Southeast Asia was full of Chinese cardboard boxes…” Who is the man who picks up discarded cardboard boxes all over the world?
Traveling to New York, he was captivated by corrugated cardboard
I have been searching for corrugated cardboard for nearly 12 years and have picked it up all over the world. I feel it is my mission to convey the appeal of corrugated cardboard.
He is an artist, a carton picker, and a person who expresses his passion for corrugated cardboard. Fuyuki Shimazu, 35, is an artist and self-proclaimed carton picker.
Fascinated by the design and coloring of cardboard boxes, he travels the world to collect discarded cardboard boxes. He has been to 38 countries. He makes wallets, business card holders, and other items from the cardboard he collects, and holds workshops in Japan and abroad to teach people how to make cardboard wallets.
His first encounter with corrugated cardboard dates back to his student days at Tama Art University.
In my second year of college, my wallet was falling apart, and I didn’t have the money to replace it, so I made a wallet out of cardboard I happened to have at home as a stopgap measure,” he said. It was a cardboard box of a wine called Redwood Creek that I picked up at a local supermarket. I thought it had a cool design, so I kept it in case I could use it for something else.
Looking back, he recalls, “I made a wallet out of a piece of cardboard by accident, and that may have been the beginning of everything. The following year, while traveling in New York, he became fascinated with corrugated cardboard.
I wasn’t interested in corrugated cardboard,” he says, “it was my first time abroad, so I wanted to see what there was to see. But as I was walking around, I couldn’t help but notice all the cardboard boxes. The patterns and colors were so stylish and different from those in Japan that it was quite a culture shock for me. At the same time, it was exciting to think that there are many different types of cardboard in other countries.
In the end, I came home without much sightseeing, just taking pictures of cardboard boxes. But then…
This trip to New York was the start of my journey in search of corrugated cardboard.
After graduating from Tama Art University, he worked for a major advertising agency, but his passion for corrugated cardboard only grew. While working as an art director, he continued to “sneak around doing corrugated cardboard activities” and even went on a trip to pick up corrugated cardboard because “I was a cocky employee who used paid vacations from my first year in the company. However, three and a half years after joining the company, he decided to resign.
I had always wanted to be an art director, so I was certainly happy when I joined the company. But my love for corrugated cardboard was only growing, and advertising production was so far removed from the kind of manufacturing I had envisioned that I just couldn’t seem to fit in. ……
If he had continued working at the company, he would have been assured of a high income and a secure future.
To be honest, I had already decided to quit after about three years when I joined the company. At a college career consultation, a professor I trusted said to me, ‘You should go out into the world and see how the creative process works. I thought that was true, because my feet weren’t strong enough to make it as an artist.
When it finally came to three years, I was anxious. But I was more afraid that my salary and position would go up and I wouldn’t be able to quit.”
In Thailand, there is a wide variety of Nampula cardboard, and Southeast Asia is full of cardboard made in China… Through cardboard, you can see the situation of each country.
Is corrugated cardboard so fascinating?
Whenever I come across cardboard I have never seen before, I always make a discovery. Every time I go out to look for corrugated fiberboard, I find a new one, and I get curious about who made it. So my journey in search of corrugated cardboard is never ending.
According to him, “corrugated fiberboard is full of information.
Corrugated cardboard has a lot to do with logistics, and you can see what kind of food is distributed in a country through corrugated cardboard. When you go to Thailand, there are many cardboard boxes for fish sauce, and they come in a variety of designs. This shows how important fish sauce is in Thailand.
I went to the Philippines expecting to pick up a lot of banana cardboard, but in the end I didn’t get any. The reason for this is that the cardboard is for export bananas grown on plantations, and jute bags are used for domestic distribution. You have to go there to find out these things.
I saw quite a bit of cardboard made in China in Southeast Asian countries. Especially common were cardboard boxes for apples and ginger. I felt like I caught a glimpse of the power relationship between China and Southeast Asia.
Mr. Shimazu collects corrugated cardboard boxes while giving them much thought. However, to the local people, a young man with a beard walking around with cardboard boxes may look like a “strange foreigner.
They will stare at you because you are strange. He picks up dirty pizza boxes and other discarded items, so it seems that he is seen as a trash scavenger. If you bring back a lot of cardboard boxes, you may be asked by the airport staff. Japanese airports are also quite strict. I once had a dog inspect cardboard I picked up at a market because of its smell, which made him suspicious.
Encountering corrugated cardboard is a once-in-a-lifetime experience
I wondered if the cardboard I brought back from overseas, sometimes with great difficulty, would be reborn as wallets and other items. ……
Actually, I have never made wallets out of corrugated cardboard that I have picked up around the world. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and if I go back to that country again, I may not be able to pick up the same piece of cardboard. They are my precious collection. I cannot use them as wallets.
In my mind, the cardboard itself is a completed work of art. That is why I want to keep them, and my collection is the core of my corrugated cardboard activities. My love for corrugated cardboard is stronger than my desire to upcycle it.
For his artworks and workshops, he uses foreign cardboard that he can pick up again and again in Japan, as well as Japanese cardboard that he likes the design of. He does not paint or add patterns to his designs, though “Japanese corrugated board is often simple and colorless.
He says, “I feel it is prohibited to add anything to a completed design. I feel it is prohibited to add anything to a completed design, and I have a love for corrugated fiberboard. I want people to know that Japanese corrugated cardboard also has colorful and cute designs, and depending on how they are cut, they can become such stylish wallets. Even the familiar Amazon boxes can be surprisingly catchy when transformed into wallets.
The appeal of corrugated cardboard and the story it tells are not the only things we want to convey.
As in the case of the cardboard pickup trips and the wallet-making workshops, I am consistently working on the theme of ‘from unwanted things to important things. That phrase carries the message that even discarded items have value and potential.
However, I don’t want to push that to the forefront. I feel honored that my love of corrugated cardboard is ultimately seen as an SDG and sustainability issue.
Corrugated cardboard is recycled, isn’t it? I am upcycling corrugated cardboard by making wallets, but that is also breaking the cycle of recycling. When I learn about the process of recycling cardboard, I have mixed feelings about whether it is really environmentally friendly to transport it by car or to clean it with various chemicals.
It makes me wonder if we can really rely on recycling, even if it is now considered an excellent way to recycle. I feel it is just like me to convey such things while enjoying my favorite cardboard activities.”
Another dream of corrugated cardboard lovers is this.
Last July, we released a web application called “Carton Picker Finder,” which allows anyone in the world to map photos of cardboard boxes they have found in various locations on a world map. I hope that more and more people will come to love cardboard and that a community will be born.
Fuyuki Shimazu, artist, was born in 1987 in Kanagawa Prefecture. After graduating from Tama Art University, he worked for an advertising agency before becoming an artist. In 2018, his documentary film “Traveling Cardboard” (Director: Ryusuke Okajima / Distributor: Pictures Depot), which follows him as he picks up discarded cardboard boxes, was released. He was in charge of space design for the newly established SUSTAINABLE MARKET in Narita International Airport in February of this year. He is the author of “Cardboard is Takaramono: Upcycle by Chance” (Kashiwa Shobo) and “How to Make a Cardboard Purse” (Boutique-sha).
Click here for Fuyuki Shimazu’s website “Carton Studio
Interview and text by： Sayuri Saito