Katsuhei Toyoguchi (豊口克平) is a pioneer in interior architecture and industrial design fields: his several activities in every sectors – furniture, editing and teaching – make him one of the most important Japanese designers of his generation.
After graduating from the Tokyo College of Industrial Arts in 1928, he helped to found the prestigious Keiji Kobo (literally, Workshop of the Form), which takes Bauhaus as a model. He did some research about furniture for tatami interiors when he was in this young institution.
Katsuhei Toyoguchi’s career is incredibly rich. He worked for the newly created state organization, the Industrial Arts Institute (IAI), from 1933, settled in the major cities of the archipelago. Then he became director of the Osaka institute between 1939 and 1943. After the World War II, he returned to Tokyo to design furniture for the American forces who occupied the country. He dropped his public career and the IAI in 1959 to found his own company with Shutaro Mukai (born in 1932), Design Associates. He finally acquired not only a Japanese position but also a worldwide recognition. In 1960, he received one of the first commissions from the Japan External Trade Organization to design Japanese pavilions for the Moscow Trade Fair. He was also responsible for the Japanese pavilions at the World’s Fairs in Seattle and Montreal, respectively in 1962 and 1967.
He worked to professionalize the design sector in Japan, as his active participation in the Japan Association of Industrial Designers for two decades proves it – he was even its president for seven years. As an influent designer, he was a member of the jury for one of the most prestigious industrial design awards, the Mainichi Prize, from 1955 to 1970.
He also participated in knowledge diffusion, first as editor-in-chief of the leading industrial design magazine, Kogei Nyusu, between 1935 and 1937. He was also a well-known author of numerous articles and reference books, on standard furniture (“Hyojun kagu”, 1936) or design strategies (“Dezain senjutsu”, 1966) for example. He taught to a whole generation of designers thanks to his position as design professor at the Musashino Art University in Kodaira from 1959 to 1975.
His design is simple and pure. His “Toyo” chair designed in 1955 is a good example: this seat was one of the first pieces manufactured by Tendo Mokko and furnishes the living room of the Akita prefectural government. The “Spoke Chair” is his most iconic creation, strongly recognizable thanks to its cocooning backrest from which it takes its name: it is a free reinterpretation of the Windsor chair, with a typical Japanese low seat, with an extreme comfort, and borrowing codes from Western design. He believes American domination in Japan after World War II allowed a considerable changement, for the best: “we […] are happy to have found the opportunity to realize an organized and stylistically unified range of modern furniture, of a type never seen in Japan before. It made us aware of the revival of manufacturing techniques and provided us with significant information about the reality of Western living that we previously had a vague idea of, but also about the techniques of formal furniture design.”
Katsuhei Toyoguchi is one of the most masterful and influential designers in Japan, a jack-of-all-trades who has worked both practically and theoretically. In recognition of his work and importance, he received the Kitaro Kunii Prize for Industrial Arts in 1975 and the Order of the Sacred Treasure awarded by the Japanese government in 1976.