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Spoiler: It's largely cultural
November 12, 2013 10:43 AM   Subscribe

Why Japanese Web Design Is So… Different... If you've ever visited a Japanese website, it's a little like time traveling back to 1998. Randomwire explains some of the reasons why.
posted by SansPoint (80 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Iran is also like this. Probably other countries too. Each in their own way.
posted by stbalbach at 10:53 AM on November 12, 2013


This looks like a random grab bag of competing explanations. Some of them make more sense than others, but the author provides very little means to distinguish among them. I suspect the largest contributing factor is simultaneously more subtle and more prosaic than many of the proposed answers. Look to where you have similar design decisions at work in the US (e.g., back of magazine ads).
posted by Nomyte at 10:55 AM on November 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


Very interesting. However, I note that plenty of English-language websites also look like they're from 1998. I think it's in part a function of people not wanting to spend what seems like a lot of money on their web presence.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:57 AM on November 12, 2013


Metafilter: Spoiler: It's largely cultural
posted by Chrysostom at 10:59 AM on November 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


If Japan's, China's, Korea's, and Iran's web sites are like this, as well as Western web sites in the 1990s, maybe they aren't the ones who are different.
posted by XMLicious at 10:59 AM on November 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think commercial design is defined by the relationship between the people doing the design and the people paying for it. Some things are "you're the creative one, we put our complete trust in your judgement" and some things are "management has decided the Products page will contain the following 200 items". These sites seem to be the second one.
posted by kersplunk at 11:29 AM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Whereas ours are the same.

Got it.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:29 AM on November 12, 2013


The number one reason why Japanese web design is so bad/different is because Japanese people have been accessing the internet on a mobile interface for nearly 15 years.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:33 AM on November 12, 2013 [23 favorites]


I don't think programming languages are the problem. Ruby originated in Japan and the first documentation was written in Japanese.
posted by bhnyc at 11:39 AM on November 12, 2013


I don't want to be that guy, but it's not like Metafilter is a masterpiece of modern web design either. The text spans almost the width of the entire screen! It's madness! MADNESS I TELLS YA!
posted by gkhan at 11:43 AM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Plus, there is the lack of a professional white background.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:46 AM on November 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


It's eye exercise, gkhan. Gotta get those stretches in, allllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll the way right.
posted by maryr at 11:50 AM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I find their websites to be a little busy, as I do their television shows with their constant stream of text onscreen, the audience overreacting to everything that's happening on stage, people talking exaggeratedly, etc. But you get used to it ... kind of.
posted by ChuckRamone at 11:50 AM on November 12, 2013


Metafilter: it's a little like time traveling back to 1998
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:59 AM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't want to be that guy, but it's not like Metafilter is a masterpiece of modern web design either. The text spans almost the width of the entire screen! It's madness! MADNESS I TELLS YA!

It's clean though - one font, white and 2 colours, no more than 9 choices in any menu, most of the real estate given over to the content. I don't have a super duper widescreen monitor but those that do don't have to put their browser fullscreen.

I prefer minimal interfaces for discussion forums though, I have no problems with this one, for example
posted by kersplunk at 12:01 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's super neat that different cultures evolved web design along different lines. Thanks for this!
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:10 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The "mobile legacy" explanation makes no sense to me. It seems that would have made them masters of efficient and uncluttered web design early on.
posted by sourwookie at 12:23 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


No mention of bandwidth issues either. When traveling in China, Japan and Korea it just blew my mind how much more bandwidth they had available. The Great Firewall of China was another issue but man, it was fast.
posted by jadepearl at 12:30 PM on November 12, 2013


It seems like large US megacorporations have terrible front pages (look at US Bank, UPS, GE, Honeywell, Target, United for some hideous examples), but they have great sites for individual divisions or marketing campaigns.

I assume this is because it's just enormously difficult to get everyone in a giant company to agree about what goes on the front page, so it's impossible to change. Japan is even more dominated by a few giant corporations so it makes sense to me that they'd have more of this effect.
posted by miyabo at 12:34 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


...it's not like Metafilter is a masterpiece of modern web design either.

Which is A FEATURE.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:36 PM on November 12, 2013 [26 favorites]


I don't want to be that guy, but it's not like Metafilter is a masterpiece of modern web design either. The text spans almost the width of the entire screen! It's madness! MADNESS I TELLS YA!

Oddly enough, that's what makes it easy (or at least easier) to adapt to a mobile view.

