Why do the Japanese knock down instead of renovate?

I’d always assumed it was love of the new, but looking at the Tokyo Station renovation and many other brand new retro buildings in nearby Marunouchi is proof that it has nothing to do with style, let alone modern style. The station itself is a particularly extreme example, because they’ve knocked down the old domes that are everyone’s image of Tokyo Station and rebuilt the even older ones that no one missed or even remembered.

My new conclusion is that just renovating here and there isn’t gambarimasu (do your very best/ work yourself to death) enough. Alternatively, maybe Japanese decision making processes make a big decision like knocking the whole thing down the only way of getting projects properly underway. Or it could simply be bribes etc from the construction industry.

Why do the Japanese have little bins in the kitchen sink?

It’s probably another sign of my Western slackness, but I always fill the bloody thing with water when I’m washing up. What I assume to be the the main reason for its existence, having a separate collection of nama gomi (“raw rubbish”), has also disappeared where I live.

Reasons for still having them might include food preparation usually happening on the draining board due to lack of other worktops, small kitchen bins, and having to be especially careful of drips with carpeted or tatami floors.

Why are there so many dull houses covered in tiles nowadays?

“The nail that stand out is hammered down in japan. We do not want the unique house with lots of character… The tile is in case the homeless or drunk man pee on your house, it is easy to clean like the bathroom. Japan is convenience country.”

From the ever hilarious Ask Kazuhide, although many a true word said in jest (at least in the first part).

My other theories:

The necessary earthquake proofing has cut down on the number of suppliers and the number of models they can offer, and hence leaving people with little choice but to pick from the crap designs they offer??

The fall in land prices has meant formerly posh areas have got much more mixed, breaking up the rows of cool and/ or odd bubble year houses with lower middle class grey boxes

Why do many Japanese houses have frosted windows? 2nd attempt

In my first attempt I seem to remember writing about the similarities to traditional shoji paper windows and in both cases the aim being, in typical Japanese style, as much to stop you inconveniencing others by looking into their gardens and houses as to stop them looking into your living room (especially if you live in an apaato which your neighbours built in their garden to get some extra cash). With this attempt I want to go a bit deeper, and as is often the case the insight (if it is that!) was prompted by asking the opposite question- Why do we only put frosted windows in our bathrooms?

My own reaction to completed closed shoji or frosted windows is an extreme version of a typical Western one, to feel trapped and claustrophobic, as I’d imagine a prisoner lusting after being able to see a centimetre of sky from their window must feel. Claustrophobia, however, is very much not a Japanese concept. In fact, I often think that the Japanese family and family home are supposed to promote an atmosphere that is inward-looking and shutting out the outside world, the most extreme version being the hikikomori who seal off their windows and doors. I humbly offer the theory that shoji and frosted windows are a part of that, along with less tangible things like dropping all keigo and other standards of polite behaviour at home, especially for small kids.

Hmmmm, that seemed like a logically coherent concept when it popped into my head this morning, but certainly doesn’t look that way now on the screen. Maybe I’ve been reading too many Japanese and Korean newspaper editorials?? Still pretty sure there is something there though…

Why do the Japanese keep their medicines in the kitchen?

… along with plasters and such-like. “Is a Band Aid food??” is the question I keep asking my wife and asked my students when we had this discussion, which in fact started with their question “Why do the British and Americans keep medicines in the bathroom?”

My wife’s explanation is that bathrooms in Japan (and here in Korea) tend to get very steamy and mouldy. Most bathrooms I’ve had in both countries have also not had a conveniently sized cabinet to put them in, maybe for the same reason. The only explanation I could come up with for us Brits putting it in the bathroom is that taking medicine is a private thing that you want to do with the door locked. Anyone know what less privacy obsessed Westerners like the Spanish and Italians do?

There could also be more of a connection between food and medicine in East Asia, most clearly seen in China with its medicinal wines, soups for different disorders etc. Think the practical factors above are probably more important though.

Why are huge fridges the next big thing in Japan? Second attempt

First, another reason why it is a mystery- countries that have huge fridges usually also buy in bulk, which is very rare in Japan where most household shopping is done on a bike and Costco type shops have never really taken off.

My latest conclusion is that it’s partly to make up for the lack of convenient shelf and cupboard space in the average Japanese kitchen, leading to telling my mother in law that it shouldn’t go in the fridge (Marmite! Shortbread!) leading to complete mystery as to where to put it.

Although I have seen similar things in other Japanese houses, I am perfectly aware that most of my insight into Japan comes from one not especially typical family, so others’ ideas very gratefully received. My previous attempt to explain this is part of Japanese Gadgets and Technology Explained

Why do the Japanese have their names outside their houses?

This one puzzled me for a while, because most Japanese didn’t strike me as the kinds of people who’d want every stranger passing in the street to know their names and where they live (especially if there name is Gomi like someone in my street!) It turns out the reason is because several houses in the same street/ block have the exact same postal address and so the only way post and guests can reach the right one is by reading your name outside. This is also why post that is addressed to you sometimes doesn’t get there if you don’t stick your name outside (and JPLT refuse to send you anything if it isn’t) or c/o someone whose name is there, although all these things are less true for flats (apaato, mansion, coopo etc) as it has a distinctive building name and then an individual room number.

Getting back to my original query on why the Japanese would be happy to have that system, despite seeming to be very private at times, privacy is not a Japanese system (hence the use of the borrowed English word in Japanese), and certainly not privacy from your neighbours!

The Japanese street and home (non) numbering system is explained someone else on this blog somewhere- one of the pages perhaps??

Why is “Heights” the part of the name of so many buildings that are neither high rise nor on a hill?

The author of Angry White Pyjamas asks this question in the book.

Like the (originally German) word Heim, for some reason it came to be g general word for something halfway between an apaato (アパート, from a shortening of “apartment”, a wooden, usually two storey set of rabbit hutches) and manshon (マンション, from mansion, a usually high rise concrete block of flats, sometimes translated as “condo”), for example a two storey apartment building with thin concrete walls. The Mori company is guilty of something similar with the more recent of their “…Hills” developments, which have lost all connection to slopes. In the same way, I’m guessing one company started abusing the word “Heights” and it caught on.

Why do so many small local shops have automatic doors?

I hadn’t noticed this until I read it in Tokyo by Donald Ritchie, but it certainly does seem to be true. He doesn’t bother asking why, but I’d go for:

– Electronic = modern= showing you are successful  counts even more in small rural towns

– The original doors were sliding too, so it’s not such a big change

– The reason for the original and new sliding doors is that there is no room to open them either into the shop or into the street

Why are there comparatively few skyscrapers in Tokyo, despite the high land prices?

Earthquakes and soft ground, small plots of land with individual owners, tax laws that make people reluctant to sell, big Japanese companies tending to have their own buildings, and strict laws about blocking light

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