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Mindful Making in Japan

Students in a summer bike-building class in Tokyo absorb contemporary Japanese culture and design aesthetics while honing their skills as makers.

Mindful Making in Japan

Grad student Rebecca Erde MID 19 masters the ancient art of brazing at the Tokyo College of Cycle Design.

Students in a three-week summer bike-building class in Tokyo absorbed contemporary Japanese culture and design aesthetics while honing their skills as makers. Now offered under the auspices of RISD Global, Tokyo: Bike Building gives cycling enthusiasts the opportunity to study traditional steel-framed bicycle building techniques with master craftsmen at the Tokyo College of Cycle Design (TCD).

“Designing and building a bike frame in 15 days is intense,” says Associate Professor of Industrial Design Khipra Nichols BID 78, who developed and led the course. “But the larger goal of the class is to show students what makes Japan so culturally unique and to help them build a design practice that taps into their personal insights and intuition.”

Associate Professor Khipra Nichols (front row, third from right) introduced students to culturally significant sites in Tokyo and nearby cities.

Many of the students who participated are Industrial Design majors used to responding to an assigned design problem by creating a series of prototypes or 3D models without necessarily building the final product. As Nichols points out, the bike-building class—with its focus on craft and precision—complements RISD’s on-campus curriculum beautifully.

“The goal is to help students build a design practice that taps into their personal insights and intuition.”associate professor khipra nichols

Before even beginning their “apprenticeships” at TCD—in the heart of Tokyo’s Shibuya district—students toured the nearby city of Kamakura, home to the 13th-century Buddhist temple Kōtoku-in, and dined at the world-famous Muji Café in Yurakucho. “We were lucky enough to have ID faculty member Ayako Takase 99 ID as our guide,” says Nichols.

Nichols leads a guided meditation session.

As a longtime advocate and practitioner of meditation, Nichols frequently leads students in guided meditations as well as crafting assignments to help them access subconscious insights and inspirations. For example, he asked the summer bike builders to keep a daily journal while in Japan, beginning each day with a question, adding an image and then writing down reflections about whatever new concepts or connections they discovered by the end of the day. “Doing that on a regular basis helps you notice your surroundings more acutely and learn to trust your own insights and observations,” says Nichols.

For example, graduate student Rebecca Erde MID 19 noticed that there are fewer trash cans in Tokyo than she’s used to here in the US. “You become more mindful of the trash you create each day if you have to carry it around for a couple of hours,” she explains. She also notes that she was blown away by both the skill of Professor Shinichi Konno and the other TCD instructors and their openness to new ideas. “We came in with some really wacky designs,” she says, “but by the end of the class, they all said that we inspired them to think differently and be more creative in their own designs.”

Steel-framed beauties in the shop of master craftsman Shinichi Konno.

After completing her own bicycle frame at TCD, Erde is looking forward to showing work at the New England Builders' Ball in Boston on September 22 along with several other students. “We’re also planning to show this year’s Mars Rover vehicle,” Nichols notes. Designed and built by ID students for the annual NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge in early May, the cycle is “always a crowd-pleaser at the RISD booth.”

“We came in with some really wacky designs, but [the Japanese instructors] said that we inspired them to think differently....”rebecca erde mid 19

Senior Max Pratt 19 FD will also be showing his state-of-the-art bicycles at the ball, as will RISD alums Doug Breismeister MFA 01 SC and Kris Henry 02 ID. The exhibition runs from 2–10 pm, and tickets range from $5–12.

Simone Solondz

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