Interview: The Future of Kawaii Construction Sites Discussed by ASOBISYSTEM & kajikawa Construction’s Company Presidents
kajikawa Construction CO.,LTD was established in Hekinan, Aichi 114 years ago, and throughout its long history it has sought to break down existing conventions and innovate within the industry. Last year, the company began its collaboration with ASOBISYSTEM. For instance, kajikawa built and set up a photo booth at MOSHI MOSHI NIPPON FESTIVAL 2018 while ASOBISYSTEM worked on the design of kajikawa’s company logo and company brochure. This year, both companies are set to strengthen their partnership as they announce a large-scale construction project centred around kawaii (cute) designs. I spoke to Yusuke Nakagawa (President, ASOBISYSTEM CO., LTD) and Mitsuhiro Kajikawa (President, kajikawa Construction CO.,LTD) about their thoughts and shared values on the project.
――I would first like to begin by asking for a brief summary of your respective companies and what led to this collaboration.
Mitsuhiro Kajikawa: We are a construction business operating in Aichi Prefecture’s city of Hekinan. The company was founded in 1905 when it was first called Kajikawa Zousensho. In 1959 we began work in the construction industry when Typhoon Vera struck the Tokai region in an effort to help with reconstruction. In recent years, we have worked on many designs for earthquake resistance. One thing in particular is the “Implant Levee” which integrates with the earth. We get many orders to construct infrastructure that ensures structures hold steadfast against earthquakes and tsunamis.
Yusuke Nakagawa: How many employees do you have?
Kajikawa: As of now, 96. Around the time I became Company President there were around 50 but since then it has nearly doubled. Of course I still hold Aichi Prefecture near and dear to my heart as it is our roots, but I also have a desire to offer our services to many other places. Right now we are active up and down Japan, from Hokkaido to Kyushu.
Nakagawa: Besides the main office do you have branch offices outside of Hekinan?
Kajikawa: We have a branch in Takadanobaba in Tokyo. We’re also making preparations for Osaka Expo , so to ensure that we can build infrastructure in the Kansai region we also opened an office in Osaka in March of this year. Infrastructure development is absolutely essential to winning influence with people. Even in Tokyo, the roads and other facilities are wearing out. We do of course reconstruct things, but I also think it’s also important to carry out earthquake resistance with what we already have to ensure their longevity.
Nakagawa: Our company started out as an event organiser, but our focus gradually became acting as management for people. We have grown even further from that now; the various number of people and things we produce is increasing. This puts us in a position where we are very different from the rest, so I was very surprised at first when I saw a request had come from kajikawa Construction.
Kajikawa: I had heard about ASOBISYSTEM by chance through agencies, but I knew you [managed] many famous names including Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. My image of you was also that you are a central figure in creating “Kawaii” which is a representative culture of Harajuku. Though I look like this, I’ve actually always loved kawaii things since I was young. But I can’t show that when it comes to things work-related. Getting the opportunity to do this and use the word “kawaii” feels very liberating for me [laughs].
――You started collaborating with each other last year. It began with ASOBISYSTEM designing kajikawa Construction’s company logo and company brochure. It has received quite the revamp, hasn’t it?
Nakagawa: I spoke with President Kajikawa and wondered whether he knew that the word “Kawaii” doesn’t apply solely to things like fashion. We too don’t take “Kawaii” as something superficial, we treat the concept closer to what it actually is. The essence of “Kawaii” is something that brings a smile to and brightens people then and there. I feel that President Kajikawa understands that concept and that’s why he sent us an offer. So I want to invest in our “Kawaii” and and return the favour with a lasting relationship.
Kajikawa: When I took a look at the design of the company brochure I was surprised to see two of my favourite elements in there. The first were my favourite colours, pink and and green. The second was the use of traditional Japanese patterns. You took those traditional patterns and made them into a more contemporary pop design. You were kind enough to put all of my wishes in there, so much so that I was left wondering if we’d had a conversation about it beforehand.
Nakagawa: I was happy that you liked it and admired that you accepted the design. The construction industry is a world I’m unfamiliar with, so I was worried what kind of reply I would get. Your openness to upturn the conventions of the industry and make it into something tangible I felt was wonderful.
――Your company logo has changed too.
