An Afternoon In Tokyo With The Man Who Designs Casio G-Shock Watches

An Afternoon In Tokyo With The Man Who Designs Casio G-Shock Watches

An Afternoon In Tokyo With The Man Who Designs Casio G-Shock Watches Feature Articles

By getting to stroll around with Mr. Ryusuke Moriai, I got to live out a childhood dream for an afternoon in Tokyo – minus being able to challenge him at Street Fighter in an arcade. This is the guy responsible for the design of G-Shock and many other Casio watches. It is worth mentioning why this was a big deal to me. As a product of the 1980s in America, I was part of a special generation who grew up with a lot of Japanese culture in the form of video games, animated television shows and movies, and of course, toys. At the same time, I spent my childhood wearing cool Japanese watches. Well, just Casio watches, actually.

An Afternoon In Tokyo With The Man Who Designs Casio G-Shock Watches Feature Articles
Mr. Ryusuke Moriai wearing a G-Shock MR-G and holding a Casio Databank.

As a kid, I didn’t really know of anything you could put on your wrist that was more desirable than a Casio. I was aware of other watches, sure, but none of them seemed particularly appealing at the time. Casio watches were light, durable, easy to read, full of functions, something that my parents were willing to afford, and pretty cool-looking. I actually recall with some specificity the feelings I had when comparing my digital Casio watch with analog watches. Using hands to tell the time seemed primitive, and why would you want a timepiece that told you only the time? Especially when Casio proved it could tell you the temperature, compass direction, and of course, help you calculate mathematics.

An Afternoon In Tokyo With The Man Who Designs Casio G-Shock Watches Feature Articles

Growing up, I wasn’t a watch lover, but rather a Casio lover. I didn’t know that interesting watches were sold outside of a sporting goods store, and I loved how I felt a connection between the Japanese culture I was enjoying as a kid and the thing that was on my wrist. How did I know Casio was a Japanese company back then? Well, because aside from English, the instructions were in Japanese.

An Afternoon In Tokyo With The Man Who Designs Casio G-Shock Watches Feature Articles

It is my generation that the major three Japanese watchmakers are now trying to court more than ever. They know they captured our hearts as kids, and today as adults they want to keep that relationship going with new high-end watches they hope will appeal to the lifestyle demands we have and evoke the nostalgia so many of us enjoy. Mr. Ryusuke Moriai wears one of these “luxury” watches, a high-end G-Shock which exists mainly as the MR-G (review here) and MT-G (hands-on here) product families. His title at Casio is a bit confusing, but he is the guy who heads Casio timepiece design, and he is either directly or indirectly responsible for some of the world’s most popular high-production timepieces of the last 30 or so years.

An Afternoon In Tokyo With The Man Who Designs Casio G-Shock Watches Feature Articles

My time with Mr. Moriai came as a result of a request to Casio to help me understand what inspires the design of G-Shock watches. Never a company to disappoint, during a trip to Japan to view their “premium production line” (PPL) at Yamagata Casio (in-depth G-Shock manufacture visit here), they generously gave my group a translator and Mr. Moriai’s time to share with me where the design of G-Shock watches comes from.

An Afternoon In Tokyo With The Man Who Designs Casio G-Shock Watches Feature Articles

The world’s most important sport watches don’t have a distinctive look by accident. What started as a purposeful design in the early 1980s when Mr. Kikuo Ibe invented the G-Shock has transformed into a universe of watches each with their own stories, aesthetics, and personalities. At their core, G-Shock watches follow two values at Casio. First is “absolute toughness,” which means that they should keep pushing the limits of durability, and second is to follow the spirit of “never give up.” This, for them, means innovation and problem-solving should never end. The next watch you make should be your greatest, and as an engineer or designer you should never give up on trying to solve technical problems.

An Afternoon In Tokyo With The Man Who Designs Casio G-Shock Watches Feature Articles

The first watch Mr. Moriai designed is actually still produced today. He was responsible for the Casio F-91W, which was supposed to be small, easy to read, and very durable for the money. It also happened to be very cheap - I don’t think it has ever sold at a retail price of more than $30. Most industrial designers don’t get so lucky on their first attempt, but Mr. Moriai was. In fact, Casio as a company has been very lucky in their success selling modern watches. You see more Casio products on people’s wrists in Japan than pretty much any other watch – and the situation isn’t that dissimilar in other parts of the world where looking cool and being on time are a priority.

