Saturday 31 October 2015

It's all about context

A recent six day tour along the eastern coast of Japan from Osaka to Sendai via Tokyo revealed the context in which planning takes place. While minimal planning policy was addressed during this fieldtrip, through observation and discussions with key community identities it was possible to see the physical, social, economic, cultural, political and historical settings that exist and influence planning in Japan. After understanding a basic level of how Japan operates within these different, yet exceptionally connected, perspectives it was possible to draw a comparison with Australia.

The most striking observation made early on into the Japanese study tour was the density of the built form. This was nowhere more obvious when I mistakenly thought there was a farm growing in the middle of the city due to the density of the surrounding residential housing, only to discover that the area was in fact considered regional and the lowest density within the area.

The density of housing is a reflection of the high population of Japan, along with the physical restrictions of usable land due to topography and other natural occurrences. This is an obvious difference to the setting in which planning takes place in Australia. In many spaces in Japan the contestation for area meant that the air space was deeply impinged, again this is not yet a regular thing in Australia.

The social and culture aspects of Japan was remarkably different from Australia. There is little communication between Japanese on the public transport system, in fact there are design features that specifically make interaction difficult. Without knowing for sure I feel this is due to the set social structure that I was told about by someone that lived in Japan for over 15 years. It was said that Japan does not have much social mobility for people during their lifetime. While there is a sense of mutual respect between residents the minimal interaction between people in social manner led me to believe that the Japanese understand social status and refrain from attempting to move between them. While these social structures do exist in Australia, I feel we have more flexibility in crossing these lines as we tend to detest class.

The final element that my visit to Japan exposed me to was just how much of a perfectionist society they are. Every item has a purpose and any possible way of making an action easier seemed to be invented. This was so on show in the food courts at the train station where they packaged each meal with absolute deliberate systems. Also, moving about their density populated city is made easier by their knowledge of how and where to stand/walk. I believe this is or would be a key reason why Australians would not be able to operate as efficiently within the Japanese transit system. 

Amanda Ellis 

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