–You have a lot of projects now that are about “food.” Are you attracted to this subject?

“I’m not sure if you can call it being attracted to it…maybe I’m unintentionally attracted to it.”

–Were you originally particular about food since you were young?

“No (laughs). But I’ve become more familiar with it since I started working on Kirin Beverage’s “Sekai no Kitchen Kara”* Before working on “Sekai no Kitchen Kara,” I worked with beer which is totally different. The rules about making beer is defined; and it starts with turning barley sprouts into malt. Malt is important; and to this, hops and yeast are added. The yeast probably does something like this (Mr. Miyata draws a picture of yeast on a white board).

There are yeast with big mouths, and yeast who look gentle with small mouths. (The brewer) has to choose which yeast to use among a stupendous number of yeast. The beer’s taste completely changes depending on the yeast chosen. The deliciousness and bitterness of yeast are related to malt and yeast. And the rest would be time and temperature. When you drink freshly-brewed beer and ask ‘Which part did you change? What did you change?,’ (the brewer would say) ‘Brewing time was 30 minutes longer,” or ‘I tried raising the temperature by 5 degrees.’ I knew this much (detail) but aside from this, I didn’t know much about food.”

–I see. How yeast is used in beer-making is indeed important.

“Yes. It’s the same in cooking. Making the best use of ingredients (or not) depends on steaming for a long time, simmering for a long time, cooking slowly over a low flame, or cooking quickly at once over a high heat. It’s the same with beer. And the rest is about intuition.

But upon working on “Sekai no Kitchen Kara,” I got entangled with things like salt, sugar, sweet rice wine, fruit sugars and other kinds of things. In the beginning I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Things like ‘It would be good to do this with the lemon salt.’ Not understanding at all, I thought, ‘What the heck is that?’ (laughs). I would know the name (of something) but it’s something I haven’t looked it up before. I drink alcoholic beverages but not liqueurs. Things like that. But everyone else around me would drink and eat (those things). They would say things like ‘That Spanish dish is good,’ and ‘What would happen if we turn that flavor into juice.’ I thought, ‘What are they saying?’ (laughs)”

–Was it like that in the beginning?

“Yes, yes. I didn’t know anything 8 years ago. But I learned little by little.”

–Does that mean you have begun eating while being aware of different things?

“Little by little, you’d begin to understand the things you don’t know by studying, right? About the kinds of salt, of sugar. Things like how they are made.”

–How much studying did you do?

“I just go with the flow.”

–But looking back, don’t you feel that you’ve used up most of 1 month studying, or studying 1-2 hours in a day?

“For example, I start studying not for copy-writing, but for when I want to organize the words that I don’t know. Once I’ve understood (the words) after researching, or when there’s something I’d like to be more familiar with, I write everything down first. When I write things down, I naturally memorize them.

–Does overdoing research lead to gathering (lots of information)?

“Well, (information is) never-ending. Just by changing one research method, you’ll get different information. It’s like hopping from one thing to another. If you’re looking for nutritional information, you’ll find nutritional information but nothing about flavor. When you look up flavor, there’s too much information about it that you forget about nutritional information. Then you have to go back to nutritional information.”

–When you have to look up nutritional information, and you begin to look up flavor and get interested in it, I think you’d go straight to flavor. The impression I have of you is that you break through things (laughs).

“Yes. And the rest is about intuition. That’s because I think that all living things are the same in the sense that all living things eat and die, and are recycled through the food chain. I have no qualms about deciding on my own that “It’s this way,” or “It’s that way” because when I ask the experts, my thinking (intuition) matches theirs (anyway).”

–You mention the word “experts” a lot. Are you conscious of this word which is why you say it often?

“No, I say it without really realizing it. Later on when I talk to them, I absorb what they say if I think it’s plausible.

–Is there anything you’d like to work in “food” right now?

“Hmm, I wonder. I think anything would be ok.

–Does that mean that if it’s food, you’ll enjoy anything?

“Yes. But the impetus for latching onto tips about enjoying anything probably lies in the Forestry Agency job that I worked on when I was 28 years old. I was creating a book about trees for children and I would often pass by an experimental forestry station at Tsukuba Science City. I had to interview a lot of people for that book, and I talked to many teachers; after which I drew pictures for the book. They were surprised that I drew the pictures on the spot. They said, “We always try to express what you’ve drawn in those pictures in words, which is difficult to do. The readers don’t understand what we’re trying to express (in words) so it’s a problem. But in pictures, it’s so easy to understand.” I was only in my 20s but they respected me and I respected them; and I listened to their stories about trees for a long time.

