#07 - Head of Design at Kyoto Journal

- with Hirisha Mehta -


Paul: 00:00:00

Hi Hirisha, welcome to the show!

Hirisha: 00:00:03

Hi Paul. It's nice to be here. Thank you so much for having me!

Paul: 00:00:08

Thanks for joining! I know that's a very busy period for you, at the start of the year. So thanks a lot for joining!

Hirisha, you are the Head of Design at Kyoto journal. For people who don't know about this journal, this is a quarterly magazine, I quote the website, a quarterly magazine presenting thoughts provoking cultural and historical insights from Kyoto, Japan, and all of Asia.

You've been here for some time and I'd like to talk a bit more about what you're doing there after, but just to give a little bit of context, we met quite a long time ago. Actually I think it was in 2010. At that time it was through a website called Kopra Japan. I was wondering if the website was still existing. It still does. The design hasn't changed after 10 years but it's still online.

Kopra was a non-profit organization with one goal: connecting companies, mostly German companies in Japan, with interns. People who wanted to do internships over there. At that time they started to develop a community. Two guys actually developed a community: Taka, a Japanese guy, and Fabian, a German guy, organizing networking events. Most of the time there were a lot of either German people or German speaking Japanese people. I'm not really sure how I ended up joining these events but I keep very, very fond memories of the parties over there. Because first they were networking sessions, but after that they were mostly parties. I met a lot of very, very good friends over there.

And that's also how we met, I think only once or twice. But I remember at that time, you were already very passionate about being in Japan, about what you were doing in Japan. After that we, we didn't really keep in touch.

But fun story: last year, in 2019, when I was in Kyoto, we were expanding the activities of our company in Kyoto. I was running some workshops and that's where we kind of randomly met up again. That's how I discovered what you were doing now with the Kyoto Journal, I had seen online that previously you were working for Universal Studios in Osaka and I got very interested by what you were doing currently in Kyoto, working with culture, with art, with a lot of different cool stuff. And that's why I'm very happy to have you today to understand a bit more about this and your background here. So again, thanks for joining.

That was a very long intro, I'm very sorry, just thinking back to the past.

To get started Hirisha, could you please simply introduce yourself and let us know how long you've been living in Japan so far?


Hirisha: 00:03:19

Yes, I'm Hirisha and I come from India.

I've been in Japan for 10 years now and I came as a student. I'm now working as a designer. As you already mentioned, I work as a head of design for a magazine. But at the same time, I also do freelance designing and I work as an illustrator.

I'm very fond of typography, type design and print making. So these are some of the things I have been very busy with in the last few years. I actually lived for three years in Tokyo, that's when we met. Then I've been here in Kyoto ever since, for more than seven years.

Paul: 00:04:10

What were you doing in Tokyo during these three years?

Hirisha: 00:04:14

I came as a student on a three year scholarship.

At that time, I had no idea what I was going to do. I mean, I had no idea I was gonna stay this long, you know, and I just came as a student. I studied Japanese for a year in a language school. After that I studied design in Tokyo.

I studied Japanese at the Bunka International Language Institute. After completion I went to a vocational school in Shibuya, the Nihon Designers Gakuin.

Paul: 00:05:05

This was a school for everyone, right? For Japanese and foreigners?

Hirisha: 00:05:10

Yes. That was like a big change actually.

When I came to Japan, adapting to a new culture was very easy because you're among friends and everyone at the language school comes from different places and everyone is learning a new language. It becomes very easy to adapt to a new culture. Everyone is exploring and telling each other about or helping each other out in any way.

But when I moved to the vocational school, maybe a couple of other students were not Japanese, but the rest of the class was all Japanese. A vocational school is more like a specialised field. Because I was studying design, there were so many new terms to get used to, I had no idea what the Japanese terms were for those words.

It was a whole new experience getting into that new culture, actually adapting to it rather than just being an outsider and just admiring it. You're actually in it and you try to learn as much as possible being in that environment.

Paul: 00:06:39

I guess that's very different from being an exchange student when you join a university. Yes, you attend some Japanese classes and you have some Japanese friends, but you have kind of a special treatment because you're an exchange student.

When you join the school like you did, as a regular student, I think the experience is fully different.

You mentioned that you studied Japanese for one year before joining the design school. Was it enough for you in terms of Japanese level?

