Like every other Westerner first visiting Japan, I was amazed at the plethora of simple, clever design solutions that seemed ripe for adaptation in North America or Europe. So in 1986 I published 283 Useful Ideas from Japan, pages from which are reproduced below. A few of the ideas did eventually surface in the West, but most didn’t.
Some of the Japanese ideas I documented were actually inspired by American or European models, but then redesigned. Mujirushi-Ryohin, now commonly known as Muji, is an example. Kazuko Koike, one of the brand’s creators (the other was graphic designer Ikko Tanaka), related how astonished she was when she encountered the stark generic packaging then fashionable in U.S. supermarkets circa 1978-79. She explained the concept to her superior at Seiyu, a department store management and development company. He gave the go-ahead to create a more stylish Japanese version. The rest is history.