November 3, 2011  |  Collection & Exhibitions, Design
Word Up

I’m a big fan of words; letters and the written word to be a little more precise.  And not just the sound and meaning, but actual words—their physicality, their shape and form, and how they look. I have a nephew who was crazy for the letter “u”; specifically the lower case “u,” with serifs.

He loved making the pencil strokes and seeing the way “u” looked on paper. For a time he ended every word he wrote with a “u.” Though the “u” has never been my absolute favorite, I could relate.

Shigeru Ishitsuka, and Misako Kirigay. Mojibakeru. 2010. ABS. Manufactured by MegaHouse Corporation, Japan. Installation view of Talk To Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects at MoMA, 2011.


Another young friend fell in love with the word “glove” and used it endlessly. No doubt it was the letter assembly; the collection of consonants, that “gl” sound followed by the “v” sound, but I think she was equally fascinated by the mystery of the object it represented. It’s one of the good words, “glove,” but it’s an equally wonderful object. And as an art handler I’m also a big fan of objects, so you can imagine how thrilled I am about the inclusion of Mojibakeru—a collection of transforming, kanji character-based toys designed by Shigeru Ishitsuka of Megahouse and Misako Kirigaya of Bandai—in the exhibition Talk to Me.

"inu" kanji "dog" character


The word Mojibakeru is a combination of the Japanese words moji (character) and bakeru (to change into). The Mojibakeru toys start in the shape of a kanji character and deftly shift into the shape of their character’s meaning.


It takes four strokes to make the Japanese kanji character for dog, “inu,” with four or so more moves—the swivel of strokes into legs, the raising of a tail, and the opening of a mouth—you have a dog.


Shigeru Ishitsuka of MegaHouse Corporation, Misako Kirigaya of Bandai Co., Ltd. MojibakeruDog. 2010 ABS. Manufactured by MegaHouse Corporation, Japan. Photo © BANDAI

There are 18 different kanji animal figures in the series so far, and they come in a variety of colors. They’re teaching toys, but toys to be sure. They’re also visual translations of language, three-dimensional typographic characters that communicate their meaning by shape-shifting. Pretty sophisticated and poetic—like all the best words and objects.

Mojibakeru are on view in the exhibition Talk To Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects in the category of Double Entendre which features design works that encourage cross-cultural and multi-dimensional understanding.

Talk To Me closes on November 7, so don’t miss seeing them in person!


So once again Pamela, excellent piece!

“Though the “u” has never been my absolute favorite, I could relate.” What is your favorite?

I am always surprised and taken with your view of things.

Interesting. I may have to go see TALK TO ME again.

I glove u for this great post on a splendid creation. When I finally get around to learning Japanese, I would love to get my hands on a set of these toys.

My favorite?
It changes according to usage, letter combinations and such. Depends upon writing materials too naturally; pencils build a particular type of stroke, pens lend themselves to certain marks, and papers differ in their response to writing, but generally speaking…

I’m partial to writing the letters with tails, or those with long strokes that I can drop down below the plane of the others… like y and f. l too (fly) and t (flyt).

And “x.” The “x” is really a wonder, best when it stands alone – which it can do. No question though, the “x” has a lot of history and almost always arrives with expectations.

I’m a fan of the “w,” but then who isn’t a fan of the “w.”
I like the “k” but that’s likely because it reminds me of movement and learning to drive. (The five point turn was called the “K” turn where I learned to drive. Maybe that’s why.)

You’d think I’d like the “s,” but not so much.
Of the ’round” letters… I suppose the “c” and “e” are faves.

I like the “q” but because it’s so problematic; character and personality wise, but in truth, I bet I could easily go forever never needing to write another q – for my own purposes that is.

Witty, thoughtful, provocative…and making us curious about the subject. That’s you, Pamela, and that is this posting. Thanks.

A lovely piece! Elegant, witty . . . and observant in a new way.

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