Manager of the Instrument Design GroupKazuhito Nakajima

Designing Instruments Not to "Use," but to "Play"

Kazuhito Nakajima


Joined Yamaha in 1990. After starting with sports equipment, moved on to work mainly in acoustic instrument design. Also responsible for pursuing the infusion of craftsman-like values into acoustic instrument detailing, as well as logos and packaging. Currently in charge of musical instruments in general as well as golf products as manager of the Instrument Design Group.

Creating not cars or appliances, but something in between

I've always loved drawing, and until high school I wanted to be an artist. But when I talked to my teacher at school, he told me, "You can't earn your bread and butter just drawing things." So I rather easily changed my mind and thought, "Okay, I'll be a designer then." Since I had wanted to become an artist, at first I wanted to go into graphic design. I went to university in the 1980s, right in the middle of the so-called hetauma ("clumsily skillful") movement in illustration. As I observed this movement, more and more I thought to myself that this wasn't the sort of world I wanted to create. Rather than the free, impressionistic expressionism that didn't even distinguish between art and design, I grew more attracted to a world of trust in craftsmanship, and I begin to think it might be interesting to work on product design. But instead of such easy products as cars and home appliances, I was more interested in design in a vaguer, harder-to-define field, where a product was at the same time both a work of art whose very existence exerted power on people, and a tool, like how a stone vessel filled with water is supposed to be a mirror that reflects the soul-I became more and more drawn to objects that affected people's subconscious thoughts and emotions.
Shortly afterwards, at the World Design Exhibition in Nagoya, where specialists in a variety of genres came together to share their knowledge, I experienced firsthand the realization that design consists of the integration of knowledge from different fields into a unified whole. Biologist Lyall Watson gave the keynote speech, and I remember feeling a faint thrill of excitement at the premonition of the new age that was dawning in the design field.

Graduate project: Symbols of Hermaphroditism, Autism, Twins

Jumping back in time a bit, during my student days I created works that emphasized the materials they were made from. My graduate project was entitled Ryosei Guyu, Jihei, Futago no Shocho ("Symbols of Hermaphroditism, Autism, Twins"). To explain the title: "autism" here refers to introspection, since I didn't know the real meaning of the word at the time. I believed that the relationship between human and object is not simply a mean between two different value vectors, but is rather like a piece of one's own self, ambivalent yet bound together by the hidden voice of the subconscious. I gave this idea shape in the form of tools that served functions such as "sitting" or "dividing" within our everyday living space, creating objects laden with symbolism.
I would make holes in sheets of metal and use them as partitions, turn chunks of concrete into chairs. After my graduate exhibition was over, I left them outside in the schoolyard where they were exposed to the elements, and took pictures of them as they gradually fell apart, day by day, enjoying the way the appearance of the materials changed as they grew rusty and dirty.
My master's graduation product had the slightly unusual title of Ousama no Mimi wa Roba no Mimi, Ojousama no Ashi wa Zou no Ashi ("The King has Donkey's Ears, the Princess has Elephant's Feet"), but it was actually quite a serious piece, exploring the reasons why people become sick at heart, and how they can be healed and released from this sickness. It offered a multimedia interface allowing the desires of the human heart to be freely expressed and manipulated as images and sounds using a projector-like device.

Some designs can only come from Yamaha

After graduating, I interviewed at Yamaha and at a prominent manufacturer of household appliances, but when I went to interview at the appliance manufacturer, all the employees there had awfully pale faces (sorry!). The designers at Yamaha all had tans and were unshaven, and I knew Yamaha would be better for me.
It was a truly free group of the best and brightest, of many extremely talented adults. I liked the scale of the company, where it was possible to envision the entire product-making process from beginning to end, as well as the generosity shown in assigning the design for a product to a single designer, and I wanted to work there.