Tokoro is used to describe the location or site of something, but it is also used to describe a state of being. In Japan, the idea of place is indistinguishable from the historical, cultural, social, and other connections contained within it. The idea of tokoro therefore implies the idea of context, as the place is inevitably connected with all the activities around it.
Being a designer, space obviously plays an existential role in my professional life, so naturally, I’m always happy to broaden my horizon with new ways of thinking about this subject matter. Like with Sekki, Wabi-Sabi, Ikigai and Shikake the Japanese have some interesting perspectives to offer.¹
Deriving from the foundational traditions of Shinto and Buddhism, the Japanese idea of space does not only seek to describe spatial set-ups but tends to focus on the connection between its occupants as well as the interplay of humans, the environment, and society at large.
The essay The Japanese words for “space” could change your view of the world gives us western readers a quick overview of the four different Japanese words for space called tokoro (所), ma (間), wa (和) and ba (場), providing a very different and therefore very interesting thinking about this topic. Not only but especially for designers an article worth reading.
¹ If you want to learn more about the Japanese concepts mentioned, I recommend the following books as an entry point:
- Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life by Beth Kempton
- The Little Book of Ikigai: The secret Japanese way to live a happy and long life by Ken Mogi
- Shikake: The Japanese Art of Shaping Behavior Through Design by Naohiro Matsumura