Japanese lessons - Issue 129 - Magazine | Monocle

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The world’s eyes have been firmly fixed on Japan as the country has hosted a string of events – from the G20 Summit to Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony – in the run-up to the Olympics. These occasions have highlighted the country’s ability to deliver down-to-the-second precision. Visitors, meanwhile, have been welcomed by hosts who aren’t afraid to go the extra mile. While this has placed the art of Japanese hospitality firmly under the microscope, there are plenty more lessons that the world can glean from other sectors across the country.

Japan’s demographic shifts, for example, pose a major challenge to its economy but they are being met with proactive solutions that other countries would do well to heed. The Japanese experience of natural disasters has produced innovation in areas from building resilience to recovery efforts. This expertise has also become increasingly valuable internationally, amid an ever-more volatile global climate in which many countries are looking to upgrade their defences.

While moving to counter these challenges, Japan is also consolidating its high-quality craftsmanship and architectural excellence, helping to define the exports that set the country apart on the world stage.


The power of print

Making for interesting reading

New ventures are proving that print, done right, can remain a potent force. Distributor Nippon Shuppan Hanbai (Nippan) has launched Bunkitsu, a 30,000-title bookshop with a cover charge just to enter. Brands are also exploring the world of print: Muji has a lobby library at its flagship hotel in Ginza, while Uniqlo’s LifeWear is a free magazine capturing the brand’s vision through bold and insightful content.


Architectural exports

More constructive dialogue

Building on lessons learned at home, Japanese architects are providing global leadership. Shigeru Ban’s temporary housing is supporting disaster relief, while Kengo Kuma (v&a Dundee) and Tsuyoshi Tane (Estonian National Museum) are shaping cultural facilities. They are also influencing urban discourse at exhibitions such as Kenya Hara’s House Vision.


Service with a smile

An education in hospitality

Omotenashi has become a buzzword for Japanese hospitality amid the recent tourism boom and we can all learn from the country’s commitment to high-quality service. Imagine a school presenting an A to Z of hospitality led by first-class cabin attendants, hoteliers, boutique owners and bartenders. It allows local businesses and budding entrepreneurs to fine tune their offerings, taking lessons and advice from their industry’s finest.


Full throttle on high-speed rail

Going everywhere, fast

More than five decades after the first Shinkansen service, investment in high-speed rail continues with routes set to run north to Sapporo and along the Sea of Japan. A Maglev service to connect Tokyo and Nagoya is also planned. The costs are significant but these projects embody Japan’s approach to safety, reliability and punctuality.


High-fiving hosts

Gaining tournament glory

The success of the Brave Blossoms captured the headlines but off the field the Rugby World Cup won fans thanks to Japan’s hosting prowess. The decision to spread the tournament from Sapporo to Kumamoto engaged communities big and small. In Kitakyushu, the Welsh team received a rousing rendition of “Land of my Fathers” from 15,000 local spectators at training, while all hands were on deck to ensure Yokohama was ready for action less than 24 hours after Typhoon Hagibis. Stadium staff even bid farewell to fans with post-game high fives, a simple gesture that left a lasting impression.


Proud to volunteer

Selfless acts of civic responsibility

Blink and you might miss them: the kind gentleman watching the pedestrian crossing, the lady tending to a strip of nature, the street sweepers and the walkers patrolling in matching caps and jackets. These are Japan’s volunteers, hailing from various walks of life, who prove that many hands make light work when maintaining clean streets, safe neighbourhoods and liveable cities. Brought together by a sense of civic pride, they’re the heroes every community needs.


The culture of making

Maintaining the craft

“Made in Japan” has come to represent craftsmanship and attention to detail. The preservation of this culture of making is multi-layered: government-led initiatives recognise the top echelon of artisans and their techniques, while savvy designers seek new ways to engage highly skilled makers as demand for their traditional wares falls.


Tackling rural depopulation

Getting back to nature

Japan is resisting urban sprawl by encouraging people to move to the countryside. The success of the Setouchi Triennale has created a lasting legacy, with other areas also using festivals as a draw. Meanwhile, other towns are working together to stay connected with centralised services.


Design for natural disasters

Becoming experts in emergency

Faced with natural disasters on a regular basis, Japan has developed expertise in mitigating their impacts and developing initiatives for relief and recovery. From the engineering of earthquake-proof buildings and flood-control mechanisms to measures to inform the public before, during and after such events, the country is a leader in disaster management. Experts, including the Japan Disaster Relief Team, support rescue efforts around the world.


Managing an ageing society

Raising the bar in senior service

When it comes to the challenges of an ageing, shrinking population, it pays to look on the bright side. At the forefront of this is Toyama. For more than a decade it has redeveloped as a compact city with centralised services and infrastructure, and initiatives to help senior citizens remain active and healthy. Engaging older people provides a sense of purpose and ensures that their knowledge is passed on.

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