Everyday Usability in Japan (Part 3)

Usability in Japan - Building Slope-Roof - Law

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series we looked at some of the intriguing aspects of the way people’s everyday lives are affected by design in Japan. Whether the result of a lone designer with a singular focus or a meddling committee with a medley of requirements it’s fascinating to see how other countries have approached the same challenges.

A big part of this includes the built landscape, and today I wanted to look at Tokyo’s ever-changing skyline which has been the result of natural disasters, war, and cultural beliefs.

Disposable Houses

Usability in Japan - Disposable Houses
© Molly Des Jardin
  • The resale market in Japan for used houses is almost non-existent (likewise for cars)
  • Housing quality is very high but a detached house fully loses its value after 15-30 years
  • 50% of houses are demolished before they are 38 years old (compared to 100 in the U.S.)
  • Earthquakes cause people to view houses as perishable and builders play on this fear
  • Japanese society values newness as something which is spiritually clean and pure
  • There are more registered architects per capita in Japan than any other country
  • Huge demand for creatively designed homes but no economic incentive to maintain

More insight into this phenomenon on a recent Freakonomics Radio podcast episode.

Sliced Buildings

Usability in Japan - Sliced Buildings
© Yutaka Fujii
  • In Japan many mid-height buildings look like they’ve had their sides sliced off by design
  • Building regulations stipulate a slope plane that originates from the plot boundary
  • Intended to ensure that natural light can still reach the street and neighbouring properties
Usability in Japan - Building Slope-Roof - Law
© Alatown

The law results in some very interesting shaped buildings when multiple slanted planes bisect.

Inverse Addresses

Usability in Japan - Architecture - Inverse Addresses
© Oli Studholme
  • Most streets in Japan don’t have names, however the blocks between streets are numbered
  • Buildings within a block are also numbered in order in which they were historically built
  • Addresses are written starting from the biggest to smallest geographic entities

If that doesn’t make much sense this video by Derek Sivers should clear things up.

Vending Machines (自動販売機)

Usability in Japan - Vending Machines
© inefekt69

Queuing Culture

Usability in Japan - Queuing Culture
© Matt Murphy
  • Without exaggeration, the Japanese are masters of queuing no matter how mundane
  • Whether a restaurant, train, theme park, shop, football match or shrine it’s always orderly
  • Queuing for hours becomes part of the experience of enjoying something popular or new

Surgical Masks

Usability in Japan - Surgical Masks
© Matthew Kenwrick
  • Worn by those with colds to prevent the spread of infections and show social responsibility
  • Have antimicrobial coatings which release toxic O3, killing germs such as MSRA
  • Some wear masks in an attempt to minimise effects of pollen allergies (花粉症)