Trailblazing Designer // Akira Yoshimura
Harmonizing Cultural Inspirations
Born in Ashiya Hyogo, Japan, Akira Yoshimura's love for objects and his discerning tactile sense emerged early in life, as he became enchanted with his grandparents' collection of antique Japanese lacquered furniture, kimonos, porcelain, and earthenware. Fostering a deep appreciation for both Eastern and Western design and material culture, Akira pursued his design education in the United States.
Graduating with a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1999, Akira has since given design lectures there and served as a guest critic at both RISD and Parsons. Residing in New York City, he continually draws inspiration from the art, architecture, and design that surrounds him.
In 2007, Akira established his design studio in New York City where he strives to create a wide range of products that create unexpected experiences in the realm of daily life. By crafting innovative solutions to common problems, he seeks to encourage conversation and interaction between people and the objects they use. Akira's designs have been showcased at the MoMA Design Store in New York City and Tokyo.
Iroha: Tell us about the projects you're currently working on, as well as any recent accomplishments or upcoming plans.
Akira: In 2019, I began collaborating with a manufacturer in Toyama prefecture, creating products like an aluminum whale butter dish funded by the city of Takaoka and a series of bronze paperweights, "View Point," which won the Mayor's Award in the 2021 Craft Competition in Takaoka. After two successful test marketing rounds in the U.S., we aim to expand further.
In the fall of 2021, we had the privilege of creating paper decor designs for the "Taste of Japan" reception at Carnegie Hall during the United Nations General Assembly. Our creations, including daruma figures, maple leaf cutouts, and tuna and amberjack likenesses, helped promote Japanese food and culture in New York City. It was quite an honor to greet Prime Minister Kishida in an environment featuring our design collaborations.
Presently, I am working on a series of decorative cast metal objects inspired by the Chinese zodiac. Designing new products from scratch is challenging, but it's gratifying to see our designs resonate with consumers in Japan and the U.S.
My latest endeavor involves exploring a series of faceted silhouette paper sculptures glued into a single three-dimensional surface and wrapped over a foam board substrate. The sculptures are evolving into an intriguing body of work, and I hope to have an opening at a Brooklyn café.
Iroha: Have you personally experienced Asian hate crimes or Asian glass ceiling issues in your career, and if so, how have you addressed them in your community?
Akira: Though I have been fortunate enough not to have personally experienced Asian hate crimes or significant Asian glass ceiling issues in my career, I am aware of how prevalent these issues can be within the Asian community. In my role as a creative professional, I have been proactive in addressing these matters and fostering understanding and unity in my community.
My first cross-cultural interactions began when I moved to Houston, Texas from Kamakura, Japan at the age of nine. Living in the U.S. during the mid-1980s, I initially struggled to speak English and understand the alphabet, relying on my drawing skills to communicate. However, through the support of my incredibly kind and patient new friends, I was able to learn the language and see the potential for a life in the U.S. This experience has shaped my perspective on the importance of empathy and understanding in diverse communities.
Throughout my life, I have made an effort to stay current in conversations in the States, keeping up with news, sports, and entertainment. By maintaining a broad range of conversational topics, I am better equipped to connect with individuals from various backgrounds, helping to bridge gaps in understanding and foster unity.
During my time at Martha Stewart, I received recognition for my talent and was able to rise through the ranks from senior designer to VP of Product Development and Design Direction. While I have not directly faced the challenges of Asian hate crimes or glass ceiling issues, I am committed to supporting others who have and making a difference within my community.
To promote understanding and unity, I leverage my skills and talents to initiate conversations and break down barriers between people of different backgrounds. My artwork, which includes pieces such as a cup sleeve with an animal silhouette or a paper sculpture of French fries, is designed to bring people together and foster a sense of connection.
I remain dedicated to doing my part to address issues like Asian hate crimes and the Asian glass ceiling by actively promoting unity and understanding within my community. Through my creative endeavors and engagement in meaningful conversations, I hope to contribute to a more inclusive and harmonious society.
Iroha: Based on your background, do you have any advice or a message for young people who want to follow in your footsteps?
Akira: I recommend embracing your roots and life experiences to form a unique design philosophy. During my time at RISD, I was eager to collaborate with Japanese craftspeople, but I needed more experience. This involved working for different companies and traveling back to Japan to observe traditional crafts and understand the creation of cherished objects.
I encourage younger generations to take their time and cultivate a unique mindset. The world is filled with information, but the crucial part is how you consume, analyze, and filter your own individual thoughts. This understanding will enable you to tackle not just design but also the reasoning behind new creations.
Iroha: Outside of work, what are you most interested in right now?
Akira: Outside of work, I am currently interested in visiting museums and galleries in NYC with my wife, seeking inspiration and taking photos. I cherish the quiet moments we share sitting in Central Park or Carl Schurz Park over coffee while dog- and people-watching. I also enjoy cooking at home, where the recent addition of a traditional donabe (clay pot) from Nagatanien has significantly improved our rice dishes.