Yeah, I don't get why the early adoption of the mobile web would encourage web sites with tons of columns like that. They don't seem to break down and fall into a vertical order and the window gets narrower, flexbox-style, so I'd think it'd be even harder to read and involve tons of horizontal scrolling on the mobile user's part.
posted by ignignokt at 12:39 PM on November 12, 2013


I work for an ad agency that primarily makes web sites. Given the number of very large Western corporations I have been involved with ... it isn't just a Japanese thing. Outside of companies with very large advertising budgets, or tech firms, most sites I encounter are straight from 1995 -- before we redesign them. And then we redesign them and they look great and we give marketing people with minimal HTML background and no design skills to make changes, and then slowly the sites deteriorate and the content gets ugly and they're not really overhauled until a new marketing director is able to justify a move to a new site for whatever reason, usually in a 5-7 year cycle. And this is okay because the web presence for most companies really isn't important and most companies still view it as nothing more than a brochure. And we can make the argument it should be more than a brochure and can really help engage customers, drive sales and reduce overhead but we usually just engage marketing departments and most companies are very conservative and aren't willing to drop seven figures for something that radically changes their business.

I have worked with Eastern companies, though not Japan, and will say they have some strange requirements that drive a lot of why we view their sites as antiquated. For example South Korea requires encrypted transactions to use ActiveX making IE usage rates through the roof. But no, we haven't seen anything from a cultural angle that has hindered web design that we haven't seen from a Western company.

Lack of web fonts due to the large character set is probably the most off putting thing to our eyes, in my opinion. No web fonts means images means it has to come from someone with Photoshop or equivalent and not controllable through any sort of backend or automated system.
posted by geoff. at 12:42 PM on November 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


The "mobile legacy" explanation makes no sense to me. It seems that would have made them masters of efficient and uncluttered web design early on.

Try designing with a requirement for old browsers on old phones ... or any legacy platform, and you see fancy design elements plummet. Not that it can be done, but it usually can't be done within hours allocated for the project.

But this is sort of a bad argument as adaptive design is still widely used so there's no reason desktop and mobile can't be completely separate.
posted by geoff. at 12:46 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Indonesian sites also often have many of the listed qualities that make them look straight outta 1998 despite use of Roman characters. Incidentally, the masses there also access the internet by way of (non-smart) phones.
posted by brokeaspoke at 1:00 PM on November 12, 2013


Mobile legacy: I don't buy it. Most people accessing the "web" via their phones were accessing i-mode, or something like it, which supports only an extremely stripped-down form of HTML (it's not like Gopher, but almost). The busy websites the author is writing about would exist in a different universe, and would not render well on those phones anyhow.

Risk avoidance: Clearly this is unique to Japan.

Character comfort: I think the author might have the right answer with the wrong explanation. Tufte has cited studies showing that Japanese people will accept more data-intensive charts and tables than Americans. It's a jump to say that it's because of the logographic writing system.

Consumer behavior: For one thing, this changes over time. Look at U.S. magazine ads up until roughly the late 60s (and only gradually changing after that). Very heavy on copy, very problem/solution oriented. For another, not all Japanese advertising is like that. Japanese TV ads are typically very short and seemingly are designed to confuse rather than enlighten.

Whatever the sins of Japanese website design might be, Japanese newspaper design has been worse for a lot longer, busy in all kinds of weird ways. A story might have 3 headlines, with the biggest headline being half knocked-out and half filled with zip-a-tone, with the body text broken up into chunks of columns that dance all over the page.

In short, there are lots of examples of bad Japanese website design, but I am doubtful that this article explains the reasons they exist.
posted by adamrice at 1:01 PM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Japanese doesn’t have italics or capital letters which limits the opportunities for adding visual punch that you get with latin alphabets."

What about katakana? (Katakana serves the same purpose for them that italics do for us.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:02 PM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I want that car! It looks like it has rocket engines on the back.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:04 PM on November 12, 2013


Some things are "you're the creative one, we put our complete trust in your judgement" and some things are "management has decided the Products page will contain the following 200 items"

In the end, they all become the second one. At least according to my friends that design webpages for a living.
posted by Hoopo at 1:05 PM on November 12, 2013


We did some marketing for a customer selling a Revit plugin in both Japan and the Rest of the World. It was very difficult to think of a landing page strategy for the Japan audience. It's like things are flipped - we find with Western purchasers that it's important to "funnel" user behaviour, and create landing pages that are highly focused (our metric for success is downloads, for example).