–I see…

“That’s when I understood how amazing trees are; how humans are no match for trees. A tree’s ability to survive and its cold-bloodedness are amazing – it’s amazing that in order to survive, it’s ok for the tree to kill as many other trees as needed. That being the case, a tree creates a structure that allows it to be alright if it itself dies. It gives nourishment to the soil; its fruit, depending on where it lands, will bear the tree’s offspring. Turtles, fish and other animals give birth to many children together, but there are trees whose survival rate is only about one in a thousand. A tree that drops its fruit below it means that it thinks that it doesn’t mind dying; when it thinks that even if the mother dies, the child will live. To this extent, the tree creates a structure where sunlight (for the fruit’s seeds) will pierce through itself. On the other hand, it’s not good for a tree for its fruit to fall directly under it, so the fruit has a color like red or yellow. In other words, the color of the fruit differs from the color of the leaves, so that those who can differentiate between colors such as birds and humans can eat the fruit. Also, there are bears that climb up trees to eat the fruit – and they remember by smell and shape that these could be eaten (laughs). This happens sometimes but basically it’s the birds that eat the fruit then and there, then excrete (the seeds) somewhere else. Monkeys too bring the fruits somewhere else to eat them. Fruits with color are brought to faraway places; and if they are brought to places where they can survive, they will (grow into trees).”

–So that’s it, fruits with color. It’s because trees themselves want to live year after year.

“For pine trees, their seeds twirl and are blown away. Pine trees are old needle-leaved trees so they are much weaker than broad-leaved trees. Pine trees don’t grow in fertilized soil; and in areas with very bad soil, only pine trees grow. Pine trees will only be killed by broad-leaved trees in places with soil ideal for broad-leaved trees. Therefore, only seeds that are blown into places with bad soil thrive. There are pine trees that grow on the sand of coastlines. Only pine trees grow in places where there are no grass or weeds below. Splendid pine trees grow in places where one’s offspring shouldn’t be able to thrive right?

–Yes.

“In places like those, nothing can get in their way so they live up to thousands of years. That’s the balance between the strength and weakness that trees have. With many enemies around them, and in order to have its offspring thrive somewhere, each tree spreads its seeds that matches its capabilities. The teachers taught me lots of things – don’t you think plants are amazing? You’d think that humans surely do the same things. We have wisdom so we don’t kill people. I thought that trees don’t have wisdom like people do but they have knowledge on how to survive.

Basically, we (humans) are all territorial so we’re like trees in this sense, right? It’s a different kind of thinking about being territorial but humans are also very territorial so if someone unnecessary comes along, we will tend to kick that person out. ‘It’s my turf’ even applies to insects and monkeys. Because they have their own territories, anything else that comes in will be driven out. Plants are the same. Birds, cows, human beings – living things are all the same.

–That’s true.

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–Is there any other industry aside from “food” that you would like to work in?

“My criteria for choosing a job are food, clothing, shelter, entertainment and (my) energy. If I keep these in mind, nothing will go wrong. Even without reading books, I can state my opinions just by using my thoughts. Anything other than this, and even if I have my own opinion, it will always be easily dismissed with an “It’s not that.” There are things in our daily lives that it doesn’t matter whether they are there or not. For example, we can still live even without smart phones; we can still live even without stocks. If you think about it, there are things in this world that we really need and don’t need. I find things that are involved with food, clothing and shelter interesting.

–As I thought, (you’re interested) only in interesting jobs (laughs).

“More than interesting, and including whether the industry in question is needed or not, there are many things that I am drawn to when I think of whether it’s needed as a job or not. For example, a hammer is important, right? Pots and knives are important too, right? Fire is also important. There is also no house that doesn’t have a pencil for taking down notes in everyday life. There is also no family that says ‘we don’t have fire’ when asked to cook something.

You can’t live without having the absolute minimum. The absolute minimum corresponds to food, clothing and shelter. This also includes the most basic needs for daily living. All these are included in my work. The time when I did the magazine ad for Yokogawa Electric was interesting. During that time, I went to see Japan’s top scholars. I went to interview these brilliant teachers.

–How old were you then?

“I think I was 39 years old. It was an interesting project! Simply put, I learned various things about elements. Most of the substances in the world are also inside our bodies and anywhere else. The stone in this table also contains various substances; and the stone itself has energy, and we live our lives because (of these). This is true of all living things, and these relationships don’t change.”