You said that you were facing a lot of new terms, a lot of new worlds. Was one year enough?

Or did you study Japanese before coming to Japan?

Hirisha: 00:07:22

When I was in India, I was actually studying German literature at university. I was doing my bachelor.

Paul: 00:07:37

That's why you were at the Kopra!

Studying Japanese

Hirisha: 00:07:37

Yes. But that's also another story because I had no idea back then what Kopra was. I was there with a few friends who invited me to the event.

So, yeah, I studied German literature in India for my bachelor's majors. And we had to pick up a foreign language just as a second language. And I had a choice of like Chinese, Russian, Japanese or some European languages, like Italian or French. I just wanted to be adventurous and take a language that did not look like the Roman alphabet.

It was my dad who kind of influenced me: "Take Japanese! They are modern and they have technology and they have robots..." I think that was his influence. And I was like, okay, I'm just going to take this language up for fun because it's not my major. Why not just learn something new?

It was tough, in my first year I almost failed because I couldn't remember even one Kanji. They looked like little drawings. I had no idea what they meant. Then I realized, okay, this is more than just fun. My bachelor was for three years. And by the end of my degree, I could actually read some basic Japanese. I could read, I could introduce myself... 300 Kanji was my level I think. I felt, okay, I'm going to go to Japan next year. I can handle this.

But when I came to Japan, I couldn't understand a word. It was so fast. I had to always say "Please can you speak slowly?" And then I could only pick up the keywords. I think it took me at least three months to be able to actually understand my surrounding and communicate, even going to a shop or if I wanted to buy something or if I met someone to introduce myself. It took me a while. But three months is usually around the time when you start understanding what's being said and respond.

Paul: 00:10:18

What pushed you from studying Japanese as a second language? Not really as your major in Mumbai... You're from Mumbai, right?

Hirisha: 00:10:28

Yes. I mean, my hometown is close to Mumbai, but yes, I studied in Mumbai for university.

Paul: 00:10:34

Okay. So what pushed you from studying Japanese as a second language in Mumbai to joining a design school in Tokyo?

The theme is Japan of course, or the language, but that's quite a different adventure, a different track.

Hirisha: 00:10:51

Yes, as I said I couldn't read those Chinese characters, the Kanji. The textbooks started with these basic drawings that show the character of the sun, how the Kanji for sun came, or how the mountain is written as a mountain. I looked at those pictures and I saw how they changed over time and became from a drawing to an alphabet.

That kind of got me more interested into knowing more what these kanjis are, how come they're not alphabets. They are actually little pictures, they are drawings. I think I have never seen them as alphabets. At the end of my three years bachelor's degree, I was really curious to know about this.

And at the same time, I came across Japanese music or anime, which I think you kind of are attracted to in the beginning, to this new culture. It's a kind of a bridge that brings you into this culture. But yeah, gradually my world opened up. The more I saw Kanjis, animes or music, the more I'm like "Wow, I don't understand a word, but this sounds that these words make are so interesting. Even if you don't understand the language, you can still enjoy the sound of a language.

Gradually I got deeper and deeper into this.

And also I think it brought back memories for me because as a kid, my mother had once taken us to an Indo-Japanese event. My sister and I were really young. There was this Japanese lady who actually wrote our names with a brush in Katakana. I had that paper all the time. This was my name, but I couldn't really read it. Or even having done origami as kids, doing craft.

So this is why things kind of all connected. And I was like "okay, I really want to know about this culture. I want to go to Japan. I can't just sit here and read only a book and a textbook".

Also the other part of me was that I've always been interested in handicrafts, handmade things or doing things by myself. I have always wanted to pursue some creative career, either design or architecture or handicrafts.

When I completed my bachelor's degree, I actually wanted to go for further studies to Germany, but then my whole world changed and I was like "I think I'm going to go and explore this new Island!"

I applied for a scholarship and luckily I got through. It was actually a three year scholarship: one year of language and two years of a vocational school on any subject that we would like to pursue. So I decided to study design in Japan as my next academic move.

Paul: 00:14:50

That's very cool! That's always super interesting to see how life pushes you to different paths. You think about one thing and actually you end up doing something else. Going from German to Japanese is very nice.