An Afternoon In Tokyo With The Man Who Designs Casio G-Shock Watches Feature Articles

Casio product development is surprisingly complex. As the company’s development department never actually finishes anything, the product development departments are constantly working to not only bring out new model families, but to also improve on the products that they already make. For this reason, people who follow the brand have been able to see many generations of such famed watches as the Frogman, Mudman, and many of the numerical series of G-Shock watches like the 6900 and 5600 series.

An Afternoon In Tokyo With The Man Who Designs Casio G-Shock Watches Feature Articles

An Afternoon In Tokyo With The Man Who Designs Casio G-Shock Watches Feature Articles

Casio G-Shock watches begin life with a functional purpose. This is actually a bit unique in the watch world as many timepieces today begin life as a theme or marketing prompt rather than “we need a watch that can do X.” This is actually because Casio is among the few modern watch companies whose customers are still putting their timepieces through rough conditions and taking them into abusive environments.

An Afternoon In Tokyo With The Man Who Designs Casio G-Shock Watches Feature Articles

An Afternoon In Tokyo With The Man Who Designs Casio G-Shock Watches Feature Articles

Even Seiko, which produces many fine dive watches, can’t claim that a lot of its buyers are actually taking their dive watches underwater. Casio, on the other hand – while it has a large group of “lifestyle” and fashion buyers – by comparison, still has more people actually “needing” their watches to be durable than any other modern watchmaker. If you think about that carefully, you can imagine how it translates itself into company culture.

An Afternoon In Tokyo With The Man Who Designs Casio G-Shock Watches Feature Articles

In order to create sales, Casio’s strategy has been to keep offering their customers more features and more watches for specific needs. Think about how narrow Casio has gotten over the years with the intended purposes of their watches. Today, they make watches not just for diving, but for commercial diving, recreational diving, rescue diving, etc. They have watches for people who are soldiers, surfers, rescue workers, muddy rescue workers, boat workers, pilots, skateboarders, and even for glamping (“glamorous camping”).

An Afternoon In Tokyo With The Man Who Designs Casio G-Shock Watches Feature Articles

An Afternoon In Tokyo With The Man Who Designs Casio G-Shock Watches Feature Articles

Each of these worlds has its own associated needs but also cultures. Casio has been inspired by tanks when developing the look of its Mudmaster collection, and nautical equipment when developing the Gulfmaster. It does this because of one more product design motivation Casio was very explicit about: that its watches are both cool to wear and also fun to use.

An Afternoon In Tokyo With The Man Who Designs Casio G-Shock Watches Feature Articles

In my article (linked to above) on visiting Casio and their watch production in Japan, I spoke about the concept that no watch brand has ever been so frank as to make it clear they wanted their watches to be both fun and cool. If anything, Casio is deeply unpretentious – a trait I admire greatly. So what does that mean? Cool to look at on the wrist, and fun to operate when doing even mundane things like checking the barometric pressure or using a stopwatch.

An Afternoon In Tokyo With The Man Who Designs Casio G-Shock Watches Feature Articles

Mr. Moriai himself is a vehicle lover, which shouldn’t be a surprise as the overlap between cars, motorcycles, planes, and watches is common. In Japan, this is often expressed in a love of small, fast cars and motorcycles. In subtle but typically profound ways he is able to draw aesthetic parallels between the things he and his design team love and the watches they design. With that noted, I will say once again that each new G-Shock watch begins with functionality in mind and not mere cool design. It isn’t that function is over form, but rather that function becomes form.

  • Chemistman

    Thanks for the awesome article !

  • divid

    What a fun story!

  • divid

    This trip must’ve been a lot of fun!

  • Emperius

    Gotta have a G-Shock in your collection, regardless of what type of collector you are. And for me, a G-Shock without Solar (minimum) and Radio sync is useless.

    • IG

      No, ain’t gotta have.

  • Marius
    • TrevorXM

      The guy in the white shirt needs to be wearing a G-shock.

  • IanE

    That pink Rangeman is quite something. You’re a braver man than I to wear it though! Nice write-up and so good to still have a company that bothers about value for money.