With Japanese users, very very busy landing pages seem to be the norm. There may be a conversion point, but there are a number of other choices that are presented as well. Confounding.

I wonder if it is because it's a lot easier to scan kanji (Chinese characters). I notice that it takes my wife about 1/4 of the time to blast through a Japanese novel than it take for me to read an English-language novel of about the same length.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:22 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the end, they all become the second one.

Sigh. Indeed this is the case. Here is an actual conversation I had with a client:

CLIENT: It looks great! I noticed it loads much faster than the old site too. There's just one thing.

ME: Yes my liege, anything for you – you need merely ask!

CLIENT: Well, the product video plays very well, and it looks good on mobile - that's so neat! But I want people to be able to download it.

ME: No one wants to download the product video, my liege; 'tis not that kind of thing.

CLIENT: Well, SOMEONE might want to download it, and I want to make sure they can! Do you have any data on how often people download product videos from brand sites?

ME: No, my liege; 'tis too daft a concept to study in any great depth.

CLIENT: Well I think it should be available for download.

ME: 'Tis an responsive site; wouldst thou have it offered unto mobile visitors for download?

CLIENT: Sure!

ME: Really?

CLIENT: Yes.

~~~~Fin~~~~
posted by Mister_A at 1:23 PM on November 12, 2013 [16 favorites]


I want that car! It looks like it has rocket engines on the back.

There's a movie you might enjoy ...
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:25 PM on November 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


When I was in Tokyo I couldn't get used to how much of the visual environment was dedicated to advertising. Even the straps you grab on the train when standing had advertising on them. I can easily believe this overload has contributed to their sense of design for the web.
posted by tommasz at 1:38 PM on November 12, 2013


Lacking Emphasis – Japanese doesn’t have italics or capital letters which limits the opportunities for adding visual punch that you get with latin alphabets.

And here he has broadcasted that he is illiterate in Japanese, which makes his ability to comment to about zero. As noted in one of the comments, katakana is often used for emphasis, such as in this ad, which uses ヤスイ instead of the conventional 安い. More generally, creative use of kanji and hiragana can be used to make certain words "pop".

His site in general (what I could view without encountering an error, at least) has a sort of "gee whiz" to it that is characteristic of someone just passing through.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:00 PM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Serious (if clueless) question: do they have logos in Japan? I mean, logos like we see for IBM or Coke, where typography and graphic design blend together. It seems like there's a much greater division between text and graphics on those webpages.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:07 PM on November 12, 2013


Lots of logos. Oddly enough, a lot of them are in Romaji (e.g. the Sony logo).
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:14 PM on November 12, 2013


Mobile legacy: I don't buy it.

Accessing a website on a mobile phone in Japan (the iPhone has only been around for 5 years and has only been entrenched for 3 years, Android devices less than that) has been a fundamentally different experience than accessing the net on a desktop or laptop device.

Traditionally (before the iPhone disrupted mobile internet) no one is going to care too much what a desktop site looks like because people are going to view the info on tiny, tiny screens.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:19 PM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


do they have logos in Japan? I mean, logos like we see for IBM or Coke, where typography and graphic design blend together.

Yes. Some implement Roman letters, and some can be stylistic takes on native script. For example, this image has marks for a number of Mitsui entities. Mitsui is written as 三井, and you can see that the marks consist of the 三 inside the 井.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:22 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I did notice when prepping for our Japan trip several years ago, how retro Japanese websites were - CSS was like a foreign word, lots of text-as-jpegs and absolutely stuffed with javascript.

When you can't read Japanese, and the jpegs aren't google-translateable, it was a real challenge!
posted by smoke at 2:29 PM on November 12, 2013


By an interesting coincidence there's a new post on the Japanese version of Metafilter:
If you've ever visited a US website, it's like it was designed for a five year old. Huge empty blocks of color, sentences consisting of three or four simple words in large type, very few links widely separated from each other, and almost completely static pages with very low information density. Are Americans illiterate or just easily confused?
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:33 PM on November 12, 2013 [30 favorites]


"When you can't read Japanese, and the jpegs aren't google-translateable, it was a real challenge!"

Yeah. Thanks to Google I can half-assedly make my way through many websites based on European languages, but the text as jpegs thing makes most Asian sites untranslatable.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:38 PM on November 12, 2013


I wonder if it is because it's a lot easier to scan kanji (Chinese characters). I notice that it takes my wife about 1/4 of the time to blast through a Japanese novel than it take for me to read an English-language novel of about the same length.

