The Financial Times
April 12 2007

Hiroshi Tsunoda, a 32-year-old designer from Japan, has lived in Barcelona for seven years. His products are made in Spain and the Netherlands. He and his partner are producing a line that will be sold across Europe (

I left Japan to study English in Chicago – but no, really to watch Michael Jordan. You can study English anywhere in the US but you can only watch Michael Jordan play basketball in Chicago. Then I went to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD, in Providence) to study industrial design.

Seven years ago, on my way home to Japan to work,
I stopped in Barcelona to visit a friend. I never left. I had never experienced European culture. My only experiences were Japan and the US. Spanish culture is very different. Summer is crazy here, with people going out and parties. I liked the atmosphere. I decided to stay and found a job in an Irish designer’s studio. When it closed, I worked freelance and in a Japanese restaurant, cooking every night.

The Japanese reputation is for being very precise, very punctual but I’m not like that. I’m not typical. I am tall for a Japanese person and haven’t lived there for a long time. I first thought Spanish people were not that precise and always partying. But many work hard and are not like that at all.

Think how many artists there are in Spain: Gaudì, Picasso, Dalì. But there are not many great scientists. The ambience in Barcelona makes me more creative and I know more creative people here than in the US or Japan. Here, more people want to be creative even though the educational level is not so good. Spanish students are not ready to work right out of school the way students from RISD are.

Here, you can’t watch the US NBA (National Basketball Association).
The Spanish don’t care about it. You have to watch European football. I like the ambience of going to a match and drinking beer with friends. I’m less interested in the football.

I live in an old part of town and my studio is in an industrial area, 10 minutes away by bike. It’s kind of dangerous for bicycles but the city started a programme where you can pick up and drop off bikes at stations around town. It’s very modern.

I go back to Japan once a year. I feel at home here but the speech, the smells, the food and the people make me feel at home in Japan too. I have two homes. In Japan I miss Spanish weather and ambience. In Spain I miss Japanese politeness. In Japan, they respect you before they know you. Then, if you don’t earn it, they don’t respect you. But they always start from there. Here, if they don’t know you, they can be quite rude.

My personality and character help me live in Barcelona. I can belong anywhere, adapt. Here I am a foreigner. They say it’s cosmopolitan but they are not used to people from outside. In the US, the concept is different. Whether you are a different race or skin colour, they automatically think you are American, maybe one who just doesn’t speak good English. Here, if you are a different race, they think you are from outside Spain.

Spanish people like Japanese culture now. They are crazy about Japanese comics and Japanese music.

I find Barcelona quite slow. But Spain is too slow. Japan is very fast, very efficient. You can make plans and depend on trains. Nothing comes on time here.

In Japan I prepared for a fine-arts university so I drew a lot. Drawing is basic to my work. It’s where I start. I communicate all my ideas with paper and pen. I am surprised that nowadays students in design school cannot draw. They only use computers, which is a limit. How can they communicate when they don’t have a computer to look at?

I design large pieces – furniture – and small objects. I always wanted to design for my friends, for my family. I don’t want people to have to think twice or three times before buying my products because they are expensive. I want people to go to a design shop and find nice things they can take home right away.

Without culture, design won’t exist.
My strength is in my three cultures. Because I use clean lines and neat colours, some people see my things as very Japanese. I don’t see things that are clearly Spanish, American or Japanese. My pieces are me.

Nowadays it is difficult to say what is Japanese
design or American design. You see everything on the internet, unlike 20 years ago. The US is different and there is more connection between Spanish and Japanese design – although I should say European design since it is all mixed together. I can see the influence of designers from many European countries in Spanish furniture.

In Japan things – glasses, trays – are smaller.
In America everything is very big. Spanish things are in-between. That relates to how much we eat as well.

For fun I get together with friends. A Spanish friend has two kids and I spend time with them. One is my god-child. I have a very cute dog. She is my family.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011. You may share using our article tools. Please don’t cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.