In the book, The Aesthetic Townscape, by Japanese architect Yoshinobu Ashihara, the writer expresses the cross-culture perspective in urban design and urban spaces. Based on his experiences in Japan, North America, and Europe, he provides a very unique insight. This blog post will summarize some of his discoveries.
In his book, Ashihara suggests that if Western European buildings are “wall buildings”, then Japanese buildings would be “floor buildings”. Although open-floor concepts are becoming more popular, most European-style homes are often separated by into distinct, fixed rooms. Combining rooms is a major home improvement project requiring tearing down walls. the Japanese do not have a strong concept of walls. The Japanese, on the other hand, tend to separate rooms with bamboo curtains, wood sliding doors, or a picture screen. As a result, it is easy to combine or split space, depending on what is needed for that moment.
Typical Japanese Living Room
A common walled living room
Inside vs. Outside
In traditional Japanese families, people tend to take off their shoes before coming into the house. This habit is shaped by Japanese culture, which strongly separates “inside” (formal) from “outside” (informal). Shoes should only be worn “outside” and once you’re “inside”, they should always be removed. Home is a place where one should feel comfortable and relaxed, and should therefore be distinguished from the harshness of being outside in a public space. On the other hand, in Europe, people often leave their shoes on when coming into their home. Those who practice this don’t view it as bringing the outside in with them and do this out of convenience.
The Japanese even take their shoes off from the moment they walk in the hotel. They can wear their robes to walk around or just with socks. Basically, wearing a tie or shoes walking around inside would be awkward. In the West, hotel patrons wouldn’t even think about taking off their shoes until they get in their hotel room.
Japanese have a very clear line to isolate “inside” (shoes off) and “outside” (shoes on):
(Do not enter a Japanese temple or home with the shoes on)
Based on this Japanese culture, people are usually indifferent about the beautification of public space. As we can see from pictures, most of Japanese streets tend to look uniform without much decoration or landscaping. Moreover, sometimes they built a wall between the house and street. In contrast, Western cities usually pay careful attention to urban design and take pride in making their communities aesthetically pleasing.
After all, it is hard to see decorations like status or fountains in Japan, whereas Europe already have their catholic and Rococo style, full of decoration on buildings. I think this is a great example of the cities built based on “internal” and “external” culture. Every design in the city somehow got influenced by the culture, that’s why we should pay attention to the way a city design/plan when we travel, you will find interesting stories.
Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion in urban and landscape design, she also enjoy looking for the variety culture inside of the city.