I can totally relate to your story about having your name written in Katakana and pushing you to know more about it because exactly the same happened to me when I was a kid. There was this festival somewhere in France, a Japanese and some people were writing names. I don't know at that time if it was Chinese or Japanese, but same fascination for the symbols and the Kanji.

You said that you were highly focused right now on typography. Did you know about typography before studying Japanese?

Or would you say that your interest in Kanjis, in the Japanese language pushed you towards this field?

Discovering Typography

Hirisha: 00:15:53

Partly yes, it's. I mean, I had never studied design as a subject, you know. I did not know about typography as a word before I started studying design in Japan.

But in India for example, we have so many different languages and each language has so many different scripts. Hindi is the national language. Each state, like for me, my mother tongue is called Gujarati, has a different script to the Hindi language. Hindi is one language. My mother tongue is another language and just like that, every state in India has a different language, a different script. I had already seen that in my life in India.

My father loves traveling and there was one trip we had made to South India. In South India, there's again many different South Indian languages and different scripts. I think we were in Madras then. And I actually copied down everything I saw around me. I was in school then. Even the side of the road signs that said "Stop", I actually copy them because I didn't know how to read them. I thought "I think it says stop. I'm going to write it down!"

I think I've always looked at script in a very different way, because it's a different shape. It makes me even more curious to want to read it or know what it means. I didn't know the word, I didn't know it was called topography then, but I did have an eye for it I think.

Paul: 00:17:48

This will be a total newbie question but you said that Japanese characters are like small images with the mountain being represented by the mountain drawing. It looks like a mountain. Is it the same in... I don't know what to say now, if I say in Indian, that would be difficult because you said there are so many scripts...

But is it the same in your mother language, for example?

Hirisha: 00:18:14

No, that's a very big difference there because Indian scripts, like Roman scripts, are phonetic. The sounds have no visual meaning but they have a sound it carries.

But Japanese, like Chinese scripts, are pictorial. They are represented by small ideas that are drawn as symbols. When put together, they give it a bigger meaning. Indian scripts do not have any of that.

Paul: 00:18:49

Nice, that's something I really didn't know about. I learned something, thank you!

So in 2012, you graduated from your design school, then you joined the Kyoto university studying art and design. You moved from Tokyo to Kyoto and studied until 2014 if I'm correct. What happened after that?

You have a degree in design, do you start looking for a job right away? What's your plan?

Job Hunting

Hirisha: 00:19:24

A few months before I was graduating, my friends at university were all looking for jobs. At that point, I didn't want to go through the usual way of finding a job here. They have a very specific way of doing applications and interviews and I had no intentions of doing that. So I adopted a very different way to look for jobs.

I found interesting companies on internet and wrote to them asking "Can I come and see you and do an interview?" Unfortunately none of those helped. At that point, I still wasn't very sure if I want to stay in Japan and look for a job in that kind of method. But because I had studied design in Japan and wanted to put that to use, I definitely didn't want to just go back home. Because India is very different. I think work culture or education is very different. And what I studied in Japan, I definitely wanted to put into practice.

Then the graduation ceremony was done at university and I was kind of worried. I'm like "okay, I have to really look for a job. Otherwise I'll have to go back home."

At that point I really didn't have any goal after graduation.

Paul: 00:21:00

How did you end up working at Universal Studios then?

Hirisha: 00:21:04

Two days after the graduation ceremony, one of my teachers from the career department called me. He's was like "Universal Studios is looking for an English speaking graphic designer. This is a perfect job opportunity for you, apply right now!" The deadline was in two days.

So I worked on it and I think the application reached them a day late. It was luck but I then went for an interview and got the job. It was my first job ever in my life. I've been very fortunate to be working at a place called Universal Studios as my first work experience.

Paul: 00:22:16

That's very nice. Especially following this whole job search adventure. Universal Studios... that's a massive company. It's of course an American company. When we think about design in the romantic image, we don't necessarily think about attraction parks or movie studios.

What were you doing over there and how was your experience working there?

Working at Universal Studios Japan

Hirisha: 00:22:50

I worked as an assistant designer at the design department.

I'm a more of a Disney fan, actually so I did not know what to expect. I was not a Universal Studio follower either, so I was like "Oh, I'm going to see Spiderman there, I'll be working on things for brands like Harry Potter or The Minions, you know. I had no idea if would be working for characters and stuff, but I think I went with an open mind and I was like "okay, I'm just gonna see what comes my way and take it as a challenge."

