Something in Common in the Artisan Culture of Italy and Japan

Ferrari Kode57 and the designer, Ken Okuyama standing aside


The general image of the Italian and Japanese people contrasts

What would you do if the world ends tomorrow? An Italian would answer “I would spend the day with a lover.” A Japanese would say “I have to finish my work quickly.” This is a popular ethnic joke, and even most Japanese people would nod in agreement at the answers in the joke. As this joke well expresses, the general image of Italian people is easy-going; that of Japanese people is too serious. Their general images sharply contrast like this, but they have something in common, funnily enough. By the way, the general image of Made-in-Italy products is good in Japan, especially in food and fashion, for your information.

Italian artisans are respected; Japanese ones not…

Italy and Japan are countries of artisans (artigiani/artigiane in Italian). Italian artisans receive preferential treatment from the government, while Japanese government is driving artisans into extinction sadly, though. Only in Japan among OECD countries, Real Wage Index has been declining for more than 20 years. The government blames that on small businesses where many artisans work, and applies pressure on the small businesses for elimination and consolidation.

On the other hand, due to the favorable government policy in Italy, artisans hold their places in society. Ferrari is a good example. For the last few years, it has shown rapid increase in sales, but once was just a small local factory in the auto industry. Indeed, small businesses may not be able to make an innovation but have strengths such as developing a long-term perspective, niche strategy, etc. like Ferrari.

A wooden chair with light-color wood and reddish brown leather. The thick leather works as a part of the structure.

What looks simple is not simple by Ken Okuyama

In the luxury furniture industry, Italy is the advanced country. Wherever I went for new market development, some Italian brands have already achieved mainstream recognition in the market. Yes, they are the hurdles to overcome for us, but I always feel a sense of intimacy with them because of the common characteristic: craftsmanship. When thinking about the craftsmanship in Italy and Japan, I always remember Ken Okuyama (see the above image), the first and only Japanese who designed Ferrari (the ex-creative director of Pininfarina). Today, I’d like to finish this article with his words that well express our design and craftsmanship. “What looks simple is not simple. It’s designed to look simple. When looking at such design up close, you can see how complicated it is.”

Photo Credit:

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.