Quite a while back author Daniel Pink (A Whole New Mind, Drive, and others) visited Japan (and unfortunately my daughter got sick, or I'd have gone to hear him speak:((. While he was here, he was struck apparently by what he saw as Good Design all around him, and posted a couple of times about it on his blog. Things like... recycling in McDonald's (paper, plastic, and a drain to dump your left-over drink in before you throw out the cup), which made me smile because that very lack of recycling in the US drives me crazy every time I go home. There were several other things he mentioned, which unfortunately I can't find because his blog doesn't archive that far back (I'm slow:))
This came back into my mind the other day, because my husband had me dig out my English copy of Drive--The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (he's trying to improve his reading ability--such a good boy!). Which reminded me of my favorite example of Good Design in Japan--Genkans, which I wrote about when I first started blogging, and if it's alright with everybody I'll repost part of that entry here. And if my Genkan were presentable, I'd post a photo...
Genkans Keep Your Floor Cleaner
Or: Why My Mom Is Trying to Teach My Dad a New Trick
I was, and am still, endlessly fascinated by the homogeneity of Japan (at least as compared to the United States). No major income gaps; no major education gaps; even more striking--no major manners gaps.
Take shoes, for instance. You will not find a person in Japan who would walk into a house with their shoes on. This custom is reflected in the architecture-- all houses, apartments, Japanese-style inns are built with a genkan (entryway) with closets and shelves right there for your shoes. There's also usually a step, so first you take off your shoes and then you step up into the house proper. I have watched my husband ( a grown-up, for pete's sake) when he's too lazy to take his shoes back off, crawl on his hands and knees back into the house--being careful not to let his shod feet touch the floor-- to get some forgotten item. Really.
No one in Japan, I mean literally no one--not even thieves--would ever in a million years step on a tatami mat with shoes on. Children as young as 18 months can be seen sitting on the genkan step struggling to take their own shoes off.
I meant that about thieves, by the way. A former student of mine once told me (in halting English) about how her parents house had been broken into. A window opened, things taken. The police could tell where the thief had come in since there were shoe prints in the mud outside the window. Oh dear, I said, wasn't the inside a muddy mess? No, she replied, just some things were taken. But, why wasn't there any mud inside the house if the thief had to stand in mud to get in the window? He took his shoes off, came the inevitable reply. I was flabbergasted--he took his shoes off?! Why? She looked puzzled... but--you can't go inside with shoes on! This, of course, made me laugh--and then I had to explain (no easy task) what on earth I was laughing about. I'm still not sure she understood why I thought it was hilarious that the housebreaker had taken off his shoes before breaking and entering (apparently the police give thieves extra time to get their shoes on and off before racing to the scene of the crime...).
If you'd like to actually see what I'm talking about, go rent the movie "Adrenaline Drive" from the foreign film section. A group of Yakuza (Mafia) are chasing the main characters, chase them into an apartment, step into the genkan (entryway) .... and all 5 crooks remove their shoes before continuing the chase inside the house. I nearly bust a gut laughing. My husband looked at me like screws were falling out of my ears--he had not the slightest clue why I was laughing. I explained. He didn't get it. I backed up the tape and showed him the scene, and told him why I thought it was funny. He just looked at me funny and said, "But, you have to take off your shoes before you go inside."
If GOD showed up on a doorstep in Japan, well, He'd just have to take off His shoes,too. Come to think of it, maybe God is Japanese, since that's what He told Moses to do (was there a tatami mat inside the Burning Bush?). But I digress.
Seriously, I love my genkan. I like having all the shoes right by the door. No muddy, sandy shoes to come stomping through the house. Even without the special entryway, it's easy enough to make a "genkan" by the back garage door--just put some simple shelving by the door (outside, or just inside), one shelf per family member. Put a slipper rack back there in the winter if your feet get cold. It may take a while to get used to it (my Mom is still working on my Dad...), but once you do, it's almost impossible to wear shoes inside again.
To be honest, I see examples of both Good and Not-So-Good Design here, but the good examples outnumber the not-so-good examples. At least, I think they do. So to be scientific about it, I'll start a list and post again On Design in about a month:))
Mata asobou, ne!