Toru Hagiwara

Kokuyo Makes a Firm Stand for Office Ergonomics & Efficiency

Toru Hagiwara – Managing Director, Kokuyo Singapore

The office is now not just a place to work, but an incubator in generating ideas, and hence office furniture should be designed to make employees more interactive, collaborative and creative.

With a growing momentum towards ergonomic diversity and upright work in the digital age, it is no surprise that 107 year-old Japan-based office furniture manufacturer, Kokuyo, has continued to be on the forefront in designing forward-looking furniture. Adhering to a manufacturing ethos of melding the two important elements of people and design into a single entity, Kokuyo remains committed to delivering on quality products valued by everyone, a concept that can be traced to its founder’s philosophy of giving back to society. Since 2003, Kokuyo furniture products have won several highly-acclaimed international awards. In 2012, its MADRE couch garnered the Universal Design Award, an award that celebrates design concepts that make products, devices, surroundings and systems usable to as many people as possible.

Toru Hagiwara, the MD of Kokuyo Singapore, shares his philosophy to Office Concept readers and explains how the company’s  products can be used to benefit people and make lasting impressions, especially in the 21st-century workplace.

Q: What is KOKUYO’s business mission and philosophy?

A: Kokuyo’s philosophy is “Being useful to the world through our products” while our mission is to “always innovate for knowledge” with the primary aim of bringing more creativity to our clients’ intellectual activities and space.

Q: What is KOKUYO’s place in the furniture industry overall?

A: In Japan, we are the leading office furniture manufacturer, and we are on a continuous quest of bringing quality products and innovations, particularly to burgeoning markets like China and India. Additionally, we aim to be on top of our game in Japan besides expanding our international footprint. In terms of our place in the global marketplace, I would say we are up there with several well-known American and European office furniture brands.

Q: Can you share any insights as to the direction the Southeast Asia office furniture is heading in the next 5 years?

A: I reckon the industry will continue to be on an upward trajectory in this part of the world, given that the American and Europe markets have yet to recover from the global financial crisis. Fortunately, with the economies of China, India and Asia remaining buoyant, I believe the purchasing power in the next 5 years will still come from the East.

Q: What trends are you paying attention in the office furniture market?

A: Office furniture has evolved in tandem with an increasingly sophisticated work environment. The office is now not just a place to work, but an incubator in generating ideas, and hence office furniture should be designed to make employees more interactive, collaborative and creative. For instance, an open-office environment would require furniture that facilitates face-to-face communication and personal interaction. In a fast-paced work environment, openness is the key to work efficiency and effective communication of ideas.

Q: How is technology changing to better integrate into the office?

A: Technology has always played a big part in our ever-changing lifestyle. New technologies and innovations have made our work place more lively and efficient. In my 15 years of experience in the office furniture industry, I have seen how telephones have evolved, from land phones, such as touch phones and rotary phones, to wireless phones with smart phones being all the rage. These days with WIFI being so pervasive, sales personnel no longer need to carry tons of catalogues to visit clients. Having a tablet will suffice. In other words, digital technology has freed people to work anywhere. Hence going forward, a company’s office can no longer afford to layer on technology as an afterthought but must consciously accommodate that technology.

Q: What are the key drivers of the design concept for office furniture? What is the most challenging aspect of office furniture design?

A: Kokuyo product design philosophy is to combine the elements of people + design. We design products with a sole purpose in mind: to benefit the user. The most challenging aspect of office furniture design is to constantly improve our own mindset, upgrade our technology to meet the shifting demands of the workplace. Efficient 21st century office furniture design doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the result of careful planning and informed decisions. In essence, at the very heart of every piece of our furniture products is a smart solution that meets the needs of the most demanding office today and in the future.

Q: Is there a particular material that you enjoy incorporating into your office furniture? Why?

A: Air. I won’t say this is a material, but as it is a vital element for human survival, we have incorporated it into our furniture to improve the well-being of the user. Our AIRFORT and AIRGRACE office chairs are a good example where the element of air incorporated into these products provides unparalleled support for the spine and helps improve sitting posture.

The most challenging aspect of office furniture design is to constantly improve our own mindset, upgrade our technology to meet the shifting demands of the workplace.

Q: Given the length of time you have been in the office furniture business, and have witnessed the sector change and evolve, what would you consider to be the greatest change so far?

A: I would think that office layout, setting, function and design have undergone extensive transformation from a generation ago. By all accounts, the furniture of today has come a long way. From bulky, heavy-looking furniture to the current clean and contemporary designs that come equipped with sophisticated mechanisms and functions. Not too long ago, office furniture was designed to accommodate the notion of spending long hours each day sitting in front of a computer. But with accumulating research on the health hazards of sitting for long stretches, a process is under way, addressing what might be called the sitting crisis. The results have been workstations that allow digitally-savvy workers to stand, even walk, while toiling at a keyboard, hence creating higher productivity and efficiency at the workplace!

Q: What advice would you give to furniture design students or anyone starting out in the field?

A: I would say, an effective designer has to think out of the box. Furniture is not just furniture anymore. As far as possible, the furniture of the 21st century should be something that is appreciated by people, is beneficial to its user and has a design that is timeless.

Q: What, in your opinion, is the definition of sustainability to designers today? Does the term go beyond simply being green and utilising eco-friendly materials in design projects?

A: With an increasing emphasis on green and eco-friendly practices and solutions, being sustainable will certainly add value to a designer’s product. While admittedly, a lot of our great projects have yet to earn the green tag, nevertheless, Kokuyo’s design and manufacturing philosophy “People + Design” is a nod to our genuine commitment to the green movement and planet-friendly practices.

Q: Have you always been an advocate for sustainability? When did you first become aware of the importance of “green”?

A: Kokuyo has been around for 107 years. First I would daresay our company is sustainable. Throughout the history of Kokuyo, the company has been an advocate of the green movement. All of our products are designed and created in line with the 3R sustainability mantra of “reuse, recycle and reduce,” from delivery of the products to their use and, eventually, to the disposal of our products.

Q: What do you feel is the most important lesson that the next generation of designers needs to learn about sustainability?

A: I feel that if designers can come out with a design that does not adversely affect but instead protects Mother Nature, this will be a fantastic achievement. I feel a good deal of emphasis should be placed on finding substitute sustainable materials. Many years ago, we witnessed how laminate and PVC emerge as a replacement material. If the future designers could give more attention to creating new furniture based on this, I think this can lead to a new wave of office furniture

Toru HagiwaraShanghai ShowroomKuala-Lumpur-ShowroomSingapore Showroom


  • 2003 – AGATA /S, AGATA /V
    IF Product Design Award
  • 2004 – ARTIS
    IF Product Design Award
  • 2005 – AGATA/D, ALINA/C
    IF Product Design Award
  • 2009 – AGATA/D, EPIPHY
    IF Product Design Award
  • 2010 – AVIEN, AMOS
    IF Product Design Award
  • 2012 – MADRE
    Universal Design Award