Big in Japan

WORDS: Remy Raitt | PHOTOS: Supplied

When South African-born Liezel Strauss set sail for Tokyo, she realised that an insatiable desire for newness made this the perfect place to showcase brilliant South African design.

Most South Africans would agree that some of our country’s amazing designs deserve a place on the international stage. South African-born Liezel Strauss made it her aim to put them there when she moved to Tokyo. With a host of creative endeavours on the go, Liezel is showing an international audience what creatives in her home land are up to and why foreigners should get in on the action.

In September 2010, Liezel conjured up the idea for Five Items Five Days, a platform aimed at sharing our country’s aesthetics by hosting a sale of five South African design items over five days in her new home town. After living in Tokyo for six months, Liezel learnt that the Japanese have an insatiable desire for newness. “I had a small budget and limited time for this project, and the idea was sparked from these restrictions combined with the characteristics of Tokyo.”

Liezel’s innovative idea caught on well. With Pederson & Lennard Bucket Stools and Recycled Lamps, Heath Nash’s Wire Coat Hooks, pillow designs by Skinny La Minx and a Haldane Martin Fiela Feather light on sale at the launch, Five Items Five Days landed with aplomb.

“At both exhibitions, the gallery was jam-packed and we sold almost all the pieces of the first exhibition,” Liezel says. “Sadly, the second exhibition was only one day, since the devastating earthquake happened the day after the opening.”

Time to give back

The earthquake had a profound effect on Liezel and her work: “I had the overwhelming feeling that I couldn’t go back to Tokyo doing anything but charity, at least for a few months. Now was the time to give something back to the city and the people who have been so kind to us.”

The reality was that most expats (the main target market for Liezel’s art and interior consultancy, BottegaTokyo) left the city, while the locals (their target market for Five Items) weren’t spending money. “I already had the studio/gallery space, so instead of doing Five Items, I decided to do a photographic exhibition to raise funds for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami.”

This is how Liesel’s most recent project, My Japan, was born. After the natural disaster struck, Liezel took shelter in Singapore. “While there, I felt so disabled and far away from Japan and the sadness it was going through. I went through all the photos on my laptop of Japan and I realised so many people must have beautiful pictures of the country.”

This sparked the idea to start an exhibition of photos of the affected areas by people who love the land and live there. Through a group on Facebook, people from 21 countries submitted more than 600 photos in six weeks. The top 50 photos (as voted on Facebook) were exhibited in May in Tokyo, and 70 pieces were sold.

My Japan will remain open and we encourage people to keep submitting and voting. It will remain a place of inspiration and hope, of love for Japan,” Liezel says. “We’re planning future exhibitions, and someone from London has contacted us and volunteered to do the exhibition in London next month. All the proceeds from the exhibitions go to the Japan Emergency Network to help the victims of the devastating earthquake and tsunami. I’m definitely dreaming of a My Japan exhibition in South Africa…”

Liezel and her husband also have another photographic pursuit: their photography gallery called Subject Matter, where South African photography is exhibited and sold.

Along with her popular blog, Tokyo Lily, and her day-to-day consultancy work at BottegaTokyo, Liezel is a busy lady. Her life centres on design, art and beautiful things. Five Items Five Days will be back in September, while BottegaTokyo is already back to business.

Sharing South African flavour is what Liezel does best and with a “heart that lives between Cape Town, New York and Tokyo”, this design gypsy is sure to keep spreading the word of the beauty that lies within her motherland.

Five Items Five Days:
My Japan:
Subject Matter: