Design Inspired by Japanese Sensibilities

Inspired by Japanese sensibilities including intentional hospitality, Janken, a 9,000-square-foot restaurant, opened in Portland, Oregon’s Pearl District at the end of 2022. The name comes from the Japanese equivalent of the Rock, Paper, Scissors game and the space combines natural elements, fluid design lines, and Japanese precision throughout. 

The pan-Asian restaurant focuses on Japanese and Korean cuisines and handcrafted cocktails with an angulated slat wall that fades from white to black and an open floor plan centered around a 12-foot cherry blossom tree with a 24-foot canopy.

Jade Joseph, Co-founder and Artistic Director at Based Experiments, worked with her team to design the interior to invoke a sense of calm and serenity to enhance the guest experience. The space features hanging lantern pendant lights, wooden wishbone chairs, and bouclé knit and leather banquettes, all custom-designed. 

“We wanted to create a space where movement was fluid and where every seat in the restaurant—under the cherry blossoms, at the sushi bar, or in a comfortable banquette overlooking the dining room—left our guests feeling inspired and taken care of,” said Joseph.

Photo by Thomas Teal

Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine asked Joseph for more details about the project. 

What was the process of completing this project?

To kick it off, Chef Rodrigo Ochoa took us through his vision for the cuisine and what the menu would be like, so we used that as our anchor point. The second thing we considered was the building. It is over 100 years old and was originally a warehouse in the early 1900’s. The floor plan is wide open with twenty-foot high ceilings, hardwood floors, and gorgeous wooden structural beams throughout. We wanted to respect the grandiose nature of the space as well as make it feel warm and inviting. 

Our design process started, as it always does, with a ton of research. From there we boiled it down to a very clear vision at a macro level, and then into materials, colors, etc. From there we worked closely with our supplier overseas to have every piece in the space, besides the Nelson lanterns, custom-made. 

In what ways was the design inspired by Japanese sensibilities?

While creating the space we drew inspiration from a variety of different Japanese principals. Wabi Sabi was the principal that resonated with us the most. We loved the idea of finding beauty in the imperfections, in simplicity, with nature as its foundation. We also felt this was the essence of the space itself. The hardwood floors were worn in and well loved, and the wooden beams throughout the space showed all their original imperfections as well as the ones they had gathered over time. 

Throughout the space we juxtaposed between symmetry and fluidity, intentionally using natural curves and waves alongside the symmetrical lines of the tables and tiles. Everything in the space has its place and purpose. Everything works together, and nothing works without the other.

Photo by Thomas Teal
What are the challenges of using natural elements in a restaurant design?

The one thing we were very aware of when using natural elements in the space, like stone, was that it could feel cold, so we were very intentional in the type of wood we chose, as well as the fabric elements and colors we used to offset that. 

What do you hope guests take away from dining at Janken?

Our goal from the beginning was to create a space that, along with the food and the service provided, sparks joy, inspiration, and imagination in our guests.