Mr Hashimoto’s Chou Chou effect
Jun 1, 2014
“To design not the material, but the ambiance” - the motto of Japanese interior und lighting designer Yukio Hashimoto. Photo © Martina Metzner, Stylepark

His interior designs are simply amazing: If you ever get to eat in in a restaurant designed by Yukio Hashimoto, such as Ten, Suikyo-Tei or the dining space in Tokyo’s Peninsula Hotel, you will not forget their special ambiance, a carefully composed and elegant symphony with soft, yet very precise lighting effects. Yukio Hashimoto is one of Japan’s best-known interior designers, who combines traditional themes with modern aspects in a very sophisticated, and at times poetic and funny way. With the support of his 18-strong team of employees at his Tokyo-based studio Hashimoto Yukio Design Inc., he creates restaurants and much more besides: spas, clinics, hotels, retail stores, and private homes, mainly in Japan but also abroad, for example in China, Taiwan and the United States. Plus he lectures at the Tokyo Polytechnic University. In February Yukio Hashimoto at this year’s Ambiente, the annual trade fair for consumer goods in Frankfurt, Germany, he was art director of the Japan-themed special exhibition.

Martina Metzner: I read about your philosophy on your Website. Instead of a long explanation I found the following motto: “To design not the material, but the ambiance: that is our goal.” Could you elaborate on this?

Yukio Hashimoto: It means creating a good environment, not a good product. The balance has to be right. When designing a product, I already think about the ambiance, the surrounding atmosphere.

How come you have created so many restaurants?

Hashimoto: It’is a kind of coincidence that there are so many restaurants, it’s not like I have a particular passion about them. I simply do what I’m commissioned to do. That said, a restaurant is a special place, so it needs a matching interior design. You go there to celebrate a special occasion, eat something extraordinary. In that sence it’s a good place to realize my ideas.

Your interior designs speak a particular Japanese design language, in that they combine strong traditional aspects with modern aspects. Could you explain your approach?

Hashimoto: Japan is very rich in traditions. Unfortunately huge efforts are being made to modernize things, with many old traditions lost in the process. This is very sad, so I try to create something that takes aspects from both worlds. Take traditions and create something new from it.

Apart from the traditional theme, I felt that there is a lot of poetry in your architecture and design. Just to mention two examples: The butterflies that are suspended from the coverings in the Chou Chou club or the luminaires in Ten, which remind me of bird cages.

Hashimoto: I like the cute things combined with little stories. At Ten it’s an expression of my humor, exactly. I wanted to show something in a fun way.

Another aspect I often find in your work is that you like to implement nature.

Hashimoto: I like to use natural materials. They are more profound than industrial materials. Warmer, longer lasting, sometimes they even last up to 100 years. That is why I tend to work more with natural materials. Another idea is to bring nature into interior rooms, into the cities, where we are losing the feel for nature. Especially at the hotels and restaurants in the middle of Tokyo. I’d like for people to get in touch with nature again.

What is fascinating about lighting and designing light in interior designs?

Hashimoto: A well-conceived space has to have a good lighting. When I create restaurants or other spaces, I always consider the lighting. Usually I think of lighting first. I often bounce ideas with lighting designers. So we formulate the lighting concept, like an image, warm or cold light, direct or indirect light. We have a concrete idea which the lighting designers then realize.

Let’s talk about restaurant designs: What is your special approach to lighting in restaurants?

Hashimoto: Restaurants are places for special occasions. I often opt for dramatic lighting effects, like in a good movie. In a romantic restaurant setting you might do something with pink. It depends on the concept.

You also work with LEDs. How do you like this new lighting technology? And how do you use it?

Hashimoto: LEDs helped me a lot. Before LEDs I had many ideas that couldn't be realized. Now that’s possible, thanks to LEDs. They are really tiny and compact – and don’t heat up. That is why I love LEDs.

Could you mention examples?

Hashimoto: Take “Moonbird”, for example, my wooden table lamp. Without LEDs there was no way of realizing it because it is made out of wood. It would have bent from the heat. Now, with LEDs I can combine light with natural materials, wood or clay. Thanks to this technology old traditional things can be used.

Last question: Why it is worth looking to Japan when it comes to design?

Hashimoto: We Japanese have quite a unique approach to architecture and design. Japan is strong in basic thinking and designing. Everything is simple. It behaves like Origami. A single sheet of paper can be formed in many different ways. So even though Japanese design is simple, it is flexible and functional. We have this basic essential approach, and we can expand it in new ways. I want people to become familiar with this basic and simple way of thinking. Because I think it will help you create something exciting.

MORE on Stylepark:

The City as Built Forest: Ayako Kamozawa met Sou Fujimoto in Tokyo and talked to him about his concept of order.
(12 May 2011)

Dramatic lighting effects for restaurants like for the Toraji Ginza in Tokio – this is the maxim by Yukio Hashimoto. Photo © Nacasa and Partners Inc.
Tradition combined with modernity: Yukio Hashimoto designed the interior of the restaurant Lei Garden in Shanghai. Photo © Nacasa and Partners Inc.
Lighting design stands at the beginning: At Tokyo restaurant Suikyo Tei (English: ring of water) are projected on the floorings. Photo © Nacasa and Partners Inc.
Small, nice things with a history: club Chou Choi in Tokyo, designed by Yukio Hashimoto. Photo © Nacasa and Partners Inc.
Sophisticated luxury: Yukio Hashimoto designed the whole interior of the high-class hotel Peninsula in Tokyo. Photo © Nacasa and Partners Inc.
For his lamp “Moonbird” for Japanese manufacturer Yamagiwa Yukio Hashimoto combined wood with LED. Photo © Nacasa and Partners Inc.
Bringing nature in the city: wedding hall by Yukio Hashimoto at public garden Happo-En in Tokyo. Photo © Nacasa and Partners Inc.