The first thing to catch the eye when you walk into the extraordinary Zakka exhibition at 21_21 Design Sight is the stylized sign bearing the English translation of “zakka” as “goods and things.”

What is a “good” and what is a “thing?” I wondered. In the end, this wide-ranging exhibit of retro-paraphernalia, contemporary design, with displays of everything from six-decades old cardboard packaging for toothpaste tubes and mosquito coils, plastic ice cream spoons (yes, really – my main thought was, who on earth would have the foresight to hoard these things?) to chic contemporary woven baskets and sleek kitchenware defies categorization.

So perhaps “goods and things” – or simpler translations such as “stuff,” or “sundries” — is appropriate.

The explanation in museum literature puts it thus: “This exhibition takes a broad look at the sensibilities behind zakka and the environments they occupy, viewing them as constituting a unique culture of their own, and drawing attention to the appeal of their design and appearance.”

That somehow explains the mind-boggling mish-mash of products and eras on show in the museum’s large space – many from Japan but some from improbably far destinations around the world.

One could go on and on, but as this remarkable show ends on June 5, all I can say is – if you are in Tokyo on or before then, go and see it. If you can’t, here are some casual snaps that might give you a better feel for some unique and intriguing “things” – and insight into the vision of people who collected this stuff over many decades.


21_21 Design Site

Address: Tokyo Midtown, 9-7-6 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0052

Phone: 03-3475-2121

Direct access from Roppongi station on the Oedo and Hibiya subway lines, 3 minutes walk from Nogizaka station on the Chiyoda line

Opening hours

From 10:00 to 19:00

Closed on Tuesdays


Adults ¥1100, University Students ¥800, High School and Junior High School Students ¥500,