    • Phil leavell

      Are you saying it’s okay to be in touch with your feminine side but just don’t touch it. Wearing a certain color has nothing to do with masculinity

      • IanE

        No, I’m joking! Should have added LOL – my bad.

        • Phil leavell

          No worries I know you’re joking I like the way comment I personally would the pink ones ( your shock value)

  • Bozzor

    There is work being done on the following that can be applied to watches:

    1) More efficient solar cells.
    2) Efficient conversion of transient EM energy (from cell phone towers, radio stations, wifi etc) into power for watches,
    3) Conversion of heat energy (ambient temperature and body heat) into electrical power

    Of course,it comes down to questions of cost vs gain and how long this all takes…

    Casio will never be Patek Phillipe on opening night at the Opera, at the Academy Awards or in a Fortune 500 boardroom…but then again, Patek Phillipe can never be Casio on a SEAL’s wrist somewhere in the a global hell hole, a champion surfer’s wave or a helicopter rescue pilot on a burning oil rig in the Atlantic.

    And damn, that pearl inlaid Katana handle is AMAZING!!! Any more info???

    • goju1

      Not pearls – skin of stingray. Traditional for a Katana.

      • I also thought they were pearls!

  • Word Merchant

    Ditch the reverse LCD panels – they’re illegible. Bring back the AX-210 but in a larger case. That’s all. Thank-you.

  • TheChuphta

    Cool article, although I don’t know what the phrase “willing to afford” means. Just because this site often features 5 and 6 figure watches doesnt mean you can’t simply describe something as inexpensive (it’s not necessarily a pejorative term). I don’t understand this phenomoneon wherein enthusiasts put more effort into justifying affordable watches than they do ludicrously priced “luxury” offerings.

  • Very interesting article. Thanks for writing this.

  • Fun article! What an experience. You you’d’ve had to drag me out of that katana shop.

  • LapYoda

    Great piece, Ariel! I really enjoy these articles about visiting with designers and the inspirations for their watches. I, too, grew up with a Casio on my wrist and have fond memories of my DBX-100 Databank watch, which could type Kanji as well as Latin characters. Wish they would bring back those calculator watches with newer technology and color screens.

  • Berndt Norten

    Ain’t nothin but a G Thang.

    • DanW94

      l love it when Berndt-Dogg makes an appearance…..

  • In the picture gallery you can see a guy with a pink shirt wearing the latest Casiolex! :0)

    Great article Ariel, thank you.

  • Mr. Snrub

    As someone who’s never owned a G-shock I still found this a compelling read.

    Maybe I’ll even reconsider my stance on them. Fun is fun, after all.

  • SuperStrapper

    That would have been a great day. Have not bought a new g in some time now, and thats just not right…

  • funkright

    Yes, what a great read. This was well worth the time! Thank you Ariel.

  • Raymond Wilkie

    Hasn’t changed my opinion of them. Even after a 3 page spread.

    • Yep, now we know who has been designing “Transformer” looking watches for Casio. I wore Calculator and later DataBank Casio watches since the early 80s so I have nothing but admiration for Casio technically, but the styling of G-Shocks doesn’t do a thing for me. Functional perhaps, but butt ugly. Ariel keeps saying they are “cool looking” – to each his own I guess on that score. To me they look like something a 12 year old boy aspires to wear and not something you would wear into a board meeting. I’d like to see the great functions of G-Shocks in more elegant packages (not exclusively of course). And the statement that Mr. Moriai is obsessed with symmetry obviously does not extend to the dials of most G-Shocks which are horrors of asymmetry.

      • Raymond Wilkie

        I agree word for word.

      • Joel Schumann

        There is a life outside the boardroom, though. At least for some of us …

        Not that I “get” these Casio’s – they are about as cool as those children’s shoes with blinking LEDs.

        • I agree but I wish they made a G-Shock that would not look out of place in a board room.

      • Patrick M

        They aren’t something most would wear to a board room, and I don’t own one, but they aren’t just something a 12 year old boy would wear. Try saying that to the face of one of many special operations soldiers who wear them in the field. They are highly functional and durable watches, not a thing of beauty.

        • That’s what I said – they are not a thing of beauty. And yes a lot of people wear them for the functionality. But in terms of visual appeal, I stand by my statement.

