Born in 1940, Katsumi Asaba is one of the most important Japanese designers in the world today.

He has been designing for more than 60 years, playing ping-pong for 40 years, and mastering the art of calligraphy for 20 years.

This exhibition showcases a selection of Asaba’s typographic posters that explore different visual languages from around the world. One of Asaba’s goals has been to forge a connection between contemporary graphic design and ancient writing systems. His principal area of expertise lies in the pictographic Dongba script used by the Naxi tribe from Lijiang in the Yunnan province of southwest China. It is the last living pictographic script left on the planet.

Asaba has played table tennis competitively around the world. He holds the title of sixth degree master in table tennis from the Japan Table Tennis Association. His art direction has changed the visual representation of the sport itself. He is responsible for changing the colour of ping-pong tables from dark green to blue and the ball to yellow. He is the ambassador for ‘Solo Ping Pong Diplomacy’, which has led him to play in more than 30 countries. Many of Asaba’s posters record his playing of the sport in extreme situations, including a frozen lake in Hokkaido and a floating ping-pong table in Israel’s Dead Sea.

Katsumi Asaba’s invitation to play in New Zealand is the Asaba Table – an interactive sculpture designed by Dean Poole. It sees the standard ping-pong table reinvented as one-part science experiment, one-part musical instrument. In this table ping-pong balls levitate out of voids; it can also return a shot or spit a ball out at random. This table is not only a surface for a collaborative performance, it is an object that becomes a participant in the game, with a spirit of its own.

The sound generated by ball and bat gave the sport its name, ‘Ping-Pong’. This onomatopoeic origin is further extended in the Asaba Table with a spectrum of unique sounds produced when it is played. Asaba often exclaims ‘Zukyuun!’ as he hits the ball, a uniquely Japanese expression describing something being ‘hit through’, and this too has been incorporated into the table.

The Asaba Table is not only a participatory object; it is also a metaphor for collaboration. Table tennis is a form of two-way communication between sender and receiver, across borders and cultures. It is a conversation between two parties, of call and response. Asaba believes that ping-pong and design are similar. “Don't let your mind get cluttered. Just hit what comes to you.”


Born in 1940, Katsumi Asaba is a renowned, multi-award winning Japanese designer and a master calligrapher based in Tokyo.

After graduating from Kuwasawa Design School and working for Light Publicity Inc., he founded Katsumi Asaba Design Studio in 1975. Since then he has taken an active role at the forefront of Japanese design industry. Many of his creations as an art director have made a lasting mark in the history of Japanese advertising design. Representative works include landmark ads for Seibu department store, Suntory, and Takeda Pharmaceutical Company, the official poster for the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano and logo design for HOMME PLISSÉ ISSEY MIYAKE. He has received numerous awards including the Japan Advertising Artists Club Special Prize, Tokyo Type Directors Club Award, Yusaku Kamekura Award, Japan Academy Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction, Medal with Purple Ribbon, Tokyo Art Directors Club Grand Prix for ‘Asaba’s Diary’ and the space design for the exhibition ‘Traces of the Prayer’ held in 2008 at 21_21 Design Sight, and Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette in 2013. He is chairman of the Tokyo Type Directors Club, committee member of the Tokyo Art Directors Club and JAGDA (Japan Graphic Designers Association), Japan representative in the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI), 10th successive director of Kuwasawa Design School, and visiting professor at Tokyo Zokei University and Kyoto Seika University. Asaba has a particular interest in the rich cultural heritage of writing in Asia and in exploring the relationships between written and visual expression. He also holds the title of sixth degree master in table tennis from the Japan Table Tennis Association.

Dean Poole is co-founder and creative director of Alt Group, a multi-disciplinary design studio based in New Zealand.

He studied at Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland, majoring in sculpture, graduating in 1993. Committed to raising the profile of New Zealand design locally and internationally, he has been involved in the establishment of the Better by Design programme in conjunction with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. Dean has helped conceptualise and deliver a number of national interest projects including the promotion of the creative industries for Brand New Zealand, the development of brands for Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Blackgrace, Silo Theatre, NZ Opera, Te Oro, as well as the creative direction for Fisher & Paykel globally. Since 2005 his creative direction has been awarded over 500 international and national awards including; Red Dot Grand Prix, The German Design Prize, D&AD, Art Directors Club Gold Cube, Gold Cannes Design Lion, Graphis Platinum, AGDA Pinnacle, Type Directors Club NY, TokyoTDC, AIGA, One Show Pencils, and Webby Awards. He has received the highest accolade in New Zealand for design, the Purple Pin, eight times. In 2010 he received the John Britten Black Pin, the most prestigious individual award for his contribution to design in New Zealand and internationally. Dean is the first New Zealand member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI).