City in a Suitcase: Designer Daisuke Kitagawa Offers Insight into Tokyo’s Culture

Our City in a Suitcase series takes a closer look at the art, design and architecture through the eyes of four international cities and creatives who live and work in them. Each will pack a TUMI 19 Degree suitcase full of items that they feel best represents their city’s culture. Take a look:

12.14.16 | By
City in a Suitcase: Designer Daisuke Kitagawa Offers Insight into Tokyo’s Culture


In many ways Tokyo is just like London, New York, or Hong Kong. It’s a densely populated city that dazzles with its bright lights and impresses with its diverse culture. But it is also uniquely Japanese. From the iconic Shibuya crossing, where people stream across five crosswalks simultaneously, to the musical restrooms, Tokyo is an absolute one-off. Having grown up in rural Shiga and graduated from Kanazawa College of Art with a product design major, designer Daisuke Kitagawa decided to make the Japanese capital his home. He worked as a product designer for NEC Corporation, a Japanese technology company, for ten years before setting up his own studio, Design for Industry, in 2015.



We visited Daisuke in his Tokyo studio to talk about how he works, where he goes for inspiration and what life is like in Tokyo for an industrial designer.

Since we can’t all explore the delights of Tokyo, we asked Daisuke to choose a selection of items to represent the city he loves. His choices include must-have travel items, products by friends, innovative Japanese technology and traditional hand-crafted objects.

Here’s a list of Daisuke’s selections, together with explanations of why he included each one:


Chazutzu copper tea caddy by Kaikado
This tea caddy was made in Kyoto by Kaikado and the copper will change color as it ages. It is a famous craft and design product in Japan – the lid is designed to slide down perfectly. This product inspired my Pond candleholders, especially with regard to the use of materials and how they age.


Wooden dolls
I used these as a reference when I designed my own wooden dolls. They were designed by Japanese designer Sori Yanagi in the 1960s and are made in the North of Japan, where the traditional Japanese wooden dolls are made. They are made in two simple forms, and it’s up to you to decide which one is male and which one is female.


Sake set
This sake set is also by Sori Yanagi and is designed for drinking Japanese sake, or you can also use the vessel as a vase for flowers. They have very good shapes – they are not too stoic or too loose, they have a nice balance. The color is also not too white like bone china – it’s a softer white. I think these simple designs have influenced designers all over the world.


Textile scarf
This is an example of traditional Japanese folk art – it is sewn by hand in the North of Japan. Many patterns have been created by a simple stitch, but the color of the pattern and the background are very similar, so you only notice the pattern close up. I like that the detail has all been created by hand and not by a machine.


Usuhari glass
The Usuhari glass is made by the Shotoku Glass Co, a very famous glass company in Japan established in 1922 that originally made light bulbs. They use the same hand-blowing technique to create the incredibly thin walls of this glass. I often take one of these as a gift when I travel overseas for business trips – it’s a very Japanese style, a very sensitive design.


THE hand cream, soy sauce bottle, glass, and toothbrush
THE was founded by four people, one of whom is Keita Suzuki – my best friend and also a product designer. He really inspires me – there’s definitely a friendly rivalry between us! The company is attempting to set a new standard in each category, so every product does something special. THE GLASS has three sizes – Short, Tall (picture), and Grande and they’re inspired by each size of Starbucks coffee’s paper cup; and the soy sauce bottle is spill-proof; the toothbrush – a collaboration with Yumeshokunin Co. Ltd – stands on its own; and the hand cream contains shea butter.


Dust pan and brush
It’s important for a designer to start with a clean space before they can relax and start work. This dust pan and brush are coated with persimmon juice to prevent static. I bought them on Kappabashi Street (“Kitchen Street”) in Tokyo – a whole street of stores where restaurants buy their wares.


Pens and pencils
Functional stationery is very Japanese. Pentel’s marker pens don’t go through to the other side of the paper, and Pilot’s Frixion ball point pen and Pilot’s colored pencils (above) can both be completely erased with the eraser on the tip, with no damage to the paper, so it’s easy to draw something and if you make a mistake, it can be erased easily. These products are setting a new standard in stationery.


Washi tape
I always bring gifts if I go to a foreign country, and I often take MT Masking tape. It has become very popular overseas, but I think it’s just very functional which is a very Japanese characteristic.


Notebook cover
This book cover is designed by Naoto Fukasawa – a friend of Jasper Morrison – for Siwa. It’s made of shoji paper and ages beautifully.


Japanese tea leaves
Kaga stick tea is my favorite type of tea – it’s made from the stem of the tea, rather than the leaf. I always bring this with me to Milan Design Week, because I stay for two weeks and I miss Japanese tea.


KiU air-light umbrella
This umbrella folds down to a really tiny size so it’s easy to bring with you, but it still unfolds up to the size of a normal collapsable umbrella.

Shirt [not pictured]
I always wear a white shirt and black trousers and a black sweater or jacket. My shirts are all made by Brooks Brothers. They were established in 1818 and were the first button-down shirt in the world.


This is a scarf I designed, each colorway is inspired by the sky at different times of night or day.


I’ve included one book by Sori Yanagi, because he’s one of the most famous Japanese product designers in the world. Jasper Morrison has been very inspired by his work. The other book is by Serizawa Keisuke who is less famous globally, but very influential in Japan.


This is a charm for the mind and the body. On the first day of every month I visit the shrine to pray for my family and my work, because when I was a child my father also went to the shrine on the first day of the month, so it’s one of my routines to do the same. I really like the atmosphere of the shrines and the temple – they are so clean and quiet. I’m sure their design and primitive architecture must inspire all Japanese designers. I carry a charm with me at all times.

Where are some of your favorite places to shop for local art and design in Tokyo?

This post is in partnership with TUMI. Our partners are hand-picked by the Design Milk team because they represent the best in design.

Katie Treggiden is a purpose-driven journalist, author and, podcaster championing a circular approach to design – because Planet Earth needs better stories. She is also the founder and director of Making Design Circular, a program and membership community for designer-makers who want to join the circular economy. With 20 years' experience in the creative industries, she regularly contributes to publications such as The Guardian, Crafts Magazine and Monocle24 – as well as being Editor at Large for Design Milk. She is currently exploring the question ‘can craft save the world?’ through an emerging body of work that includes her fifth book, Wasted: When Trash Becomes Treasure (Ludion, 2020), and a podcast, Circular with Katie Treggiden.