Posts Tagged Japan

Date: May 3rd, 2011
Cate: design, issue

Sendai Subway

Sendai metro is running regularly though with less frequency. The last few stops, which goes closer to the coastline, are however still out of reach. So in the station called Dainohara, which is currently the last stop, all the passengers get off and continue their way home using free bus. When you get off at Dainohara station, almost every one heads for the same direction to queue. The queue quickly becomes long enough to have 200 people waiting in line to make their way home. Considering this is the biggest city in the region, the fact that the transportation is causing such a long wait is definitely a rare sight in Japan and reminds me of the situation.

Date: May 2nd, 2011
Cate: design, Insight, issue

Changing the Essentials of Carrying

Mr. Ishii explaining us about Twin Wave, a whistle that can generate sounds in two audible frequencies.

What do you carry with you and how? I have asked this question many times and through earlier project Where’s The Phone, which one of the main purpose was to understand the diversity, or rather, the concentration of the things people carry in modern times. The answer was fairly consistent, and throughout the research, we constantly saw the presence of mobile phones, cash, and keys.

The photo above I took in Sendai on March 11th. Mr. Ishii was kind enough and showed us what he carries and how. Mr. Ishii mentioned, that considering the chance of another large earthquake is still high, he has decided to change the way he dress and what he carry. He now wears a fashionable yet practical wind breaker which looks perfect for mountain climbing, where you should keep heat yet release your sweat.

He also mentioned that he has quite a few things strapped around his neck. What particularly caught my eye was a stylish and sleek whistle called Twin Wave (produced by Kokuyo S&T). This whistle, which costs about 4.5 euros, relatively expensive for a simple plastic, produces two different yet audible sound waves in one blow. The whistle is designed for anyone who is stuck underneath any collapsed construction upon large earthquakes. Other things he carried from his neck included a small book lamp that can be charged via USB stick. He also carried coins in the wallet: “With earthquakes, one of the first things that go down is electricity. And that means you cannot rely on credit cards for transactions, and we all need coins.”

Not everyone can change the way they dress and what they carry out and about, but what he did prompts us with a great question: What are the challenges we have faced upon large earthquakes and how can we be prepared? And what are the things you carry more, or perhaps less, than how things were before 3.11?

Date: May 1st, 2011
Cate: Photo of The Day

Color-codings during Diaster Times

As I have written in the previous post, buildings that are severely damaged by the 3.11 earthquake, are not necessarily obvious. As after-shakes continue and over 70 of them have been recorded to exceed the magnitude of five, the risk of damaged buildings to come down when people are much relaxed about the safety, cannot be undermined.

City offices seem obviously aware of the issue and sending staffs to investigate buildings. By simply being in Sendai for a brief time, I have managed to see three different color codes: green for safe, yellow for caution, and red for danger.

According to Mr. Ishii, who is behind many of the non-governmental activities that take place in Tohoku Region, color-coding are playing important roles in many of the refugee camps and, sadly, the temporary space where bodies are placed. When bodies were found from the areas damaged from tsunami, bodies are categorized by the area they are found, each of which are color coded. Mr. Ishii also described the importance of where to place these colored signs, as many of the families and relatives who visit the place often are not walking with their eyes at the front, but rather to the ground.

Considering the significance and the state of shock that ‘users’ of the facilities are in, I am glad that there are such design solutions found and someone is executing them in a consistent manner.

For more design solutions, have a look at issue+design, which is Hakuhodo’s effort on how to solve some of the social issues using the power of design, though in Japanese. In terms of using color codes to solve some practical issues that exist in natural disasters and evacuations, I recommend checking out the Dekimasu Zekken: A simple color coded badge that can be taped on the back of the volunteer staffs. There are altogether four colors, each of which describes the different types of skills of the volunteer.

Dekimasu Zekken (Japanese):

Date: April 30th, 2011
Cate: design, issue

Sendai, My First Impression

Tohoku express train, which runs between Sendai and Tokyo, has recovered on March 25th, 2011. Taking one of the first trains, we arrived to Sendai, one of the major cities which had been struck by the devastating earthquake and tsunami that took place on 3.11.

Upon arrival, there is no obvious damage you see in Sendai station. In fact, I was surprised to see how bright it is inside the station, with all the signs lit in full strength, contrasting to how things are in Tokyo: For several weeks now, major train and metro stations have dimmed quite a few lights. As an ignorant who had this simplified conclusion of ‘Sendai is damaged,’ this was one of the first surprises I have encountered. Later I found out, that because factories are shut down and no longer in function, there are less demands in consuming electricity, thus any remaining facilities do not need to be concerned much on their part of consumption. In that sense, there is no secret to the matching electricity demand and supply.

Inside Sendai station. Notice all the signs are lit. April 25th, 2011.

Major stations dimming lights to save electricity. Iidabashi, Tokyo.

It turned out that the central part of Sendai remained less damaged considering the impact of the earthquake. It appeared as quite a contrast to some stereotypical images of earthquakes we see in Japan. For example, upon the great earthquake in Kobe in 1995, over 200,000 buildings were completely shattered and caused 77% of the deaths from whom laid underneath those roofs.

Later I have learned from Professor Motoe, who teaches architecture in Tohoku University, that different types of earthquakes cause different shakes thus change the impact to buildings. The earthquake that hit Kobe was so called shallow inland earthquakes, which took place right south of the Kobe city. The land shook in a strong and sharp manner.

