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5 things we learned when visiting Japan

5 things we learned when visiting Japan as part of the Belgian state visit


Japanese people are group-centered as opposed to our self-centred western culture. This shows in almost everything, but very striking are the anti-smoking messages. While we get the message that smoking is bad for us “you’ll get cancer”, the Japanese are told that smoking is bad for other people “You carry a 700º fire at the height of a child’s face”.

Information, rules and efficiency

Walk around 10 minutes in the Tokyo metro and you’ll see that Japanese people like lots of information and clear instructions. There are plenty of lines, arrows and information on the ground, which shows you the most efficient way to go from point A to B. And the Japanese follow these instructions consciously. If not Shinjuku station wouldn’t be able to handle over 3,5 million people on an average weekday. That’s right, 3,5 million people. This is almost 1/3rd of the Belgian population. We Belgians don’t like to follow rules, and it shows: it takes us 4 hours to move 50.000 people on an average rock festival.

Stand in 2 rows

Uncharted territory for business model innovation

Japan is a country of engineers. Our jaw dropped, looking at the technical innovation, ranging from high-tech toilets, to ultra-fast ticket processing metro gates and gigantic underground flood prevention canals. But in terms of business model innovation or service innovation, Japan is an uncharted territory. We were invited by the Business Model Innovation Association (BMIA), to exchange ideas on innovation with Directors Taisei Miyake and Shin Yamamoto. While lots of innovators in the West, are pretty familiar with tools such as the Business Model Canvas, the BMIA plays a pioneering role in Japan.

The quintessential product designer still exists

While most product designers in Belgium are also designing brands, websites and services, in Japan the quintessential product designer still exists. We had the honour to be invited by Kasushige Miyake to his Tokyo based design studio. The studio designs products ranging from electronic devices to furniture for clients such as Muji, Yamaha and Mondo.
Miyake’s studio reflects the products they design: simple, aesthetic, honest in nature. The set-up was the archetypical product design studio: an office, a workshop with some essential tools to make foam models and a material and sample library.

Domestic robots

In Belgium, domestic robots are making their first appearances. In Japan robots seem to be all over, and not only in the infamous robot restaurant. We met Yasuko Akutsu, president of MT Health Care Design Research, a pioneer in emotional robots. Her team developed an award winning app for the Pepper Robot. This robot chats with dementing elderly to exercise their mind. But amazingly enough, we also saw a Pepper robot in a corner of a general store in Tokyo, helping people to get around.

tags    creativity , Design , Innovation , Japan