Shunji Yamanaka

Shunji Yamanaka


photo: Naomi Circus


Born in Ehime Prefecture in 1957. After graduating from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Tokyo, he worked at the Nissan Motor Design Center. Since 1987, he has been working as a freelance designer, designing a wide range of industrial products from wristwatches to railroad cars, and from 1991 to 1994 he was an associate professor at the University of Tokyo. In 1994, he founded Leading Edge Design. As an engineer as well as a designer, he has developed humanoid robots and Japanese input device as self-funded projects. He has also contributed to the development of communication infrastructure technologies such as the Willcom W-SIM core module and NTT DoCoMo’s “Osaifu-Keitai”. In the development of the Suica automatic ticket checker, he dramatically improved the recognition rate based on experiments and became a key person in its practical application. He has been a professor at Keio University since 2008 and at the University of Tokyo since 2013. In the Yamanaka Laboratory at the Institute of Industrial Science, the University of Tokyo, he is promoting projects that suggest the future relationship of humans and advanced technology, such as beautiful prosthetic legs for athletes and creature-like robots using additive manufacturing technology (3D printing).
He has received many awards, including the Permanent Collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Ars Electronica STARTS, the Japan Good Design Award (in 2006, he won two Gold Awards and the Ecology Design Award simultaneously), the iF Design Award, the Mainichi Design Award, and the Innovation Design Award (Red Dot), A’Design Pratinum Awaords and many others.

Thoughts on Design

The modern manufacturing and production activities of mankind, which are based on the accumulation of a vast amount of technology and culture, and in which huge amounts of capital and resources are invested, carry a heavy responsibility. We are responsible for digging up and burning up the carbon accumulated by living things over hundreds of millions of years, for expanding the population to the point where we cannot even secure food without altering the environment, and for our arrogant desire to make all of these vast numbers of people happy. Where are we going, using even nuclear energy, which was originally a stellar monopoly and which no earthly ecosystem has ever attempted to harness?
What can answer this pressure, or maybe not, but what gives us a slight sense of hope, I think, is our sense of beauty. Beauty is a faint sense that exists only in weak individuals, but it is a reverence for nature, a thirst for truth, and a norm for happiness that has been nurtured in the corners of the minds of arrogant human beings. Therefore, today, design is the starting point of all manufacturing, and is the heart of all of us.

Representative work

  • 2009 | Fragella

  • 2016 | RAMI & CR-1

  • 2001 | Issey Miyake Insetto

  • 2007 | Ephyra

  • 2007 | Kokuyo Avein

  • 2009 | A small boat pulling a bow

  • 2018 | CanguRo

Interview (Japanese)

From the exhibition “Secret Source of Inspiration: Designers’ Hidden Sketches and Mockups