Form & Food: The Design Aesthetic of Japanese Sushi


sushiDine Japanese and experience design.

To speak to the centuries-old tradition of sushi as design, you have to first understand that aesthetics, to the Japanese, are not just an aspect of culture, but are woven into the fabric of being. Any artistic expression is instructive on how to go about life. Sushi chefs train vigorously, spending their first years on rice alone, studying presentation with master chefs, and ultimately achieving the high honor of being a sushi chef — a very highly evolved expression of being Japanese.

There are three hallmark components of Japanese aesthetic ideals. They are wabi (transient and stark beauty), sabi (the beauty of natural patina and aging), and y≈´gen (profound grace and subtlety). Often Japanese artistry is about what isn’t as much as what is. There is something to be experienced in the absence as much as the apparent. There is also an appreciation of how transient the ephemeral world is — and there is grace. Grace is not artifice, not extraneous, never vulgar or colloquial. The beholding of great Japanese aesthetic is a moment to cherish because what you are looking at will decay and ultimately, beautifully, perish.

I also see a lot of math – proportions, logical groupings, geometry, as well as many crafted balances – artful contrasts that harmonize otherwise disparate colors and textures. On one deliberately selected plate see a delicious irony, that of variety within many parameters, a graceful ordering of chaos.

Graphic design is often balancing many goals, removing brand and visual noise, embracing empty space, organizing content to make it accessible, balancing complimentary visuals and delivering something… honorable. Making something that communicates that is devoid of artifice but has legions of depth taking final shape inside many parameters. A graceful mastering of manners, patterns and accidents adding up to more than the sum of otherwise disconnected parts.

Perhaps this is why I feel at peace with an artfully presented sushi entree. I see a rare moment in my day to slow down. I see nature very respectfully subdued — I see how perishable it is. I see logical, minimal, concise design.

I eat. I enjoy. I get back to my deadlines.