Designing Happiness: Shinzi Katoh

(click to enlarge)

With products featuring images overflowing with heartwarming playfulness, nostalgia, innocence and kawaii, coupled with an impossibly obscure take on the English language, Shinzi Katoh’s work has in recent years seen a great rise in popularity.

katoh – zakka star

Katoh is an active artist and in addition to illustrating many children’s books, is well known for portrait and landscape paintings which are exhibited in his gallery, conveniently located alongside his design studio. Internationally though his most recognizable work is the designs which have found their way onto a wide variety of products including all the usual suspects – bags, mugs, lunchboxes, drink containers, towels etc.

In the world of Zakka, he is something of a superstar. Zakka (literally “various goods”) is a Japanese term mainly used to describe a genre of cleverly designed fashion or household objects which help improve one’s home, outlook or life in some way. The New York Times has described zakka as “the art of seeing the savvy in the ordinary and mundane”. It often contains elements of retro (50’s-70’s), kitsch or kawaii, but these in themselves are not enough; to qualify as zakka, a product should also be attractive, with a sensitivity or heartwarming subtext, perhaps touching on a sense of the spirituality or self-expression of its owner.

Katoh’s work does this and does it very well indeed.

(click all images to enlarge)

Katoh’s intentions are perfectly clear – he simply wants to inspire joy in people’s lives through the energy he feels as he makes his work. He says “Zakka belongs in our daily lives, and gives us happiness and encouragement. I always think of something funny when I am designing and drawing pictures”

A quote on his website says it all:

“We design various kinds of products with many happy thoughts. We hope they make people happy!”

Katoh’s creations are now beginning to find popularity overseas and have been shown at exhibitions in Paris and New York, while his products are starting to appear in galleries and gift shops all over the world.

an interesting Zakka article here.

A flickr image group here with many Katoh products.

~ by JapanGasm on 19 June, 2010.

5 Responses to “Designing Happiness: Shinzi Katoh”

  1. i especially like the ones with an orange elephant, swimming ducks, rushing cars and protesting children. i stored them in my laptop.
    what i love most is the simplisity and truthfulnes of the words maching simplisity of pictures.
    thank pavi 🙂

    • Yes, it’s all so heartwarming, isn’t it? I especially like the one with the “various foreign children” meeting to talk about plants and insects under the asphalt too…

      Glad you’re enjoying, Marta…please click buttons to share the links!

  2. the dog is my boyfriend 🙂

  3. My host family in Japan gave me a Shinzi Katoh mug as a going away present. It says “zutto zutto daisuki dakara” (“Because I’ll love you forever and ever”) and its great that whether in Japanese or English, Katoh gets his innocent, uplifting messages across.

    • You’re right, they transcend language.

      They really stand the test of time too.

      Even though I have known these images and messages for many years, they still make me smile every time I read them.

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