The scope of work was really varied. I would be doing designs for shop decorations because Universal Studio has different seasons. The decorations change the look of the whole park every season. We would be working three months in advance or two months in advance on every season. Even if it is summer still, you're already working on Halloween decorations for the park, the parade or for the shop decorations or signs.

You know when you go to the park you see signs that say "This is the way to so and so attraction" or "Please do not go in here".Sometimes it's also just working on signs that say "Do not step here". It's like from basic sign designs to very fascinating things, actually working on ideas to design a whole shop.

Working at the park, a lot of the design is for guests who like different characters. It's for kids, to fascinate them, something magical. It had to fascinate, it had to show a whole new world. It takes you away from reality, to something you do not experience outside the park.

Sometimes it was very challenging because I had not worked on things like this. I like very clean, minimalistic design and then I got into Universal Studios. It was like "Oh, stars and make it magic and lively, use a lot of colors". It's a whole different taste.

As you said, design is definitely very varied. Every person has a different way of looking at it. It was a very nice experience.

Paul: 00:25:51

Did they have a lot of foreign employees?

Hirisha: 00:25:54

Yes they did. They were very open, welcoming and friendly, but at the same time the work was also very challenging. There was always a lot of overtime involved. Sometimes the deadlines can be very difficult.

But for foreigners, the best part was that you didn't always have to work in Japanese or you didn't have to only speak English. It was a very good balance. Some of the things that were hard for me were time or deadlines...

Paul: 00:26:43

Is that what pushed you to look for new opportunities?

You worked there for two years, what happened in 2016?

Kyoto's creative community

Hirisha: 00:26:52

After two years I could have easily moved to Osaka. Universal Studios are in Osaka and I lived in Kyoto. I think the commute was one of the hardest parts for me, to go to everyday to work all that way. It took me two hours, just one way to get to work. That was also one thing that pushed me to really start looking for other opportunities in Kyoto, that I could work on as a designer.

During these two years, what I learned at Universal Studios, the experiences I had, definitely helped me to grow as a designer. But I wanted to explore other fields in design. Design is such a varied field, especially in Kyoto where I find it is like a hub for all these creative people from all over the world and all over Japan. They come with many different crafts, you're not always just doing one thing. I'm a designer but this doesn't mean I do only advertising or editorial kind of design, like posters and pamphlets. There are people who work with handicraft, but at the same time want to collaborate with more contemporary designers and create new things, on new ideas.

When I came to Kyoto, I think that was what I realized. It's a very close network of very interesting creative people. If you connect to one, it will always lead to other interesting people or opportunities. I wanted to explore and live in that environment, explore more of that.

So after 2016, I actually decided to go freelance, which was not very easy. It was even quite hard. But having this close network of people was what supported me and encouraged me to be here and take what's in front of me. Whatever opportunities I found. I was open to doing it. Maybe a small book design for a friend... I also worked at a weaving company in Kyoto. They had these little cards with different holes in it, like different patterns. I digitalized the analog designs into illustrations.

Paul: 00:29:41

I totally relate to what you're saying about the creative community in Kyoto. I've always been working in Tokyo. I was meeting with some creative people, even more during the past few years because of my field, but not specifically attending any creative meetups or any creative events.

But when I went to Kyoto for business purposes, I just met a lot of creative people. Just met a lot of like minded people interested in crafts, arts... There is this community over there that is very engaged and very connected to each others.

That's very impressive. I wasn't expecting this going to the city, I wasn't thinking I would be involved with these people. It's very interesting actually to see what's happening over there.

Hirisha: 00:30:36

Yeah, totally. I think it is fascinating and Kyoto definitely is a cultural hub, right?

Where traditions and culture survive through generations or ages. There are these people who have been working with these traditional crafts. What I have noticed is that it can be very hard to break this wall and you reach them because they are at the heart of things and they don't want to change. They want to keep their secrets.

But then there's also some very young people who want to explore. They want to have their craft preserved and protected, but at the same time they also want to collaborate, find new interesting ways to present their craft.

That's what brings creative people together.

Paul: 00:31:40

We have this image of a Kyoto being the capital of tradition, protecting the old know-hows. And of course it is. But what you are saying as well is you have this new generation of people trying to modernize everything and bringing new techniques and technologies to it.

