established the Transportation Design Organization (TDO), and you have participated in the design and development of many trains, including the Shinkansen. I would like to ask you about the design of Shinkansen and other rolling stock. How do you work with railway companies such as JR, rolling stock manufacturers, and designers such as you? 


Kimura There are many different cases. There are cases where I am assigned, cases where I have been in charge for many years, and cases where I am selected through a competition. Normally, when we are commissioned by a railroad company, after an overview of the rolling stock project, we propose a design concept, the direction of the exterior and interior design, parts such as chairs, and a colour plan in the form of a "design proposal". Once the proposal is approved, we develop the exterior and interior of the car, including details such as seats, lighting, various parts, materials, displays, and colours.
It is essential that we work together with the design and engineering departments of car manufacturers as well as railway companies.
We also make full-scale mock-ups. Not only cabins, but also entrances, exits, toilets, washrooms and other parts of the car are studied in detail. Recently, the handling of large items of luggage inside the car has become an issue. And it's not just the design that is considered, but also the sales and operations staff and ultimately the senior management. It usually takes about five years from the first meeting to the customer's first ride. In recent years, the role of design has become increasingly important as interest in design has increased and there is a need for better comfort and accommodation..


 How are the materials and data related to vehicle design organised and stored? And what does TDO do with them?


Kimura Design and engineering are inseparable, and the amount of work involved can be enormous. Basically, the design department of each vehicle manufacturer organises and manages the data for each project. However, full-scale mock-ups have to be discarded due to property management and storage space issues.
As a TDO, we keep a certain amount of the plans, conceptual drawings, implementation drawings, and prototype samples that we have been involved with, but it is impossible to keep them all. However, it is impossible to keep them all, and we keep them in cooperation with vehicle manufacturers.


 What is the role of the TDO in vehicle design?


Kimura  I am involved in all aspects of the design of the projects I am responsible for, from basic planning to implementation and development, but it is also important for me to advise the railway company on its design development from a long-term perspective. This is the role of the outside eye.


Promotion and Design Museum


 Mr. Kimura has served as secretary general of design organisations such as JIDA (Japan Industrial Designer's Association) and the International Design Exchange Association, and has been involved in the promotion of design in Japan and abroad. I am sure you are familiar with design promotion organisations and design museums around the world.


Kimura The first thing that strikes me is that there are many different perspectives when it comes to design museums. For example, if we view design as a product, the subject matter is extremely broad, from pins to airplanes. On the other hand, if you look at design from the perspective of identity, the ideas and planning are more important than the form. There is also the view of public design and personal design. In short, there are many possibilities for a "design museum", depending on the perspective of what you want to show and what you want to convey.


 Mr. Kimura, what do you yourself think about this?


Kimura Hmmm, yes. In my opinion, there are three conditions for good design: it must be beautiful, it must be innovative and it must have an impact on society and people's lives. I believe that the first step towards a design museum is to create a cultural history of the designs that we have selected from this perspective. However, just displaying them is not enough to make a museum attractive. This is the difference between a museum and an art museum. An art museum can be attractive enough just by displaying good works of art, but a design museum cannot be so. It is not enough to simply display tea cups, cups, computers, cars, etc., no matter how good the design is; there must be at least a rationale for it. In other words, it is essential to have a story behind the product, why and how the design came about, how it changed society and life... Design needs to be art, science and social.


 In that sense, are there any museums that leave a lasting impression on you, Mr. Kimura?


Kimura The Design Museum in London has recently moved to a new building in Kensington, West London, and the contents have been further enhanced. Not only can you see the exhibits, but you can actually touch them with your hands, and it is full of devices that allow you to feel familiar with design and enjoy it.


 JIDA, of which you were once the chairman, is also involved in the Design Museum activities.


Kimura Yes, we have established a committee with JIDA members to collect industrial designs, and we have built a small museum in Shinshu-Shinmachi, Nagano Prefecture, which is open to the public. We have a small museum in Shinshu-Shinmachi, Nagano Prefecture, which is open to the public. The activities are led by Mr. Ina and others who are with us today.


 We have a separate hearing for the JIDA Museum.


Kimura Based on my years of experience, when I think about what design is, I think there are three areas: practice, promotion, and education. Practice is the practice of design, in my case the design of Nissan and its vehicles. Promotion is the promotion and exchange of design, and I have been involved in the development of design by interacting with designers and organisations around the world, starting with JIDA and working for the International Design Exchange Association and the World Design Conference Secretariat. Education is the nurturing of designers and design talent, and I still teach students at universities even though I am over 80 years old. In other words, practice is "things", promotion is "things", and education is "people".
I have been fortunate enough to be involved in the design of things, things and people in my design life. I think it is important for a design museum to have the function of fostering good design, good planning and good human resources.


 It was a short talk, but in the end we got some words from Mr. Kimura from his long design life. Thank you very much for your time today.