Unlikely, that's probably just random variation in reading speed between the two of you: Chinese and English are read at about the same speed
posted by the agents of KAOS at 3:20 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Language barrier

Risk avoidance

Oh, those crazy Inscrutable Asians!

That said, Geocities does actually still exist in Japan, suggesting that the reason Japanese web design is so far behind — for the most part, as there's a fair bit of contemporary tasteful stuff out there — is because despite Japan's reputation overseas, the population consists largely of luddites who find FAX machines to be about the most recent communications technology they're fully comfortable with, and most people over 35 or so who have an email address use only the one that came built in to their cell phone.

The web design looks like the US in the '90s because that's kind of the state of general computer competence, nationwide, and it simultaneously amuses and frustrates nerdy foreigners to no end.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:29 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


the agents of KAOS: "I wonder if it is because it's a lot easier to scan kanji (Chinese characters). I notice that it takes my wife about 1/4 of the time to blast through a Japanese novel than it take for me to read an English-language novel of about the same length.

Unlikely, that's probably just random variation in reading speed between the two of you: Chinese and English are read at about the same speed"

Yeah, my guess is that it has more to do with the fact that, statistically, Japanese people just read tons of books, especially compared to North America.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:33 PM on November 12, 2013


I wasn't expecting much but I got even less. These explanations seem to be based more on the author sitting down and speculating about what Japan is like than actual data. I'm suspicious.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:35 PM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I wasn't expecting much but I got even less. These explanations seem to be based more on the author sitting down and speculating about what Japan is like than actual data.

That's pretty much how you're supposed to write on Japan or any other foreign country for that matter.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:38 PM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Japan is a land of tranquil Zen gardens, beautiful shrines, serene temples, and exquisite tea ceremonies.

Oh please...and let me guess, it's also a land of contradictions.

I don't really buy the cultural explanations; they seem to get trotted out every time someone explains why an East Asian country/person does something.

Russian websites are like this too...as are Indian websites...as are the websites in a bunch of other countries mentioned above.

The question is when/why did websites switch to the more minimalist design favored in the US. And why did US photographers and artists uniformly adopt uniquely non-functional and poorly-designed websites?
posted by pravit at 3:39 PM on November 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


why did US photographers and artists uniformly adopt uniquely non-functional and poorly-designed websites?

I think it has to do with the soaring skyscrapers of the City of the Big Shoulders and the thin, tenuous rail connection to the broad open skies of Wyoming, mixed up with the Delta Blues culture.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:55 PM on November 12, 2013 [20 favorites]


... anyone else getting a 404 on the link?
posted by thisclickableme at 4:01 PM on November 12, 2013


404 here.
posted by beagle at 4:09 PM on November 12, 2013


@randomwire has tweeted that the site was taken offline by it's hosting service due to a huge traffic spike...
posted by beagle at 4:13 PM on November 12, 2013


Site's dead, Jim.

That's OK, the audience here killed the guy's argument hours ago.
posted by notyou at 4:14 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's fixed, carry on.
posted by beagle at 4:17 PM on November 12, 2013


> I think it has to do with the soaring skyscrapers of the City of the Big Shoulders and the thin,
> tenuous rail connection to the broad open skies of Wyoming, mixed up with the Delta Blues
> culture.

It's because they're actually ashamed that all they dare put out there is hand-size copies of their stuff, so they have to make them as hard to find as possible. But they can't fix that, because at the next level down they're ashamed of their art.

I will cheerfully write the best possible sort of website for any graphic artist, for free. It will involve lots of thumbnails right on the front page that link directly to 3000x4000 px jpegs. The thumbnails will be neatly arranged using a table.
posted by jfuller at 4:55 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's a 404 for me now, too.

Front page says "A large traffic spike knocked randomwire.com offline earlier – working hard to restore it now!"

So I guess we just have to be patient.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:32 PM on November 12, 2013


I'm getting a 404, but as a part-time freelance designer in Japan, I've been wrapping my head around these issues for a few years here.

I think KokuRyu and geoff. hit the two biggest issues -

(1) The mobile site dominance, which is just now beginning to see a shift toward responsive thanks to smartphones. This also plays a big part in the lack of free wi-fi here - it's not much of an incentive to attract customers since they already have unlimited data mobile plans.