Hirisha: 00:32:03

Yeah, I mean, sometimes it's like they're using a very traditional craft, but they're presenting it in a modern way that will appear to the current lifestyles or current generation. It's very interesting how different projects come about.

Joining Kyoto Journal

Paul: 00:32:23

How did you get in touch with the Kyoto Journal and how did you end up becoming their Head of Design?

Hirisha: 00:32:30

Do you know Kyotography, the photography exhibition that happens in Kyoto?

Paul: 00:32:37

I've heard about it, but I've never been...

Hirisha: 00:32:39

I think they've been doing it since 2013.

It's kind of a long story, but I was actually working as an intern with a designer in Kyoto, and he was the head of design at Kyotography. I got to work on the Kyotography events with him in 2014, this was the second year of Kyotography.

At the opening event, I actually met John, who is the founder of Kyoto Journal, the magazine. At that time, I had just received my results from my job interview at Universal Studios. It was really nice to meet John, I had heard of Kyoto Journal, but I'd never seen any magazine or seen any works of theirs.

When I met John and he told me about it, he asked me "Why don't you come and work with us?" Probably like more like an intern... And I was like "Wow, I would love to work with the magazine. That's so cool." But I had a full time job I was starting a month later. So, unfortunately I couldn't join nor help out in any way.

Paul: 00:34:12

That wasn't a good timing.

Hirisha: 00:34:14

No, and after two years exactly, I had just quit universal studios and I was like "I'm going to work as a freelance designer to meet people, but I don't know what I'm going to do right now".

And on one nice spring day, I decided to go look at some of photography exhibitions because it was again that time of the year. They were having these exhibitions. And I ran into John, just on the street again, just by chance. He asked me what I was doing these days. I'm like "I just finished my previous job at Universal Studios and I'm free". So he said "Why don't you come and work with us now?"

This was a good timing! Since spring in 2016, I started first to help out with some layouts of the magazine. That time it was still a digital magazine. I mean they had been in print for long and then there was a phase of six years where they went digital.

That's when I joined the team.

Paul: 00:35:28

I gave a very brief presentation of Kyoto journal at the beginning but could you explain what you are doing with this project, with this company?

What is Kyoto Journal basically?

Hirisha: 00:35:42

It's a very special magazine!

It's actually a nonprofit, all volunteers magazine. As you have already explained, it's a curator-based magazine that works with art, culture, traditions... Not just from Kyoto or Japan, but all over Asia. It's a means to building a bridge between different cultures and treasuring or preserving the history of different places.

Craft and art do not develop in a short time, right? It's always changing. It's always evolving. It's also connected to the contemporary movements across the world. It's a very special magazine in that sense.

We publish quarterly, every team being different for every issue. And aside from designing a magazine, we also publish books. For example, we've had a small project happening for a few years now. It's called "Small Buildings of Kyoto" where the founder, John Anderson, has been photographing these small buildings in Kyoto, which are these very old Machiya or kind of modernized small houses that are popping up or going down across the city.

That's a very special project because Kyoto is has been changing recently, especially with a lot of these old Machiya, these traditional Japanese houses, being brought down because they're old or because they have been empty for a long time and no one wants to live or take them up. I think a project like "Small Buildings of Kyoto" is very special because it records what Kyoto has been for so many years. It's one of the projects and we also do other books on Haiku or stories by some other authors.

We do so many interesting things here at Kyoto Journal, other than just being a magazine.

Paul: 00:38:14

If people are interested in the books, can they find them online?

Hirisha: 00:38:17

Yes. If you, check it out on the website of Kyoto Journal, we have a section called books. There are only a few out there, but we hope to make many, many more interesting projects with interesting people and have more books out.

Paul: 00:38:40

If you don't mind me asking, you said that it was run by volunteers, that you didn't have any staff. What's your status? Are you getting a salary? Are you a full volunteer?

Hirisha: 00:38:54

I'm a full volunteer.

Paul: 00:38:56

Full volunteer, okay. So that means you are still doing other activities on the side?

Hirisha: 00:39:01

Yes, I work as the Head of Design with the magazine and it doesn't pay.

But I think more than money, what I like the most is what they do here at the magazine. This keeps me going as I have met so many interesting people through the magazine, you know, like contributors, people who have submitted to the magazine. I think it's through these contacts that I'm also growing as a designer.

