The task seemed simple. Create the perfect chair.
But when you’re interning for a company that has designed chairs for Royal Albert Hall and other majestic performance venues around the world, the pressure is on.
Yuqi Wei ’15 and Akari Ogawa ’16 spent their summer in Tokyo, living among 35 million neighbors in the greater Tokyo area and serving as interns for the Kotobuki Corp. The nearly 100-year-old company is known as a creator of public spaces and a manufacturer of unique and comfortable ergonomic furniture.
In the 1940s, Kotobuki produced chairs with springs made of bamboo and glass marbles for ball bearings. In addition to community playground equipment and street furniture in many cities, the company has also become known for products including the “chair without tiredness,” chairs with heating and air conditioning, and sleep capsules. They designed the seating for the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre in 2009 and created the more than 70,000 seats for the Carolina Panthers stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
After hearing about the internship opportunity through professors at Furman, Wei and Ogawa jumped at the chance to spend their summer there. They shared a dorm-style apartment with other international students and rode the commuter trains to work each day.
Right away, company representatives put them to work conducting market research and making weekly presentations on their research using Excel and Powerpoint. They took field trips to parks in Tokyo to determine the best ways to incorporate fitness equipment into the spaces and discussed ideas for mobile applications.
After their chair design challenges were presented, their minds flooded with questions.
For Ogawa, balance was the hardest part.
“How can I make it the proper weight?” asked Wei. “How can I make it look good?”
They started with blueprints, then made cardboard models, then entered the information into a computer application that created actual miniature chairs on a special 3-D printer.
Wei, who learned Japanese from anime, created a cartoon character chair. Ogawa, a music performance major, created a piano-shaped chair of light blue plastic.
“We both made something we liked,” said Wei, a native of Yunnan, China. “I was able to use my critical thinking skills and open my mind in a unique and interesting way.”
In addition to a deeper understanding of the culture, Wei, a triple major in political science, communication studies and Asian studies, said she also received some career direction.
While she had planned on a law career, Wei said she’s also considering the possibility of a job in Japan after graduation.
For Ogawa, a native of Columbus, Ohio, the summer provided the “real world experience” she wanted.
“I had so much fun there,” said Ogawa. “It was a great opportunity to work outside the country.”
Learn more about Furman internship opportunities here.