And (2) As geoff. stated, the kanji thing is a huge issue for webfonts. Even typeface design itself leaves very few open source fonts since the effort that goes into 2000+ characters is pretty intensive, not to mention the file size of those font sets - usually at least 3MB for a single weight. Designers here have usually just settled for jpeg title headers despite the sacrifice for SEO/accessibility, but I think the responsive low-bandwidth trend is pushing changes here too (albeit slowly).

A few services like FontPlus and Typesquare use proprietary scripting to parse out unused kanji and keep webfonts at a reasonable size, but they cost about $200/year so smaller businesses don't bother.

One last issue that I see is that relative to the US (and other Western countries perhaps?), outside the tech sector, the 50+ aged businessmen/owners are very unskilled at technology. So to maintain a site they either resort to more expensive ongoing support contracts, or just let the site deteriorate with age.

Regarding the busy design aesthetic - I could go on for hours about this. I describe Japan's aesthetitic as two opposing styles that meet/clash in strange and varied ways. The traditional minimal Japanese aesthetic that we see in architecture, interior design, fashion, etc. vs. what I call pachinko aesthetic: the dense, busy style that pulls your eyes in 20 directions at once.. This is not specific to the web, but it does make for some crazy site design.
posted by p3t3 at 5:48 PM on November 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's still dead.

I am skeptical of the premise that Japanese web design is 15 years behind the times. I sometimes buy very expensive Japanese design magazines, my favorite is MdN. It is my secret weapon. The techniques in MdN are years ahead of anything I see in in English language design magazines. And since I can read Japanese, I can follow the extremely detailed how-to articles, and use the techniques for years before they get into widespread use.

I will just give one little tidbit from MdN. I scanned this explanation of Unsharp Masking from MdN over 10 years ago. It was just a footnote in a larger how-to article. This is the best technical explanation of Unsharp Masking I have ever seen. The illustration is about the best possible way you could explain it, and the text is even better (if you can read it).
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:50 PM on November 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


This is one of the most popular sites (easily in the top 5) in Japan. So this is what people expect and are happy with.

Basically, Japan's answer to Reddit (actually, Reddit is America's answer to 2chan).
posted by KokuRyu at 5:51 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reddit is America's answer to 2chan

(eye twitches)
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:51 PM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


And since I can read Japanese, I can follow the extremely detailed how-to articles, and use them years before they get into widespread use.

This is a lot like fashion (and in some cases consumer technology)... Japan is usually about a year ahead of Canada.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:52 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think that fits with what the article said about a lot of people following homogenized trends alongside a small community of craftspeople who do wonderful individualized work.

And yes, you could say the same thing about any western country. Maybe it's just more obvious when familiar cultural cues are removed.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:57 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Isn't there be at least one standard font built into the phones which could be used without downloading?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:57 PM on November 12, 2013


Yeah, this seems like random speculation with some bizarrely wrong stuff. It probably comes down to conservatism and unrestrained addition of features, with the mobile thing also being an issue. None of those are unique to Japan by any stretch of the imagination, but yahoo.jp's success might help explain it (note that unlike the main Yahoo site they're still using an old, if somewhat polished, design). I'm not sure anything can explain the particular hell that is the typical Rakuten product page, though.

One handy thing I got out of this article is I tried adding a custom style to set a max-width on Metafilter, and it's really nice.
posted by 23 at 6:02 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Isn't there be at least one standard font built into the phones which could be used without downloading?

Yes, of course. I think there are two arguments going on here: 1) there's a lot of pictures of text; and 2) lack of fonts causes bad design. I don't buy two, but the value-neutral #1 would indeed be partially explained by the font situation (as well as continued popularity of legacy browsers).
posted by 23 at 6:05 PM on November 12, 2013


This is a lot like fashion (and in some cases consumer technology)... Japan is usually about a year ahead of Canada.

Well that's not too hard. I remember a joke I heard on the National Lampoon Radio Hour, back around 1975:

Q: What's the #1 top hit song on Canadian radio today?
A: Whatever was the #1 top hit on American radio 6 months ago.

I used to read a lot of Japanese fashion magazines (that's a long story) and the trend I saw was Tokyo was about a year ahead of Paris and London, which were about a year ahead of NY and LA, which was about a year ahead of widespread appeal in the US.

Chocolate Pickle: Isn't there be at least one standard font built into the phones which could be used without downloading?