–As I thought you like learning, or perhaps I should say, you like gaining knowledge and then providing the solution. Just like your role in (the collaborative project with) Kyoto Institute of Technology. (Mr. Miyata has been the Head of the Kyoto Design Lab since 2014. http://www.d-lab.kit.ac.jp)

“Because it’s interesting. At my age, there are still a lot of things that I don’t know. But by just talking to people for an hour or two and believing that you’ve learned something completely is also a very dangerous thing.

–Well, that’s true.

“But because my basis for things are the lessons that I’ve learned about trees during my 20s, I think that things ‘are the same!’ Basically they’re the same, and the only things that are different are the physical objects. Therefore, the more I learn about things, the more they are connected to something. Everything is made up of the same things. The moment when I thought that the universe is composed of the same substances, my job in food became easier to understand.”

–Food comes in different forms but fundamentally all food revolves around the ecosystem.

“In a sense, when you think that way, there’s no need to quarrel. It’s only people’s shallowness that comes into play.”

–At what age does that philosophic view of the essentials emerge? Or have you always had that view?

“I have no idea (laughs).”

— Do you have some sort of inkling as to when you started thinking this way, for example in what decade of your life?

“My friends for almost 50 years tell me I’ve been like this from way back. Even when I say ‘Well, what?’ they don’t say anything else but ‘Is that so?’. It seems that my nature of arguing for argument’s sake has been there since way back.

–Because you’re thinking of pursuing the essentials.

“But maybe it’s just because I think it’s necessary to put meaning in what I’m doing. I was saved when I had that Forestry Agency job. If I didn’t have that job, I probably wouldn’t have known where to go (what to do). The moment when I thought that I’m no match for trees…

–Up to that point, were you the kind of person to just go, go, go (laughs)?

“Yes, I was (laughs).”

–Hahaha!

“Confidence is precisely everything; the time when you lose confidence is the end. That’s when I thought that everything else is trivial after my encounter with trees.

–That nature is indeed immense.

“There’s no match for it. Something that doesn’t seem to think like a tree is thinking with all its might and is perfectly alive. The interesting thing is that in forests with planted cedars, there’s always one large, tall tree. Even though 15 years have passed since the planting, and the mountain has turned into a lush, beautiful place, there will always be one big tree. That tree becomes tall by shoving down every other tree. I don’t know why, but somehow there will always be a chief, a boss.”

–Something like a target close by.

“Yes. While a tree grows tall, it also always grows sideways, up until it’s very close to the tree next to it. This is called crown closure, by the way. Sunlight does not reach the forest floor, making it very dark. In that dark place, trees don’t grow and the soil becomes wet. When it rains, the ground is swept away, leaving mostly bedrock. In the end, all trees fall down. To prevent this, a tree kills the one next to it so that it can live. If that doesn’t happen, a person fells the tree next to it, which is called periodic thinning. I’ve been teaching others about this thinning. Since it’s a planted forest, thinning can’t be helped but trees in nature kill and are killed. So in natural forests with fallen trees, you can see how the surrounding trees have closed in on them, assailing them. For these trees, just when they think that a nice breeze is coming, they fall down with a thud. These relationships of survival that are in place is the way of those age-old mountains. Since learning about this, everything that I’ve thought has changed.”

(Interviewer:Akio Hayazaki)

*Translator’s note: “Sekai no Kitchen Kara” is a beverage line that literally means “From the Kitchens of the World.”

 

▼Back Nomber
Part 1 of A Dialogue with Satoru Miyata: Preparation is Courage
 

 

miyata
Satoru Miyata
Born in 1948 in Chiba Prefecture. CEO of DRAFT Inc.. Creative Director. Joined the Nippon Design Center in 1966. Received an honorable mention from the Japan Advertising Artists Club in 1969. After leaving the Nippon Design Center in 1970, established the Satoru Miyata Design Office in 1978. The company name was changed to DRAFT in 1989. Launched D-BROS in 1995, and commenced product design development and sales. Awarded the Asahi Advertising Award, the ADC Tokyo Art Directors Club Grand Prize, and the Yamana Prize of the Japan Advertising Awards. Subject of the book “Design Suru Na” (Don’t Design) by Keiichiro Fujisaki / DNP Art Communications.

 

hayazaki

Akio Hayazaki
Born in 1972 in Gifu Prefecture. Company Director of DRAFT Inc.. In charge of the D-BROS Project since February 2014.