Japan | Part 2 Apr18


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Japan | Part 2

Japan Studio Spring 2013, Ken Tadashi Oshima, Associate Professor | Arch 506/402

 This graduate/undergraduate architecture studio investigates the nature of Metabolic urbanism from premodern times to the present through a 10-day study tour to Japan during spring break 2013 as the basis for the design of dynamic urban infrastructure for Seattle. Traveling from Seattle to the contemporary Japanese capital of Tokyo and historic capital of Kyoto, students analyzed the evolution of buildings and material assemblies in relationship to their environmental and cultural contexts and investigate parallel possibilities within the Pacific Northwest centering on King Street Station in Seattle.  


Impressions and Images, Part 2:

LoongJustine_041813Justine Loong

As I got off the Narita Express and stepped on to Shinjuku station platform there were hoards of people, all going different directions.  Everyone had somewhere to be and knew where to go except me.  Every which way I moved I got in someone’s way.  As I approached the escalator there was a line of people waiting to go to the upper level.  People were lining up on the left side of the escalator to stand to allow an open space on the right side for people who wish to walk up the escalator.  Regardless of how many people were getting off the train, the left side of the escalator stayed clear.

KangMichelle pic_shibuya station041813Michelle Kang

What I miss about Japan is the imagination of the city. There are highways that go through buildings, transit stations the size of whole neighborhoods, and more skybridges (at 60′ in the air no less) than I have seen in any other city. But that imagination is not always bent on the large; the city is an intimate one. The noise of a large highway is immediately curtailed as you walk into an alley and replaced by the chatter of customers in yakitori bars. I was amazed at how quiet it could be just a few streets away from the frenzy of Ueno Park. This extreme contrast between frenzy and calm, commercialism and inner solitude, verticality and buried underground was something that seemed uniquely Japanese.

How can we bring that back to Seattle? Sometimes it seems that our imaginations are limited by our admiration of the natural landscape that we have. Waro Kishi also said the same thing when talking about the US– beautiful scenery, he said, but he had no mention of architecture. There should be a way to explore both built form imaginatively without subtracting from nature and landscape. Japan is a country of immense spatial contrast. We could also seek out the extreme as well.

Maienschein-ClineLeslie_041813Leslie Maienschein-Cline

One of my favorite things to do when visiting a new city is just to walk around a lot and figure out how the city is organized and finding similarities and differences between the city I’m in and other cities I’ve been to. Before visiting Tokyo, I didn’t have a good sense of what I’d find. I had seen pictures of tall buildings with lots of bright signage and Japanese temples, but figured there must be something in between.

The hostel I stayed in for two days before meeting up with the rest of the group was between Ueno Station and Asakusa, a large temple complex. We wandered quite a bit before we finally found the hostel and ended up moving from a large, busy thoroughfare leading out of the station and into a complex of small, narrow residential streets with little car traffic. This street pattern of large, busy central streets with lots of traffic off of which came tiny and quiet residential or small commercial streets continued to emerge around every area we traveled to in Tokyo.

These tiny streets became one of my favorite things about walking around in Tokyo; they were very stimulating to walk along as they were lined with narrow buildings, each very different from its neighbor with traditional Japanese houses sandwiched in between a four-story modern building. These small streets also had no sidewalks, and although cars were allowed onto the streets, they were so infrequent that pedestrians could fan out and take up as much room as they needed until briefly moving over to allow a car to pass.

McKinneyDarrell_041813Darrell McKinney

In Tokyo, the combination of the large central roads which area clearly designed for the car and moving large amounts of people seem to effectively keep all but the most local of car traffic off of the tiny minor streets. The juxtaposition of the two streets also makes the city more interesting to be in and one can easily move between the two experiences.

What I found most fascinating about Japan was the attention to detail in several aspects of daily life. Presentation seemed to be very important to Japanese life. Ranging from how the food is arranged in a bento box to how a person dresses to buildings, the scale to determine what could be designed seemed irrelevant. All aspects of Japanese life were taken into consideration. Many of the retail storefronts were designed in such a way to capture the individual character and identity of the store. Even the interiors of the McDonald’s in Japan could rival that of a Starbucks here. And as we all know the inside of a McDonald’s stateside is less than desirable, so those gestures really stood out to me. It’s the little things that stood out to me. When you enter somewhere all the employees greet you and when you leave they thank you. I remember during one of the walks around Tokyo, I saw someone scraping the moss that had accumulated between stone pavement along the sidewalk. This was definitely a labor extensive act that would not be considered necessary in the US, but this meticulous attention to detail made the sidewalk more presentable.

chris_yeeChristopher Yee

It is difficult to pinpoint a specific favorite moment in our visit to Japan.  There were just too many instances of amazement and wonder to rightly pick one. However, each of these moments had one common element, the Japanese people.  If there is a single lasting impression from this trip it is the respect, trust, and selflessness of Japan’s collective society.  Travelling through Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, I was always welcomed gratuitously, whether it was in a high-end department store or on the street shops down below.  Strangers would actually approach me and ask if I needed help if I looked lost within the tangle of subway lines and scramble of people.  Yes, in America we have the concept of customer service and kind-heartedness, but the difference lies in the collectiveness of Japan’s society versus our individual American mindset.  The society, as a whole, is good mannered, not just some of it’s individuals.  I found myself starting to become more trusting and respectful towards others by bowing to say thank you or letting someone go through the escalator before me.  I slowly shed away the stifling layers of selfishness and mistrust and embedded myself deeper into Japanese ways and hopefully by doing so, took a little bit back with me back to the States.

SunPeiPeiJapanLR_041813 (1)Lipeipei Sun

Japan is country where everything is accurate and follows its own rhythm. I was in Mexico before the Japan trip and the experience in Mexico make me feel more that Japan is country that everything is on time. During the Japan trip, we took trains to visit various cities and the one thing I noticed first was that the train never arrive late ant it always leaves on time. If the schedule of the train says, it is depicturing at 10:59 am and it does leave exactly at 10:59 am. This situation seems only happens in Japan. In US, China and Mexico where I lived, the train never follows the schedule accurately. Because that the train follows the time schedule precisely, people are able to make each minute count. Moreover, in all the train station, there are signs on the ground, which tells you where to wait for your train. When the train comes each time, it stops at the exactly location. Therefore, people know where to wait for the train and this makes everything in order. In Mexico, when someone is late people always say that they are following the Mexican time, which means they will be 15 or 20 minutes late. While we stayed in Japan, no one is ever late. Since every train, every person and everything is always on time, people can manage their time well and be more efficient.

Moreover, while I was in Mexico I did documentation on the screens. When I went to Japan, I also looked into the screens and was surprised by the huge difference between the two countries. In Mexico, screens are widely used for security reason. Therefore, most of the screens are made of metal bars or masonry bricks. In Japan, screens are also commonly used in various building types. However, most of the screens are made of bamboo or wood. Since Japan has very good public order, screens are no longer applied for security reason. Screens are mainly utilized to define the boundary, for decoration or protection of privacy. Screens, as part of the building environment, are telling the stories of the building, the security and the culture of the country.

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