Meanwhile, this time, the epicenter of the earthquake was 72 kilometers away from the coastline. The land shook hard, but as I understood, was felt more in sideways. According to the professor, this time, wooden-structured buildings, which consist of most of the residential homes in Japan, were not damaged. Wooden homes are typically two-stories, or three at max, and simply does not have the height to be shaken. On the other hand, tall buildings shook side ways. This series of strong horizontal shakes lasted several minutes, and gave a severe damage to old and tall buildings.

The photo is from the university campus located in Aoba-Yama, Tohoku University. This building stands high and strong from a stranger’s eye. However, professor pointed at the horizontal crack that goes across the entire building. This crack is a proof that the building hard that steel rods inside were bent permanently. From what I imagine, it’s like those paper clips: when you stretch them and play too much with it, the metal gets too weak and falls apart.

A horizontal crack goes across the building. Most likely to be torn down as it is more costly to reinforce the steel rods damaged inside.

Similar damages can be seen at a pachinko parlor in the center of the city.

On March 11th, teachers and students ran out without taking much of their belongings. Laptops, textbooks, they are all in there. Professor doubts whether anyone could claim them, as aftershocks of such large earthquakes themselves can be called great. Despite of the damages, the school will start after the long Golden Week holidays that take place today, however, as students have lost their studios, it would be difficult for them to have a proper class.

Fortunately, many universities outside of the region, both domestically and internationally, are offering engineering students a temporary relocation and taking classes. With so many offers, some might even have a rare opportunity of experiencing exciting courses, which they might not have had otherwise.

But there is one major obstacle to this positive scheme. Professor told us that despite of such opportunities given to students, it can be hard to convince students to take part. Some students have already been to Osaka and Tokyo for the past few weeks, as the school instructed them to be away unless they have families in the region. These students were in a shock, as particularly in the West their everyday lives seem to be no different from the days before the earthquake. In addition, students also feel some sense of responsibility and should not leave the city behind.

It is no surprise but I felt that we are reminded that in order to make sure of the recovery, it is the psychological aspect that needs as much care as the physical. If universities are to offer their courses and accommodations to students, they will also need a community which could also be engaged with them. This, I am afraid, is not the biggest expertise for many Japanese institutions. How can we ensure to people who were affected with the earthquake to have a proper start-up as they are to be back on track?

Date: December 13th, 2010
Cate: Photo of The Day

New Technology. Disappointing Application.

There is nothing more disappointing when a fun technology is killed. Here, in Shinagawa station, you will find three vending machines, equipped with a face recognition feature. The rumor said that the vending machine analyze your face and will recommend you a drink. How can I resist? So off we went to Shinagawa station and tried it out.

Although we were in front of the vending machine for good five minutes, we could not tell what is so new. Not only it disguised as a simple touch screen vending machine, it didn’t communicate or force us to buy any quirky drinks. I thought this was some kind of a fun application and I wanted the machine to suggest me to buy things like, hot corn soup, or junky soda, any drink I would not dare to buy unless they force me to.

Then after standing in front of it for a few times, we finally realized, there are tiny modest red signs saying osusume, recommended, in Japanese. After all, it was there all the time. These modest signs were changing depending on who stood in front. But the signs were so modest, and mildly appearing and disappearing, we thought it was the sign to show featured products.

Recognition itself, we assume that it has probably something to do with infrared, detecting our body heat, and their face feature analysis, which would guess our gender and age. Some said, this is just a good excuse for the vending machine to get rid of the stock. In any case, it was too little to be noticed.

Thank you to Aico-san, who together looked for the vending machine and modeled for me.

Date: December 3rd, 2010
Cate: Photo of The Day

History of a Can

Summer-like can prints and ginkgo autumn leaves. The can has been serving well as a rubbish can at this location.

Date: December 2nd, 2010
Cate: Photo of The Day

Permanent and Temporary Signs

In Yasukuni Shrine, Tokyo. Above, a permanently-placed sign which indicates the car drop-off spot, and below, a temporary sign indicating the flea market held for the day.

Date: November 28th, 2010
Cate: Photo of The Day

Visualizing the Invisible

In any shrine you will find omikuji, a small fortune telling papers you draw from a box in a cost between one and two dollars. Although there maybe details telling your fortune concerning love, health, study, or even whether you would find things you have lost, the most important verdict of your luck are described in two Chinese characters. The most fortunate ones will receive daikichi, which is literally, big luck, followed by chu-kichi, so-so luck, and sho-kichi, little luck. Then there’s a mere kichi, and comes negative ones kyo and dai-kyo.

The interpretation varies from which ones you should start worrying, but many people prefer to leave the signs of minor lucks and misfortunes behind. The photo you see is the result, where people have placed their omikuji tied onto a wood placed right next to the shrine.

Although it does not take a form of serious prayers, this small interaction enables visitors to reflect oneself of their state, and if needed, to get a little help from the gods and leave bad things behind.

Date: November 27th, 2010
Cate: Photo of The Day

Signs to be unread

On the right hand side of vehicles you will see signs with text written from right to left. Text written in a different order is obviously hard to read and make no sense even to Japanese; however, there is still a strong belief that this should be the way the signs to be written on the car so it is symmetrical, first letters closer to the front of the car and the last letters towards the back.

Date: November 27th, 2010
Cate: Photo of The Day

How to place an umbrella on a bike