In a mid-2021 blog post titled Japandi: On Trend and Growing, we explored how the Japandi aesthetic (a blend of Scandinavian and Japanese design traits) was permeating trends in home décor and dining. That movement is still alive and well, with many new products debuting in 2022.
Yet, since that time, there has also been evidence of other disparate cultures meshing in exhilarating ways. Over the course of the next quarter, we will explore more types of cultural fusions and collaborations. For today, we’re savoring Japanese-Italian fusion.
As early as Q1 2020, B2B restaurant media outlets began heralding Wafu, also called Itameshi, as The Next Big Thing. This mashup has continued to emerge.
Wafu, which translates roughly to “Japanese style” in Japanese, is sort of shorthand in restaurantese for Japanese-inspired Italian cooking. Another Japanese word, Itameshi, translates loosely to mean “Italian food.” Both are being used in relationship to this dining-delight phenomena.
Whatever word the marketers choose, meals that marry elements of Japanese and Italian cultures have been around for 100+ years, at least in Japan. To most of North America, however, this trendy blend, which has gathered momentum since COVID-19 restrictions loosened, is in its infancy.
A few Italian-Japanese eateries have already grand-opened. Among them are the much-heralded Kimika in NYC’s Nolita neighborhood in mid-2020, and the swank Tiramisu in Montreal’s Chinatown in November 2021. Last month in the NYC suburb of Montclair, NJ, pastaRAMEN claimed an actual brick and mortar location. For months, chef Robbie Felice has had held secret, big ticket, invitation-only Wafu-Italian omikase popups in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles.
The big question for the industry to ponder is, “Does this trend have the potential to influence home-product design?” We believe that the answer may be a resounding YES.
Japanese design elements have already proven a fit for Scandinavian blending. As a next step, they have gone on to spur a shift to more-specifically Japanese looks at the high end. For example:
- In late 2022, the French studio Binome debuted the TOBI-ISHI collection of three small coffee tables. Their tops are inspired by the kinds of steppingstones found in Japanese gardens.
- The limited edition Flying Gru rug from the Italian brand Illulian, is crafted from 50% silk and 50% fine Himalayan wool. Its design suggests origami style cranes flying among Japanese flowers.
- Poltrona Frau recently re-issued the iconic interlocking Kyoto table, designed by famed Italian designer and architect Gianfranco Frattini in the 1970s. While the iconic original is part of a permanent collection of the Design Museum at the Milan Triennale, Poltrona Frau’s versions come in various finishes like black lacquer with red accents. (Separately you can see Frattini’s typical style reissued at CB2. In late September 2022, the Crate & Barrel division launched a collection of the designer’s celebrated work from the 1950s and 60s, via global design firm Form Portfolios).
- This year, Hong Kong-based designer Ponti Design Studio, via manufacturer Hyobodo, debuted its Fuoco side table in a bright red lacquer, with rounded corners and precisely cut edges. Ponti Design Studio is a product and industrial design firm based in Hong Kong, founded in 2012 by Italian designer Andrea Ponti and Japanese designer Shiori Kuroiwa.
While we may not be seeing huge numbers of Japanese-Italian mashups right now, we do suspect that a path is being cleared for them—as well as for other multi-cultural fusions, in the future.
Why is that? Because the archetypal design traits of Japanese culture, such as simplicity and serenity, natural materials, respect for the earth and functionality, are a perfect fit for the ever-expanding wellness trend. The wellness concept has become so pervasive that it is forecasted to exit the realm of trend by 2024. It will shift instead to the list of core elements for home interiors. This design perspective is already appearing in categories that normally remain in the home for many years. Examples are not only furniture, but also kitchen design.
As Japanese influences creep ahead, it seems likely that they will begin to pair with other design perspectives, including Italian. Doing so will provide the market with mashups that are familiar, yet completely new. It will simultaneously open up new style categories for the future.
Even more support for a Japanese-Italian aesthetic is coming from flavors and fragrances. At the 2022 Sweets & Snacks Expo, a Bell Flavors & Fragrances presentation featured five global trends steering consumers’ dining patterns. “Coastal Cuisine” was among them.
Bell defined Coastal Cuisine as ocean-based foods and flavors that are rising in popularity as healthy alternatives to meat. The company reported that “nutritious, delicate, and flavorful gifts from the sea” that are “high protein delights with excellent textures, and unique bursts of flavors” would lead to new culinary paths. Think about seafood, from shrimp to sea urchin to milt, as vessels for importing flavors of the Asia Pacific area into and onto pasta or risotto, soups, and salads. Whether chefs who specialize in bringing Japanese and Italian concepts together are following trends or not, most are employing these elements. Another plus: three of Bell’s “10 breakthrough flavors” for Coastal Cuisine are common to Japanese cooking: dashi, furikake, and nori.
No wonder this fusion style, one of several blends saluting an Asian culture, is on our trend-tracking radar.
And The Trend Curve isn’t alone. Several Q4 2022 gift-giving lists (from Forbes, Town & Country, Buzz Feed and others), especially those designed to pair kitchenware with top TikTok cooking trends, included a surprising number of items favoring Japanese-style meal prep. Noteworthy products can also apply to Italian-Japanese blended creations: pasta-noodle maker combinations, mochi makers, LED chopsticks, sushi kits, pasta makers, mochi makers, and more.
Look below for a few more ideas to inspire your Japanese-influenced assortment development.