Kajikawa: We are enthusiastically using all the new things we are incorporating. The design will be a hit with younger people. I believe we are breaking out of our old shell and taking new steps forward. It’s a trigger that’s making me feel we are a company to have great expectations for in the future.
Nakagawa: When you look at the construction industry from the outside, your perception of it ends up being just what you imagine it to be. But by simply changing the logo and the brochure that perception can change. I believe the role of a simple brochure can add more value. It is really difficult to realise that adding value is important and then to put money into it. President Kajikawa is a symbol of looking forward.
Kajikawa: The main mission of the construction industry is to adhere to and build what the government office has planned which means we are unable to suggest anything ourselves. It’s for that reason we are receiving help from ASOBISYSTEM, because I want to add our own unique values. By no means are we able to do it on our own. Our ideas end up coagulating and we can’t move on from there. I am grateful to ASOBISYSTEM for giving us a good incentive and for making us feel that we are able to do something if we strive to make that effort.
MOSHI MOSHI NIPPON FESTIVAL 2018 Photo Booth
――You worked together to set up a photo booth at MOSHI MOSHI NIPPON FES 2018. This was designed by ASOBISYSTEM with design checks by President Kajikawa.
Kajikawa: I was very interested in it because the word “Kawaii” is used in designs all around the world. It has a strong message, doesn’t it? It felt unpredictable at first, but when I saw so many people standing in front of the panel taking photos it made me realise that leaving it up to top class designers can influence people.
Nakagawa: We were particular about the colour combinations, weren’t we? You are particular about colours. I’m the same. We also endeavoured to make the design something that conveys the strength of kajikawa Construction as a construction business.
――Your collaboration together is set to continue throughout the year. It seems you are pressing forward with your large-scale “Kawaii” construction project.
Kajikawa: In order to raise the added value of our company, it’s necessary that we change the way all of our employees think. It’s important to that we have them fully understand what we are doing with ASOBISYSTEM. The best way to do that is to show them a finished product. So our next step will be to forward the project by changing the design of our construction sites. For example, making cones, poles and fences pink. We will show them something they can see with their own eyes.
Nakagawa: There are construction sites even in Shibuya that have character designs on them. They are becoming photo spots [for people]. It’s important to appeal to your employees too, but the effect of purely adding value to your construction sites feels promising.
Kajikawa: It’s promising that our construction sites will become photo spots. Another one of our objectives is to make working people feel happy and make them feel like what they’re doing is worth it. Construction sites are isolated places. Them being dangerous is a real reason for that. Though people aren’t actually allowed to enter, by making the design “kawaii” we can remove that unwelcoming feeling locals have for [construction sites], and that’s wonderful. Business meetings have only just begun but I hope for it to come to fruition by next year.
Nakagawa: Are you also thinking of expanding overseas?
Kajikawa: I’m thinking within the next 1-2 years.
Nakagawa: I’m really looking forward to seeing “Kawaii” exported overseas from a new angle. I believe it will catch the attention of a lot of people and have a notable synergistic effect. We’re also working on creating key visuals and a film.
Kajikawa: We are aiming for a pop world where coloured poles are characters that move. I get excited just picturing it. I can’t wait for the day when we make it public.
――I’m sure you would agree that when it comes to business, contribution to society is an important aspect. Will your “kawaii” construction sites have societal contributions too?
Kajikawa: It has only just begun so I can only speculate, but the construction industry has a big mission to service infrastructure for the benefit of people’s lives. Plus, if we set forth to add value to “kawaii” elements, something which appeals to people, I think we can contribute a little to this brutal world. We are constantly in charge of 40-50 construction sites in Japan at any given time, so by giving them a “kawaii” outlook, don’t you think it might calm things down a bit?
Kajikawa: For example, if pink-dyed construction sites appeared in Japan and around the world, it’s bound to make a lot of people smile. That’s the symbol of Japanese technological strength and culture. It might eventually bolster the presence of Japan throughout the rest of the world. Plus, if people are taking kawaii photos, then they are going to seek out construction sites. A day like that may come, and working at a construction site might become a status. There are many pieces of dreams in the collaboration between kajikawa Construction and ASOBISYSTEM. Our unique tag team which defies industry may shake things up in a unique way.
Interview & Text: Fumihiko Suzuki
Photographer: Haruka Yamamoto
Translator: Joshua Kitosi-Isanga
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