Japan’s Minimalist Version of Lego Is Actually Awesome


Tsumiki, dubbed “Japanese Lego”, is a children’s toy that was designed by Kengo Kuma, a well-known Japanese designer, and the organisation More Trees, which promotes forest conservation. The article is an exposé on Tsumiki, and a comparison between Tsumiki and its Scandinavian counterpart, LEGO. The author compares them in two ways, via the material of the object and the shape of the objects. 

Tsumiki has been designed to look and be natural, it is made of cedar wood, takes a triangular form that is suggestive of trees and mountains and the pieces are intended to be laid one on top of another like a pile of branches. This aesthetic affinity with nature aligns Tsumiki structures to forests and natural environments. LEGO on the other hand is cuboidal in shape, connects with precision and is made of a long lasting plastic. LEGO has the same pragmatic values of our modern architectural building blocks and thus reminds us of the urban built-up environment which most of the world lives in.

The author refers to LEGO as being plastic bricks that are “not pretty” and says that Tsumiki is “lovely”, there is a clear bias towards the aesthetic of ‘primal nature’ which is not unusual for design writers who have a high regard for Japanese design.

Tsumiki is an extension of Kuma’s architectural work, where the reflection of nature plays a large role. His intention for Tsumiki was to design the ‘blocks’ to replicate the weaving of twigs in order to create ‘natural’ forms, however this is a diluted activity that has become a codified nature focused activity (Kirby, 2011:69). 

Tsumiki is also touted as being environmentally conscious as it is made of sustainably harvested cedar(sugi) from the Miyazaki prefecture. This raises both the monetary value and status of the object giving it a particular appeal to urbanites. Tsumiki can be seen as one of the many commodities of Japan’s natural environment that have been ‘wrapped’ and sold to urbanites. (Moon. 1997) This is further seen in packaging of Tsumiki where the blocks are kept in small house-shaped boxes with high ‘roofs’: a nod to the rural landscape that is seen as a more peaceful habitat where the residents are in touch with nature.

In truth, is Tsumiki really that different from LEGO? Tsumiki does aesthetically reflect ‘primal nature’, which both the designer and the author are appreciating and admiring.

Both LEGO and Tsumiki are attempts to have control within our environments and as inspirational toys for building new structures. In addition, Tsumiki may inspire a love for the aesthetic of nature, and in this way it may also have an impact in promoting the protection of nature.

The article ends off by describing a window to the future, it suggests that Tsumiki is a toy that, much as LEGO has done, will inspire future architects with the values it inherently embodies. However, as we continue to dilute the essence of nature by commodifying and defining it, this purely superficial interpretation of nature continues to proliferate.

Word Count: 508


Rhodes, Margaret. “Japan’s Minimalist Version of Lego Is Actually Awesome” WIRED. Web. 24 Sept. 2016. http://kkaa.co.jp/works/products/tsumiki/.

Kongo Kuma and Associates. “Tsumiki” Kengo Kuma and Associates. Web. 26 Sept. 2016. 


Kirby, P. W. (2011). Troubled natures: waste, environment, Japan. Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press: 69-75.

Moon, Okpyo. “Marketing Nature in Rural Japan.” Japanese Images of Nature(1997): 221-35. Print. 

Mountain Day – A New Holiday to “Celebrate” Japan’s Nature

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Mt. Yakedake, Kamikochi

Mt. Yakedake, courtesy of Teruhide, 2010

Starting from this year (2016), Japan welcomes Mountain Day (山の日) as the sixteenth public holiday to be celebrated annually on 11 August.

First enacted by the Diet in May 2014, it simultaneously served as a response to the lobbying efforts of the Japanese Alpine Club and various mountain hobbyists, who wanted to celebrate Japan’s plentiful mountains – rather fittingly, seeing as the nation is made up of 70% mountainous terrains. The month (八) was chosen for its symbolic resemblance to the silhouette of the mountain while the authorities in the mountainous regions have already set aside the date beforehand.

Officially, the objective is to provide “opportunities to get familiar with mountains and appreciate blessings from mountains” (Office Holidays, 2016), reinforcing the global image of the immanent love Japanese have for nature, and confirming the practice of deriving cultures from nature (Kirby, 2011:75). Ignoring the fact that just one-third of the population knew about the holiday, and only 10% of those who knew were actually contemplating a hiking trip, surely there is more to revering the great summits for the Diet to pass it as a holiday.

It is no secret that Japan has been grappling with her economic stagnation since the economic bubble burst in the early 1990s, and from the capitalism viewpoint, Mountain Day (or any holiday) is a potential boost to the declining consumerism. The ¥820 billion windfall projected by The Japan Times and its ready commoditisation by the “tourism, leisure, hospitality, transportation and retail industries” is simply too good to miss (Yui & Urabe, 2016). As a member of the Group of Eight (comprising of highly-industralised nations), Japan not only stands out for having the highest number of holidays but in furthering the image of ‘Green Japan’ for her “overt” appreciation of nature.

Together with other nature-themed holidays like Greenery Day (04/05) and Marine Day (20/07), it is inevitable to consider Japan and nature-loving synonymous as she constantly presents a self-conscious image of being in-touch with nature, even when evidence showed that most people are utilising such holidays to rest at home (Otake, 2016). It should be noted that most of these “nature-oriented” holidays mask political origins – Greenery Day was formerly called Shōwa Day to celebrate Shōwa Emperor’s birthday, but later amended to recognise the controversial wartime Emperor’s fondness for nature without explicit mention of his name (BBC News, 2005).

However, to some extent, Mountain Day does deflect the argument by Kalland (1997) that Japanese “place…greater value on satisfactions derived from control and mastery over nature…rather than seeking harmony” (Kalland, A. and P. J. Asquith,1997:7) by acknowledging the grandeur of mountains and its volatile tendencies. As mentioned earlier, this is not solely a top-down decision, but advocated by the efforts of local alpinists, reminiscent of “The culture of public participation” highlighted by Howard (1997), and speaks of their sincere appreciation for nature (Howard, 1999:427). Regardless, the illusion of ‘Green Japan’ still stands as ultimately, only a small percent actually celebrates the day for its namesake, therefore making it not representative of Japan’s love of nature.

498 Words


BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Japan names day after Hirohito. (2005). News.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 18 September 2016, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4543461.stm

Howard, T. (1999). Japan’s green resources: Forest conversation and social values. Agriculture And Human Values, 16: 421- 430.

Kalland, A. and P. J. Asquith (1997). Japanese perceptions of nature: ideals and illusions. Japanese Images of Nature. P. J. Asquith and A. Kalland. Richmond, UK, Curzon: 1-7.

Kirby, P. W. (2011). Troubled natures: waste, environment, Japan. Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press: 69-75.

Mountain Day | Japanese Public Holidays | Office Holidays. (2016). Officeholidays.com. Retrieved 18 September 2016, from http://www.officeholidays.com/countries/japan/mountain-day.php

Otake, T. (2016). A third of Japan unaware of Mountain Day as holiday makes its debut | The Japan Times. The Japan Times. Retrieved 18 September 2016, from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/08/10/national/third-japan-unaware-mountain-day-holiday-makes-debut/#.V95SdDvYofg

Teruhide, T. (2010). Volcano Mountain Yakedake. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/kamomebird/5150232965

Yui, M. & Urabe, E. (2016). Japan firms to see sales peak over new Mountain Day holiday | The Japan Times. The Japan Times. Retrieved 18 September 2016, from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/08/10/business/japan-firms-see-sales-peak-new-mountain-day-holiday/#.V95T5zvYrjZ