Along with Kyoto Journal, I do freelance designing and I haven't actually mentioned it but I also teach at an elementary school as an art teacher.

Paul: 00:39:59

Oh, no, I didn't know that!

Hirisha: 00:40:00

Yes, that's like my main paying gig actually.

Paul: 00:40:08

Is it a Japanese school? Do you teach in Japanese?

Hirisha: 00:40:11

No, it is an international school in, in Nara. I teach at Doshisha International Academy as an art teacher.

Paul: 00:40:20

Very nice. As the Head of Design at Kyoto Journal, you said you were working on layouts, on curating articles and probably photography and different other things.

What's your next challenge, or maybe your current challenge as well, both with the journal and personally in your life in Japan?

Hirisha: 00:40:48


Paul: 00:40:51

That's a tricky question, I know!

Hirisha: 00:40:54

One thing about Kyoto Journal, what I really love is that not every magazine that comes out is the same. Unlike a lot of magazines that are out there, we do not follow a very strict format. Every article is different. Every article has a different story or a narration or a visual.

To bring the best out there for every article, we work on different layouts. When you look at the magazine, you will never see a similar same kind of layout in two articles. I take that as a challenge and also as a fun thing because you get to explore how you can best present something that brings the best of it, out there. As a designer, there can be so many different fonts which show a different idea. Or so many different styles. Sometimes you want to show a very pop kind of feel to it, or very classic.

A magazine is quite an interesting challenge where you really get to explore your ideas and styles, you know. I love that about working with this magazine, just being creative. I think that's the key to it!

The sense of Design in Japan

Paul: 00:42:34

Drifting a bit from the original question of your personal challenges, I'm actually interested in hearing your view on the design in Japan. And specifically in Kyoto versus the world.

I don't know if we could say there is a global design, but we see the Japanese design as very pure, very Zen, very simple in a way, at least visually. What's your take on Japanese design?

How would you compare it in terms of aesthetic, in terms of values? Compared to what you can find in the Western world or even in India...

Hirisha: 00:43:20

I think it's very special.

I feel very lucky to have studied design in Japan in that way. The way of looking at things is very different. It can be very simple, the use of space, the whole composition, the balance. There might not be a lot of things on a canvas or in a single space, but it has a very unique balance to it. I don't know how to explain this, but it kind of echoes in all the different things you find in Japan. Like for example in the craft of Ikebana...

Paul: 00:44:07

Which is the flower arrangement, just for people who don't know about Ikebana.

Hirisha: 00:44:12

Yes, the flower arrangement and the placement of a flower arrangement in the Tokonoma for example. This is the very sacred corner in a Japanese house.

Or even in a Japanese garden. The placement of the stones. If you go in any Japanese garden, the placement of the stones and the little river, a stream that flows next to it. I think it has a very unique balance too things.

Also the use of light can be very special, light and shadows.

Paul: 00:44:54

With what purpose?

Hirisha: 00:44:56

The purpose of calmness, a bit meditative, kind of peaceful, calm. Sorry, I am not so good at explaining this...

Paul: 00:45:08

No, no, that's difficult to think about all this on the fly.

Maybe last question about this topic, but do you feel there is something specific to Kyoto in terms of design, compared to Japan or compared to what you can find in other prefectures?

Hirisha: 00:45:27

Yes, clearly between Tokyo and Kyoto.

In Tokyo, it's very modern. That's what I feel personally. Everything is very technologically related to modern design, with lights or sound...

Like Team Lab. Have you heard of that? The way they have these projections of light and sound, or these visual representations of things. Kyoto it is very much more about like the culture, craft...

Paul: 00:46:09

Would it be more difficult to see something like the Team Lab exhibition in Kyoto?

Hirisha: 00:46:13

Yes, I have never seen one here. Actually I think they tried to do that in Nara ones.

Paul: 00:46:19

Just for people listening, the Team Lab exhibition (I will put a link in the show notes) was a massive exhibition, massive show of lights and animations shown in Tokyo.

I'm not sure if it's still running, but it's been widely popular. A lot of people went to see it. A beautiful thing, but very modern indeed. Everything is done with computers, with programs and projections. It's very modern.

I can understand your comment about not necessarily seeing that in Kyoto.

