keita suzuki creates shinobu buddhist altar for younger generations
all images courtesy of product design center




keita suzuki of product design center conducted the branding and creation of a line of buddhist altars and tools called ‘shinobu’. given the current metropolitan lifestyle in tokyo, the japanese firm says, ‘it has become increasingly difficult for japanese citizens to afford the space to place a glorious, traditional sized buddhist altar to pray. however, despite the fact that the altar is losing its place in the household, the peoples’ feeling of mourning the deceased has not diminished – if anything it is said to have increased in the past couple of years.’ 

keita suzuki shinobu buddhist altar product design center
shinobu in black




after the earthquake on march 11, 2011, the constituents who survived the natural disaster grieved for the lost souls. suzuki visited the affected regions and was shocked to see that in the temporary housing – despite the lack of other essential goods – there was a religious structure for offerings. in that moment he realized that in times of need, the citizens seek for help from the deities. however, there is the reality that the younger generations lack the knowledge about traditional rituals, and therefore feel intimidated about purchasing sacred tables for their homes. moreover, given the residential situations in tokyo, the demand for such objects has decreased, as a majority of individuals living in apartments would not be able to afford the space for its location.

keita suzuki shinobu buddhist altar product design center
shinobu in white 




thus, the aim of the project had become to find the perfect middle ground between these conflicting factors, and the outcome was to set the standard for the contemporary buddhist altars and their accompanying items. the other goal was to make the act more casual by promoting the user to pray in a way that is unique and relevant to the subject. ‘fundamentally, the act of mourning shouldn’t have rules and standards,‘ suzuki explains. ‘I wanted to create an object that allows the individuals left behind to mourn in the fashion that they feel comfortable in.’ corresponding to this idea, ‘shinobu’ originates from a verb in the japanese language, which translates to ‘reminiscing the past person (or place), and thinking about them with nostalgia.’ the kanji character of this name consists of a combination of the characters ‘person’ and ‘think’.

keita suzuki shinobu buddhist altar product design center
small variation 




the size and function of the framework was completely revised, and through meticulous ideation the product, was first stripped to its primary components. the structure substitutes the typical doors with with bamboo blinds – an object that allows fresh air and light to pour through. the contents within can be swiftly concealed by subtly lowering the curtains. the drawers to store everyday items were preserved in the endeavor as well. materials with fine wood grains such as bamboo (for its sacred connotations) and birdseye maple (for its visual appearance) were utilized.

keita suzuki shinobu buddhist altar product design center
shinobu with the bamboo blind




the tools were developed with the full cooperation of nousaku, a traditional metalwork company based in the toyama prefecture. the form primarily consists of curvilinear lines that give off a sense of affinity through its seemingly timeless presence. the appliances were carefully fabricated to preserve the functionality. for the ones that come in contact with fire, safety in use was considered. the heat-resistant glass was manufactured by tokyo-based hirota glass co. ltd., a glasswork company founded in 1899. the singing bowl (also known as the ‘rin’ gong) has a ring shaped rubber stopper on the bottom that enhances acoustics and allows for use without a ‘zabuton’ cushion.

keita suzuki shinobu buddhist altar product design center
buddhist altar tools



designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions‘ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.