2015Twelve essential GDA perspectives on design trends
Kenya Hara
Director’s Message

The role of design in a changing industrial landscape


In anticipating future directions to take in an award program mindful of the potential of both industry and good design, I have examined the “Culture of life / Mode of life” Focused Issue. To explore this topic, we must begin by considering near-term devel-opments in the Japanese industrial sector.

Surging Inbound Tourism

Japan is currently emerging from an era dominated by industrial produc-tion – specifically, manufacturing – into one where tourism is a mainstay and value is created in various ways. Although Japan’s population is declining and growing older (which has prompted discussion on immigration policies and other measures to compensate), we are beginning to see a brighter future.

We will host our second Summer Olympics in a few years. Around the time of the first Olympics in 1964, it was Europeans and North Americans who commonly traveled abroad. Over time, the number of Asian and Middle Eastern travelers has increased, and Chinese travelers in recent years have further stimulated tourism. This trend tells us that tourism is rapidly becoming a more significant industry around the world.

Consumption by inbound tourists to a country represents domestically purchased “ex-ports” and a way to earn foreign currency. Tapping the growing number of interna-tional travelers and strengthening tourism will clearly be significant in promoting fu-ture industrial development in Japan.

Inbound tourism here has generally been favorable, and this trend is now accelerating. Some 14 million people visited Japan in 2014. Impressively, the government’s original target of welcoming 20 million visitors by within five years of the second Tokyo Olym-pics might even be achieved this year, in 2015. This represents tremendous growth in inbound tourism.

Number of international tourists in the world

Tourism Resources in Japan

It is useful to evaluate Japan from the standpoint of four key criteria supporting tour-ism: climate, nature, culture, and food. Lying off the coast of East Asia, the Japanese archipelago spans several climate zones from north to south. Trees cover more than half of the land, and many clean and abundant water systems can be found. A sense of vitality is also evident in the thousands of hot springs across the chain of islands. Culturally, Japan’s highly original national character developed over centuries when trade with the outside world was restricted, and the subtlety and refinement of hospi-tality here is largely unmatched anywhere else. As for Japanese cuisine, sophisticated techniques championing seasonal freshness and umami – hot topics in the culinary world – are firmly established, as is the service infrastructure. Diners can rely on high standards in taste and food safety, even for reasonably priced fare. In all of these respects, Japan is more than qualified as an eminent tourist destination.

Visitors appreciate this, but unfortunately, the nation has somehow shied away from fully embracing tourism until now. Perhaps we can blame the success of manufactur-ing-oriented postwar policies that fueled lasting economic growth. People may have quietly scoffed that tourism was for emerging nations without Japan’s manufacturing prowess.

Times have changed. Now, visitors to Japan and the ongoing increases we have seen represent a clear signpost to the next stage in industrial development, demonstrating Japan’s appeal and potential. It is tourism, rather than immigration, that promises to support future industry. Overseas, France has drawn 65 million visitors in recent years. Japan has welcomed 14 million tourists but is estimated to be capable of attracting 80–100 million.

Over the 70 years since the war, Japan has transformed into a veritable factory in support of manufacturing. Shorelines have been reinforced with concrete to create harbors and industrial complexes, high-speed railways and expressways have been built, and distribution infrastructure is in place. It is About time to shift gears, thor-oughly clean up industrial areas, and make the country more inviting for visitors. This is a perfect opportunity for good design. The program must therefore take a broader perspective than evaluating product design – one that also considers area and envi-ronmental design with tourism in mind. This perspective suggests a fundamental re-interpretation of “good” design, through the lens of the Focused Issue of “Culture of life / Mode of life,” and it encourages us to reevaluate the basis of the program.

Vacant Houses and Inbound Needs

Recent years have seen more ideas About how to put the many vacant houses in Japan to good use, with some focused on sharing and others on creating senior communities. Rather than being a problem, the houses are more of an opportunity. View social issues from another angle, and they may reveal possibilities. As soon as one considers vacant houses as potential lodging for rapidly growing inbound tourism, for example, the fu-ture looks brighter.