Yes, but until recently, it looked like this. Mobile phones had internet-like services that were customized for small, low rez screens, but it was not the actual internet.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:10 PM on November 12, 2013


Isn't there be at least one standard font built into the phones which could be used without downloading?

As 23 said, yes. BUT... depending on the OS, default Japanese fonts are not the same. So if you really want to control the design, the CSS ends up with a bunch of fallback options like:

font-family:"ヒラギノ角ゴ Pro W3","Hiragino Kaku Gothic Pro",Osaka,"メイリオ",Meiryo,"MS Pゴシック","MS PGothic", sans-serif;

to account for variations between Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, old OSs, etc.
posted by p3t3 at 6:12 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure anything can explain the particular hell that is the typical Rakuten product page, though.

Oh my goodness, AliExpress design aesthetic explained.
posted by maryr at 7:34 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Site's up now. cf http://www.excite.com
posted by Ralph at 8:21 PM on November 12, 2013


Now that the article's up, super-tiny-nitpick-time: "Walk around one of Tokyo’s main hubs like Shibuya and you’re constantly bombarded with bright neon advertisements, noisy pachinko parlours(game arcades)"

I lived in Shibuya for 8 years. As far as I know, the only pachinko parlor in Shibuya is the Sega Maruhan building, which has no machines on the first floor, and thus is super silent.
posted by Bugbread at 8:42 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bugbread: "Now that the article's up, super-tiny-nitpick-time: "Walk around one of Tokyo’s main hubs like Shibuya and you’re constantly bombarded with bright neon advertisements, noisy pachinko parlours(game arcades)"

I lived in Shibuya for 8 years. As far as I know, the only pachinko parlor in Shibuya is the Sega Maruhan building, which has no machines on the first floor, and thus is super silent
"

Seriously, how dare you expect this writer to get any detail right at this point.
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:00 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


do they have logos in Japan?

One of my favorites is JAXA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency. It's named in English, and it's known by an English acronym, and its logo is made up of stylized versions of the letters of the English acronym.

But I think the logo is a beautiful design nonetheless.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:40 PM on November 12, 2013


Now that I could RTFA, I'd agree with the consensus that this is lazy and mostly unsubstantiated, but he does get a few of the aspects right.

But it suffers from the common problem of looking at it from the outside perspective. Even when trying to address internal cultural aspects, such as "risk-aversion," it is sort of implied that this is a bad thing. But from the Japanese perspective, vibrant web culture isn't necessarily even something worth aspiring to. The risk-aversion that the author cites doesn't just affect aesthetics, but a whole way of approaching technology. Risk of data compromising (the idea of paperless offices is unheard of here; most believe paper along with your personal red inkan stamped seal of identity to be the best option), risk of identity theft, risk of compromised privacy (another huge cultural issue, there were major complaints about privacy when the google cars started capturing street-view images here).

The spread of Internet culture on a broader scale is also affected by other factors. For instance, attitudes toward copyright. The US is lucky to have media outlets like PBS, who put full episodes of Frontline on the web, freely available to the world. Meanwhile in Japan, NHK (which could be called Japan's PBS) is still aggressively removing even short clips of their content that appear on Youtube. People here can't believe it when I tell then video rental shops are a thing of the past now in the US. This is not only because of aversion to change, but the economic logistics in a tightly controlled media system make it much less feasible here. Hulu Plus was recently introduced, but not much domestic content (and it's more expensive).

These are just a few more aspects, and I could keep going, but the main point is that site design addresses the needs of users and site functionality is controlled by socio-economic factors. Both users' needs and the societal restrictions are different in Japan than in other countries, and Japan's internet is an apt reflection of that. I'm curious to see where the iPhone/iPad revolution takes all of this in the next few years though...
posted by p3t3 at 10:50 PM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


It makes me sad that Japanese media doesn't put *anything* online (although FNN and ANN do upload a ton of HD news clips to YouTube).

On the other hand, almost anything you want can be found on Chinese Tube sites like Youku, and Chinese and Taiwanese torrenters dutifully upload the "taiga dramas" like "Saka no Ue no Kumo."
posted by KokuRyu at 11:10 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


While I'm still thinking and rambling, I'm thinking about the other common critique of information density in Japanese design. I'm not crazy about it myself, but it does sort of make sense, and beyond just the "ability to quickly scan kanji" argument.

There is a whole culture of "もったいない" here ("don't be wasteful") that caught on undoubtedly because of Japan's population density and limited natural resources. But I think もったいない permeates into more than people often realize here. Like the tiny two-way side streets that are narrower than some one-lane driveways, and the inventive home-makeover programs that turn tiny houses into transformers with beds that turn into desks, tables that sink into the floor, etc. The strictness of teachers making students finish all of their school lunches.

