Tsunami, powerplant, and a few other complications aside, I spent 4 weeks travelling Japan.
My first observation is how mathematical everything about the country seemed to me. There is a precise method to every interaction.
“sumi ma sen” is excuse me. Which you must say to ask a question.
“wakani ma sen” is something like “thank you for coming to our store”
“hai” is yes. But people must nod and say “hai” as you’re speaking to signal they follow you.
“wado ke des ka” where is it?
“arigato gazaimas” thank you.
I felt that Japan allows itself to build things because of their emotional impact.
The Kyoto station is more of a spiritual experience than any church I have been in. An enormous waterfall of steps and escalators ascends from the terminals to a rock garden high above Kyoto city. At night, you can see the lights through walls of glass panels. Mazes of ramen and sushi restaurants line the stairs. Below, pods of glass make the station feel more like a landing dock for Star Wars than a place from where buses depart. The triangle archways reflect on mirrored buildings. It’s the most irrational structure that Western society would never approve.
But in other ways, Japan seems to reflect the West like a funhouse mirror. Media ads are always a pretty girl juxtaposed with a product. The clothes are Western styles in twice as many layers – like socks worn with ballet flats that are always bought a size too big.
Colors are quiet. People are quiet. Nothing is ever stolen or pushy.
After 3 days, I took an overnight bus to Hiroshima. What was supposed to be a few days of touring became 2 weeks of residence. My hostel was located near a giant shopping strip and I studied it every day for a few hours. Items were presented in massive piles of merchandise. It’s like people don’t need persuasion to buy something – the product itself is enough. If they’re going to buy something, they will regardless of how the store presents it.
It’s also evidenced in how stores are titled. Like “book garden”, “mister donut”, “straight burger”, and “muji” – which means “nothing”.
The idea behind Muji is to create a store of lifestyle needs without a screaming BRAND behind it. The products are all “minimalist” in the sense that they are simple and well designed. They have a full line of these housewares, clothes, and food. They will even build you a Muji house and fill it with Muji things if you have a plot of land.
I wondered whether this would work in America – it seems like everyone here wants some individuality to the products they buy. For some reason I feel disturbed when I stand in line behind someone purchasing the exact same coffee table at Ikea or find that my friend has purchased the same shoes I have.
To me, this is where Japanese culture can be appreciated in stark contrast to Western culture. I felt a cohesive movement towards a unified cultural aesthetic. It seemed people were all working towards the same collective approach to clothing, food, and culture. They were comfortable being Japanese, rather than an individual, like is so important in America.
From my time in Japan, I feel I understand what it means to live in a way completely opposite to what Western culture champions. I have thought about ways to bring the comfort the Japanese have with collective design to a business that would be successful in America. I have also thought about ways to carry the Japanese tradition of clean spaces and functional, but beautiful design to products we consume every day.
My time has forced me to look at every item I own and question whether it serves its purpose as well as as beautifully as possible. It is this problem I have started trying to solve as I left the country and will be my pursuit during the remainder of my time at Babson.
see some pictures here.