Modern Japan has retained many of its traditional arts and crafts while leading the world in hi-tech fields. This unique mix has led to a distinctive aesthetic that makes its designers sought after the world over.

Be it the architecture of  Tadao Ando or the fashion of  Yohji Yamamoto, the same simplicity and strength of form is always present. Today’s Japanese product designers may not be household names like Philippe Starck or Marcel Wanders, but this is more from their avoidance of self-promotion rather than lack of industry recognition.

The furniture of architect Kazuhide Takahama and designer Shiro Kuramata were some of the earliest post-modern Japanese designs to garner world acclaim. Takahama pioneered block polyurethane foam seating as early as 1957, and came up with successful soft seating designs like the Suzanne range (now produced by Knoll). Kuramata began his own practice in 1965 and was designing for Cappellini by 1968; in the ’80s, his clients included Vitra and Philippe Starck’s XO. Kuramata’s How High the Moon chair (Vitra) and Revolving cabinet (Cappellini) are now considered 20th-century classics.

In the ’80s, Shigeru Uchida designed boutiques for Yohji Yamamoto and produced Memphis-style furniture. His output now shows more of a Zen-like minimalism, as seen in his work for Dutch furniture firm Pastoe and Japanese lighting brand Yamagiwa.

Naoto Fukasawa, born in 1956, is one of the world’s mostly highly regarded product designers, with more than 50 awards to his name. His acclaimed wall-mounted CD player for Muji in 1999 led to commissions from Yamagiwa and Artemide for lighting and B&B Italia, Magis and Driade for furniture and accessories. His firm ±0 produces beautiful but simple household objects.

A little younger but still with A-class credentials, 41-year-old Tokujin Yoshioka began working with fashion icon Issey Miyake and designer Shiro Kuramata before setting up his own firm in 2000. As well as designing interior spaces such as the Issey Miyake shop in Tokyo and exhibitions for Muji, Hermès and Peugeot, he has designed plastic furniture for Driade and, more recently, soft seating for Moroso. His recent pieces mixing handmade techniques with hi-tech materials, as seen in the Panna chair, have floored the world’s design cognoscenti.

Nendo, founded by architect Oki Sato in 2002, is one of the most exciting young design firms. Its creations include lights for Oluce and furniture for Swedese and De Padova – along with the acclaimed Ribbon stools for Cappellini.

Junya Ishigami and fashion designer Tamae Hirokawa were responsible for Canon’s ‘Neoreal’ installations at Milan Design Week 2008. A likely candidate
to cross over into other design disciplines, Ishigami is the brightest young star in Japanese contemporary architecture.