Owners of unused houses (or homes with extra rooms) can connect with lodgers through services such as the U.S.-based Airbnb, which also allows owners and lodgers to rate each other. The negative ratings of unruly lodgers prevent them from renting desirable properties. Ultimately, the outstanding lodgings and lodgers are automati-cally sorted out and promoted, which has helped make this system so popular in Eu-rope and North America – with 1.5 million listings in 190 countries and 3,400 cities, and more than 40 million registered users. In Japan, Airbnb is expanding from large cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto deeper into the country. Here, two conditions are ap-parent: typical Japanese houses and older buildings might appeal to visitors looking for an authentic Japanese experience, despite the fact that some communities view the properties as a nuisance. Consider both conditions together, and a solution naturally emerges. Of course, this is only one example, but we hope skillful designers will make these connections.

In general, architects themselves usually propose home design, but as more people renovate older buildings to reuse them, we await a more edifying approach that helps residents take the initiative and cultivates “residential literacy.” This viewpoint, which encourages residents to be more engaged and make their own decisions About their home, will be essential in improving the residential environment here in years to come.

Isolated Hotels and Electrical Power

Although Japan offers many scenic shoreline parks, some are rather isolated. On out-lying islands or the tips of peninsulas, they lack sufficient infrastructure in terms of electricity, transportation, and links with the outside world. Here, an appealing alter-native to deploying costly infrastructure might be to propose innovative hotels on a smaller scale, applying a little wisdom and technology. And although many fine tradi-tional inns dot the archipelago, there are relatively few world-class hotels. As for re-sorts, Japan has a remarkably unremarkable vision. We await resorts and traveler services with a Japanese touch that preserve and capitalize on natural environments while maintaining a lighter environmental footprint. An intriguing way to provide isolated villas with electricity and lines of contact with the outside world may be hy-drogen fuel cell vehicles, which are powerful enough to serve as more than merely a means of transportation.

Bringing Visitors Further Afield

Shuttling many visitors between cities is obviously important, but plans for new transportation infrastructure to bring visitors further afield to other scenic areas are lacking. Transportation past the point where intercity railways or flights end is either underdeveloped or nonexistent.

By clearly accounting for foreign visitors, local transportation projects such as Hakone Tozan Railway can surely produce more focused and impressive design. One also senses that a taxi service for children, which stands in contrast to self-driving cars by showing the advantages of a personal touch, may redefine our expectations of taxis. Two inspired examples of motorboat design give hope that the island nation of Japan can be an undisputed world leader in innovative aquatic transport, and it will be ex-citing to see developments in coming years. Visitors might also be tempted to take new two-seater sports cars out for a spin, as long as the cars are presented effectively in well-designed services.

Information Design for Travelers

To lead travelers efficiently and comfortably on their way, stations and airports that serve as hubs are prime candidates for an infusion of new technology and a more com-prehensive perspective in details such as signage. Good ideas have been proposed for station signs, electronic barriers on train platforms, and other pieces of the puzzle, yet a global perspective is lacking. This is surely a clear issue that can be resolved by see-ing the big picture.

Significant Potential of Logistics and Distribution

We can feel a spark of optimism from a project that coordinates and streamlines pro-duce deliveries to roadside rest areas using courier vehicles, but the significant poten-tial we sense in Japanese logistics and distribution today comes from a sense that ul-timately, meticulous services with human warmth and intelligence promise a brighter future for a graying society and thriving tourism.

Some have imagined future refrigerators with a door that opens outward toward us and inward toward others who help stock it, so to speak. What this envisions is con-sumers entrusting some of their personal food management to outside service providers. Although it requires sophisticated security and distribution, Japan stands at the fore-front of nations able to combine the reliability of relevant technologies and services in order to resolve current social issues through fuller services. Progress in establishing systems that provide a reliable, carefully cultivated supply of non-mass-produced food may bring greater stability to Japan in the future.

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