Tokyo calling

Ahead of a Dubai Futures exhibition at Tokyo Designers Week 2011, Laura Adcock considers how cultural synergies that exist between the UAE and Japan are merging to influence both countries’ design scenes

In recent years Dubai’s Japanese community has flourished and, with more than 2,400 Japanese nationals now calling the emirate home, an inevitable merging of the two cultures is making itself apparent from the malls of Shinjuku to the walkways of downtown Dubai.

Japan and Dubai may be separated by 5,000 miles, but with many cultural synergies between them it is perhaps only natural that their respective artistic and creative ventures are being influenced by each other.

The size of the manga sections in bookstores in Dubai is testimony to the fact that young people in the emirate are increasingly turning their gaze to the East for inspiration. Emirati author Qais Sedki’s Gold Ring series is a prime example of the two cultures merging to create a new artistic offering, the manga-inspired comic series follows the adventures of an Emirati boy called Sultan and is illustrated by Akira Himekawa – a female duo of Japanese comic book artists. The author is due to unveil the second installment at Tokyo Designers Week 2011, an annual event that brings over 100,000 people together to discuss global creativity.

Yumi Yamaguchi, an art producer based in Tokyo, believes the Japanese and Emirati approaches to art and design bear a number of similarities, explaining that both see an established art scene as an important reflection of cultural heritage rather than simply an industry that will prove valuable for the economy. “The UAE resembles Japan because it has not industrialised art, instead it feels a strong necessity as a country to support artists.”

From Dubai's artistic base has sprung a design scene rich in Emirati heritage, though many artists feel the diverse cultural influences in the region are helping to create offerings that are attracting attention from further afield. Khalid Shafar, a Dubai furniture designer who will also be at Tokyo Designers Week 2011 to launch his 2012 collection, believes the many synergies between Japanese and Emirati culture and their creative techniques will help him achieve compelling designs. “Both countries have a lot of knowledge of marquetry techniques, and the Japanese, like Emiratis, take great inspiration from nature, so I am keen to learn more about their methods.” Shafar’s furniture collection forms part of Dubai Futures: The Emirate’s Emerging Art Scene, an exhibition taking place in Tokyo and hosted by Brownbook magazine showcasing some of the talent to be found within the emirate, and the designer is expecting to take inspiration from his Japanese counterparts: “The UAE and the Japanese are keen to engage in a dialogue about what our two cultures have to offer each other.”

• Tokyo Designers Week, 1-6 November, main venue: 2-3 Kasumigaoka-machi, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-001; and registered stores, cafes and galleries in Tokyo

• Dubai Futures: The Emirate’s Emerging Art Scene, 1-6 November, Meiji Jingu Gaien, Tokyo Designers Week