There is a whole mindset of using every little bit of material/space/resource here and I'm sure, consciously or unconsciously, that has affected the way newspapers/books were printed, which has now been passed on to web traditions as well.
posted by p3t3 at 11:16 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


My thoughts after reading this article are

"So... You don't know either?"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:01 AM on November 13, 2013


Now that I have read the article, I am pretty certain that the author has no idea what he's talking about. I usually start with the linguistic arguments, and if those fail, the whole structure is invalid. Start here:

Lacking Emphasis – Japanese doesn’t have italics or capital letters which limits the opportunities for adding visual punch that you get with latin alphabets.

Wrong. Japanese doesn't have capital letters and italics are rarely used. But it has something better: multiple scripts. Katakana is often used for emphasis. I read a linguist argue that since katakana is associated with foreign loan words, it makes the kanji text seem more emphatic and "more Japanese." And there are lots of other typographic conventions that are used for emphasis. Japanese texts are monospaced so small variations in typography stand out. And there are many different styles of text, I think they show a far wider variation in style than Western typography. Even cursive is commonly used in signage and displays. Although many people struggle to read stylized cursive, it certainly conveys an emphatic image.

I would attribute any alleged differences in Japanese web design to two basic concepts:

1. Kaizen, continuous improvement. Change is slow and conservative, perhaps even invisible, but continuous.

2. Technophobia. While the conventional concept of Japan is as a high-tech country, I think it's just the opposite.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:31 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


2. Technophobia. While the conventional concept of Japan is as a high-tech country, I think it's just the opposite.

Agreed. My anecdotal observation- The older generation is afraid of computers, and half of the younger generation doesn't bother with them since they use their cellphone for everything. Most people use laptops at work, but not at home.


PS - I just noticed the whole article is a slightly rearranged version of another article from a year ago. WTF!?..
posted by p3t3 at 1:08 AM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just noticed the whole article is a slightly rearranged version of another article from a year ago. WTF!?..

Oh man, Tofugu? No, thank you. The first step of plagiarism is finding good source material.

font-family:"ヒラギノ角ゴ

I wonder to what extend the kanji/hanzi tattoos I see can be attributed to copypasta from web sites. Every time I see a Mincho tattoo, I mentally congratulate the wearer on their choice of northeast Asia's Times New Roman.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:47 AM on November 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


FTSA: While these characters can look cluttered and confusing to the western eye, they actually allow Japanese speakers to become comfortable with processing a lot of information in short period of time / space (the same goes for Chinese).

Quasi-racist nonsense without anything to back it up.

And utterly and completely false, according to what studies I've seen on information processing across languages.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:25 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


FTSA: Lacking Emphasis – Japanese doesn’t have italics or capital letters which limits the opportunities for adding visual punch that you get with latin alphabets. This makes it more difficult to create the hierarchical contrasts required to organise information with type alone although many designers get around this by adding decoration or using graphic text.

That's why these pages are filled with monotonously plain script. Or not.

Those whacky Japanese and their boring alphabets! They're so ... undeveloped!
posted by IAmBroom at 1:49 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's why these pages are filled with monotonously plain script. Or not.

I love Japanese newspapers. I used to rush to school every morning to read the newspaper before anyone else. Otherwise I'd get when it got passed around in the lunchroom, after everyone else tore it up. The newspapers always have a distinctive way of showing emphasis. I still remember one day there was a huge headline across the top of the front page that blared in giant kanji "NO JAPANESE KILLED" and then underneath that in smaller type about a third of that size, a subhead, "TWA Jet Crashes in Atlantic, 230 Dead."

My very first web page ever was a list of online Japanese newspapers, even the sites that had no news, just information on the company. It took me weeks to search them all down, in the days before even AltaVista. It used to be nearly impossible to get Japanese newspapers without an expensive subscription by airmail, it was always yesterday's news (or even later). Now you can go on the web and even find scans of vintage Japanese newspapers from the 1920s. In particular, look at the first two pages, which are full of advertisements. Notice the resemblance to modern Japanese websites, especially online stores like the Rakuten site the author abhors. Japanese websites look the way they do, because that is the way they are supposed to look.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:13 PM on November 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


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