japan, urban space, nature, thoughts

This week’s post is going to be short  because I’m exhausted after an exam. But all of us have had to write a speech, which we’re going to deliver in front of the rest of the program next Monday. Since my speech topic is a general comparison of Japanese and American architecture, I’ve been thinking a little bit about Japan, urbanization, nature, and the organization of space in general. I’m not going to write about the content of the speech, because in English it would be painfully boring, but just think a little bit about how space is laid out in these two vastly different countries. Scroll to the bottom to read what I’ve been up to this past week and see a short picture slideshow.


A beautiful trail in Kagaonsen, credit to my friend Angel.

アメリカらしい/Typical America

  • Cities are sprawling, large green spaces within cities
    • Public spaces are essential, and any public square or park will be used extensively
    • Extensive systems of public transport tend to be limited to the biggest cities
  • Suburbs are huge–> spread and spread and spread beyond city limits into rural areas (exurbs); suburban and even urban homes have yards, ideally large yards (front and back)–yards imitate nature, one’s own natural world in one’s own territory
  • Driving is essential outside of city centers, shops and restaurants will concentrate in shopping malls, especially outdoor shopping centers with large parking lots

ニッポンらしい/Typical Japan

  • Cities are compact, with very few public or green spaces
    • I.e. very few parks, street benches, trash cans on the street; many Japanese cities will have gardens that may or may not require paid entry, some have parks but nearly every American city will have a substantial green space
    • Extensive public transport in a variety of cities, lots of outdoor vending machines
  • Suburbs are limited–> close to the city, they’ll have interior/concealed gardens rather than yards and suburban houses will be almost as tightly packed together as city houses, they will just be fewer stories
    • Interior garden is reminiscent of nature
  • Outside of the suburbs-beyond an hour away from most cities-protected forested mountains and farmland predominates. Rural living very distinct from suburban living, whereas in America they can overlap
    • Almost everywhere in Japan the forested mountains are visible, whereas in America you will have to go to particular places to see extensive swaths of land with no development

So there are a number of really interesting difference in the cities, suburbs, and rural areas that I think are very revealing about Japanese and American cultural attitudes about space. For example, the intense American desire to have a suburban house with its own yard–its own natural world. Japan is more content to have its nature segregated but accessible. One thing I’ve been struck by is how few public spaces there are in Japanese cities, which are otherwise extremely convenient. I think this says something about the division between the public and private life in Japan–one’s life isn’t very public, typically confined to distinct zones- the workplace, the school-place, the family circle. Another thing to note is the way that American building really takes over the landscape–suburban-style living can appear anywhere and everywhere, while Japan tends to keep its domination of the landscape confined to what is necessary–minimum living space, building up when possible, and agriculture.

Anyways I hope you find some of these observations interesting! Sorry for the lack of pictures above… boring amirite.



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This past week for me:

Weekend at the beach and hot springs bath

Traditional Japanese crafts village- paper, glass, ceramics, lacquer, chimes

Ninjatera- a Buddhist temple with a ton of trap doors, secret rooms, and concealed staircases

Hung out with Kanazawa university students & ate ice cream

Studied for exam… took exam

I also had an idea to write about the violence, tragedies, and issues of race that are occurring around the world and in our own country and how that relates to globalization and Japan and language study and stuff but was not up to the task. Maybe next week…


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