Hirisha: 00:46:59


Paul: 00:47:00

This was a lot of insights about design and about your background in Kyoto. Thanks a lot Hirisha for this!

Now to finish the interview, I like to ask a couple of regular questions.

The first one is: imagine that you keep all your knowledge, all your memories, but you go back in time and meet with yourself. Let's say in 2010 when you arrived in Japan. What would you say to yourself then?

Advice to younger self

Hirisha: 00:47:35

I would tell myself to travel a lot in Japan. Natural beauty in Japan is beautiful. The landscapes... I think just traveling by train is an adventure itself.

When I came to Japan, I was a student and now I work. That kind of binds you a bit. As a student, you have the freedom and the time you can put to use to explore so much.

Paul: 00:48:20

But you don't have the money and usually when you start working, you have the money but not the time anymore.

Hirisha: 00:48:26

True. Oh, I forgot about that!

Paul: 00:48:31

So you wished you had traveled more?

Hirisha: 00:48:33

Yes! But just to give a little secret: in Japan they have this special tickets? Do you know about it?

Paul: 00:48:44

The 18 something?

Hirisha: 00:48:46

Yes. The "Seishun Juhachi Kippu", or "18 sessions ticket" if you translate it.That's a very good ticket and it's quite reasonable for students.

Paul: 00:49:02

Can you shortly explain what it is for the listeners?

Hirisha: 00:49:05

It costs about 12,000 JPY, but it gives you like five slots on your ticket and you can use one slot for one day. And that one day means you can use all the trains, all the JR slow trains all across Japan.

Paul: 00:49:28

It is a great deal!

Hirisha: 00:49:29

When I was in my second year in Japan, I was a student and my sister visited me. We actually traveled from Tokyo to Osaka on that ticket. It took us 10 hours!

But it is a great deal because we saw Mount Fuji on there, as a surprise. I did not even think "Oh, we're going to see Mount Fuji". That was the first time I had ever traveled South and on a train. We saw Mount Fuji, we talked so many hours on the train with my sister and it was so much fun.

I think you can even go all the way to Hokkaido on that ticket.

Paul: 00:50:14

This could be your next challenge: to travel from Hokkaido to Kyushu on that ticket!

Hirisha: 00:50:19

Yes, it's on my list. I have a plan!

Favorite Japanese word (and Kansai dialect)

Paul: 00:50:23

Cool! Good resolution for 2020! Okay, good one. Travel more.

Next question: what is your favorite Japanese word or expression?

Hirisha: 00:50:41

It's hard to choose! I like the word "Nande ya ne!" (なんでやね!). Do you know that one?

Paul: 00:50:52

That's Kyoto-ben right?

Hirisha: 00:50:55

Yes, or Kansai-ben. I'm not sure, they say it in Osaka or Kyoto, but it has to be said in that particular intonation. Nandeyane!

Paul: 00:51:10

What does it mean for non-Japanese speakers?

Hirisha: 00:51:13

It means like "What are you saying?!" Or "Why?!"

It has multiple meanings, but it's like, for example, if someone tells you something and you do not understand, you're just like "Nandeyane?!". "Why?!", you know, "What the hell?!".

I like that word because when I moved from Tokyo to Kyoto, and I started at a university, a lot of my classmates were not happy with my Japanese. They're like "Oh, you sound stiff!". Because in Tokyo it's a high standard Japanese. But when you come to Kyoto, it has a cuter dialect.

Paul: 00:52:02

That's actually very interesting! For the listeners who don't speak Japanese, you have kind of two major dialects in Japan. The one from Tokyo and the one from Kansai, from Osaka. Usually people speaking Osaka-ben, the Osaka dialect are very proud of that. That's a strong regional identity.

In between all this, you also have the Kyoto dialect, the Kyoto-ben (there might be another word). From Tokyo, at least when we hear Osaka-ben it's a bit more rude. A bit more direct, a bit different. But most of the time we consider that the dialect in Kyoto is the posh one. It's the one from the old aristocracy, with very high standards. More on the side, not saying things directly..

But you are saying that Kyoto people think that people in Tokyo actually have the posh dialect...

Hirisha: 00:53:08

Not the posh, it's more like "stiff".

I had studied my Japanese in Tokyo, at the language school. So you learn to speak in a much more standard way, you know. It's not casual by any sense.

