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Karuna Tembata Blends the Old and the New to Create the Wonderful


LBB’s Delmar Terblanche speaks to the Hakuhodo art director about her unique vision of design as a fundamental part of life

Karuna Tembata Blends the Old and the New to Create the Wonderful

Creativity runs deep in Hakuhodo’s Karuna Tembata. As a child, she loved drawing. Having taken art lessons from a young age, she went on to study dance in middle school - and realise, quickly, that while she did enjoy dancing, what she really loved was the overall creative force. 

“I really liked thinking about themes,” she says. “What kind of costumes go with this theme; what kind of posters; what kind of makeup?” She started doing more and more directorial work, helping her dance class of around 60 students coordinate and present themes for their annual shows.

“If you’re able to, you can create a whole world. It’s not just dancing, though dancing is wonderful. You can suck the whole audience into a new world or a new image.”

This was how Karuna realised she wanted to be an art director.

She studied at Japan’s prestigious Tama Art University, where she spent time combining analogue techniques with the latest technology, creating posters which reinterpreted centuries-old Japanese woodcut techniques. An influential professor helped her down this path as well, opening to Karuna the idea of studying all sorts of different parts of Japan’s past.

“He would say ‘why don’t you study the different colours of the Japanese kimono, or old Japanese pottery... that can influence your thinking on design.’” 

Karuna’s enthusiasm for all aspects of Japanese culture, especially the parts that might be in danger of fading away, informs much of her design work. She describes a project where she revitalised the New Year’s tradition of Osechi as one such example. Osechi Ryori is a dish eaten by families at the start of a new year. It comes served in special three-to-four-layer bento boxes, and carries a special meaning of good health for the year ahead. As the meal takes an awful lot of time to prepare, it’s drifted out of favour - so Karuna reinterpreted it with socks, sold inside replica bento boxes, and decorated with patterns made to resemble the Osechi meal. 

This combined spirit of innovation and tradition carried her to Hakuhodo. Karuna wanted a space where she could ply her talent and make an  impact on society, and spent her first few years at Hakuhodo working in Hakuhodo Design.

Her process now is a collaborative one. For the past two years, Karuna has received no clear-cut briefs from her clients. Instead, they consult her about current issues or needs they face as a business, and work together to create solutions. 

This is the approach that led to Karuna designing the "Favorite Food Soy Sauce" campaign in 2022, a campaign which packaged different types of soy sauces with a clear, elegant sketch of the type of food it can be best paired with. This continued Karuna’s love of reviving old traditions as she worked with creative director Masanobu Koizumi to remind people of the rich varieties in how soy sauce can be used and enjoyed; something which had, in some corners, fallen out of practice.

As Karuna looks towards the future, she has clear, invigorating ideas both for herself and art direction in general.

She describes the "Favorite Food Soy Sauce" campaign as something she long wanted to do as an art director, using product design to affect a popular mindset and drive genuine social change. This sort of work, which has a measurable social effect, is what Karuna wishes to accomplish.

Design, Karuna feels, affects every aspect of our lives. She’s cast her eye towards the fields of health and food, and hopes to use her skills to create a society that is more accessible, more fulfilling, and more enriching. One which accomplishes all this through integrating design at multiple levels.

No doubt she has the vision to achieve it.

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Hakuhodo, Tue, 24 Jan 2023 01:26:01 GMT