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  • Craig Cramer

    So much in this article feels like I’ll be reading the same thing in ten years about Apple Watch.

    • So you are waiting for hot pink Mud Man Apple Watch, ha ha?

  • mtnsicl

    Ariel, this is is a great article! Although, I love the Japanese culture, I’ve never been a big fan of G-shock watches, as a whole. However, the few I like are among my favorite watches, and I have great respect for what they have done in the watch world. I’m not sure about the prices of some of them. I love the new Mudmaster series. They are great looking watches, with lots of features and they are super comfortable for their size. It’s like a tank on the wrist, that’s as light and soft as a feather. But, I don’t know, it’s hard to swallow paying up to $800 for a plastic watch. I really want one. But, I think I’m going to wait for the new Racemaster or Globtrotter series to come out.

  • mtnsicl

    Hi Ariel,
    I tried to send an email through the website. But, the, “I’m not a robot” feature doesn’t seen to be working. I have something to share with you!
    Thanks,
    Shawn

    • mtnsicl

      Yeah, the Captcha is not working.

      • arieladams

        Sorry about that. It is working for some people. We will look into it.

        • mtnsicl

          Oh, that’s ok, it happens. Talk to you soon!

        • mtnsicl

          I guess it’s possible that the emails are going through, even though it says they are not. If that’s the case, I apologise, because you’ll have received a bunch of them from me. I tried to get it to work several times.

  • This is the article I’ve enjoyed most in all my time reading this blog! Because Japan, obviously.

    G-Shocks are incredible watches.

  • If it’s illegal in Japan to own a katana, to whom does the shop sell its wares?

    • JosephWelke

      It’s not illegal to own a katana any more, hasn’t been for a long while now. It IS illegal to export a Japanese-forged blade out of Japan, however, without jumping through many buereaucratic hoops and filling out many bits of paper.

  • JosephWelke

    Never thought I’d write this on a watch blog: thanks for so many excellent pics of the nihonto and kobuto inside Sokendo! What an incredibly nifty place! I’d have spent hours in there gazing at each blade’s temper line and point geometry and blade cross section (hamon, kissaki, and niku respectively if you care), all the while despairing of affording even one of the modern blades the shopkeeper dislikes.

    And even if I did buy one, it’s an open question if I could leave Japan with it. Still, excellent article and pics.

    If Mr. Moriai is such a stickler for symmetry, why all the asymmetry in G-Shock dials? Different designer?

  • Nice article about a nice person. I own two Casio watches from the Edifice family. Love their balance of features and could never buy a watch without a Bluetooth connection and solar power. Now, I will never buy a watch with any suggestions of a globe on it. I guess you know where I am coming from. Yep, the earth is flat and I will not buy into a lie.

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  • Juan-Antonio Garcia

    Great piece, I enjoyed it very much. Own several Gs and besides being tough, they are fun to wear and practical when traveling. I have a lot of compliments when wearing them, either @ board rooms (a revel here) or while doing sports activities.

  • spiceballs

    As (some) others have stated, great read Ariel – thx. As another who grew with (affordable) Casio watches I do appreciate them altho’ not the large (size) G-Shock/Edifice lines and personally aspire towards the more elegant Oceanus.

  • JF Schnell

    Most of my life I own different Casio’s. So far no G-Shocks. Really depends on what is store. Normally I tend to like features and more features. As normally don;t buy watches online I always end up not buying any G-Shock because of the color options. The G-Shock MR-G would be a must for me but only available from abroad 🙁

  • Andrew Hughes

    This was a very personal article and I really enjoyed it. We may not realize, until many years later, how the foundation of a lifelong passion is established in childhood. To meet this central figure in your own story must have been amazing. In fact, you have access to many greats in the watch world. You might be a bit spoiled in that regard. ha ha.

    Also, it is okay to call Japanese cartoons anime… there are many of us who grew up on the stuff. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/14d096f23532e0d6f2577faedb7ee3557e15298e9f5f434473c5cd1d686dc89d.jpg

  • awildermode

    Watches, knives, swords…this post has everything!!!

  • Lord Dunsany

    Cool article. One observation – and this has nothing to do with the content – but please stop manscaping your arm hair in close-ups. It’s obvious that the hair has been trimmed and oddly distracting. LOL. Oh no.

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