Japan as a nation seems to be in a funny place right now (not ha-ha). People’s outlook is very cautious, at least here in Kansai. Recently, a significant tax was introduced on all consumer goods and an unexpected recession seemed to result. Just last week, the Japan Times reported on the effect that these changes have had on the country, especially its young people (http://goo.gl/EUjIWq). The response by the government was to postpone a scheduled further increase of the tax, but some think that this is just going to delay the inevitable crisis that is coming.
It is in this environment that Osaka Ali ventured to downtown Umeda, the business and commerce district in central Osaka. There at Knowledge Capital (http://kc-i.jp/en/) Ali and his companion, Ms. Yuko, attended a presentation by the renowned Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Ando Tadao, sensei. You may remember an article a while back on one of Ando’s earlier works in this JapanCast post (http://www.japancast.net/the-ibaraki-kasugaoka-church/). Ando also has the distinction of being the supervisory architect of the tallest structure in Japan, Tokyo Sky Tree.
Venturing through the cacophony of sights and sounds offered by the Umeda cityscape, Ms. Yuko asked what Ali thought of the signs and signals offered by the city; were they clear or disorienting, readable or unreadable? He had to admit a certain unnecessary complexity, even when compared to other Asian cities like Singapore, Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur. Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, on the other hand, sometimes seem needlessly unclear or complex, almost blindingly so. The signs and maps one encounters and relies upon to find one’s way around these cities can cause something more than culture shock.
Curiously, Ando’s theme in the lecture was his opinion that the Japanese had all the means, resources and know-how to make a great future for themselves and people around the world. But they can’t move out of conceptual inertia. An example that might support his argument could be seen in the rapid development of web-based technologies and their derivatives, technologies that have been, are and will be transforming societies, cultures, knowledge and the globe. In many ways, Japan is a follower in these areas, not a leader.
Ando Tadao states that the problem is a lack of vision. The Japanese, he states, are suffering not from the effects of recent natural and man-made disasters, technological upheaval or economic woes. They are starving for vision. Vision in this sense is the kind of imagination and courageous creative initiative displayed by geniuses and vitally vibrant cultures. Understanding that life is short, he expressed the desire to use the remainder of his career to promote a fostering of vision amongst the Japanese.
Ando sensei also discussed communication and expression. It is in this thread that Osaka Ali sees a possibility. Increasing numbers of outsiders are seeking to build bridges of intellectual, economic and cultural exchange leading to and from Japan. The wealth of vision and imagination that they have to offer can serve to inform, if not nourish, the well-spring of creativity. This well-spring is one which the Japanese so urgently need to prime and drink from. The challenge is the barriers to communication that can be seen in the confusion of signs in Japanese metropolises. It can also be seen in the lack of understanding of Japan from the outside as well. The situation’s made worse by the ‘Japan is a strange curiosity’ attitude held by Westerners as well as other Asians, Africans, etc.. Inspiring vision, curing blindness and improving cultural literacy could yield great things inside and outside Japan. Neglecting to do so might be disastrous.
グランフロント大阪 〒530-0011 大阪市北区大深町4-1