When I came to Kyoto, I always ended my sentences in "desu" and "-masu". They were like "Why do you sound so strange? This is not how we speak here". My classmates were speaking in a more casual, easy going way. They used to teach me these words.

Like, "chigaimasu" (you're wrong) becomes "chaune". Or "So desu" (yes indeed) becomes "Seya seya". It has a nice song melody to it, which is more easygoing and nice.

I mean, they didn't teach me as in "teach" me, but they would use it around me, which I gradually picked up.

Paul: 00:54:40

So Tokyo would be more formatted!

Hirisha: 00:54:42

Yes, Tokyo is kind of classy, they have a different ending to sentences, to words at the end.

Paul: 00:55:08

It's more academic in a way, you say the full sentences and the full forms and everything.

Hirisha: 00:55:16

The Tokyo dialect? Yeah!

Paul: 00:55:20

For people interested in dialects, you have a lot according to the prefectures and the more south you go, I think the more shallow it gets. Like in a lot of countries actually.

If you're interested you should listen to the dialect from Okinawa: the Okinawa-ben as well. Very interesting, very different!

Hirisha: 00:55:41

Ooh, I'm going to look that up.

Paul: 00:55:45

I couldn't say anything in Okinawa-ben, but it sounds very good!

Last question, is there anyone, or a project, or company, or actually in your case that could be someone doing crafts, an interesting project that you'd like to give a shoutout to?


Hirisha: 00:56:09

One of my friends, Chuck Kayser, is a farmer and does organic farming in the north of Kyoto. I think he has been doing some very interesting projects where he's also working on compost.

In Japan compost is not very common and he has been trying to work with different people to build a plan to make compost more common in the city, that would have farmers locally grow their vegetables.

He's doing a very great job and it's definitely not an easy path from what I've heard when I've last talked to him. He has been working on some ideas and projects, even doing solar panels for electricity to run his farm.

Look up Midori Farms, that's the name of his venture in the north of Kyoto.

Paul: 00:57:38

Very nice. I will look it up and put the website in the show notes as well. Thanks a lot!

If people are interested in following you or even getting in touch with you, where can they find you online?

Connect with Hirisha

Hirisha: 00:57:56

I have a website, hirishamehta.com.

Or you can find me on Instagram, just look for my name: Hirisha Mehta.

Paul: 00:58:08

I've got your website just in front of me. It's a beautiful website. You like to typography and shapes and if other people like the same things, they would really enjoy your website.

Hirisha: 00:58:23

Actually, I just wanted to mention, about working with Kanji and scripts... Because I have also lived in India for so long am fascinated by our own scripts in India.

When I finished university in Kyoto, my graduation project was actually on Indian scripts and Japanese Kanji. I used the shape of the Indian Devanagari script to create a new font design for Japanese characters. If you look it up on my website, you'll see that project.

It's called "IndoWa".

Paul: 00:59:18

You created a full font???

Hirisha: 00:59:19


Paul: 00:59:21

Wow, that must have been some massive work!

Hirisha: 00:59:23

Yes it was. But it was so satisfying. Working on that project, made me even more sure that I definitely do not read alphabets as alphabets. They are all shapes for me.

Paul: 00:59:40

Cool. Well I'll definitely link to this project as well.

Hirisha: 00:59:45

Thank you!

Paul: 00:59:47

Thanks a lot Hirisha! Again, I know you are busy so I won't take more of your time but thanks a lot for sharing all this with us. This was very inspiring!

As I was mentioning to you before recording, I'm very happy to have had someone sharing a story from Kyoto. Because Japan is not Tokyo and not all stories are the same. Having different life stories and feedbacks from different parts of Japan is very important. So thanks a lot!

All the best in your next projects with the Kyoto Journal and with your freelance projects. Right after that, I have a lot of leads of new learnings about typography and different things. Thanks a lot for that!

Hirisha: 01:00:37

Yeah, sure. It has been fun talking to you.

You never get a moment like this to think about things, you know. You make so many experiences and they just pass through you. But when you sit down and discuss like this, with a friend, it definitely brings back memories. It gives you a moment to reflect on things.

So it has been definitely a great experience today talking to you. Thank you so much!

Paul: 01:01:12

I'm glad it helped! See you in Kyoto!