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SURVEY OF JAPAN 2017 the built environment and the way of living Haoyu Wang

PREFACE As an architecture student with an interest in how a built environment shapes a particular way of living, I always like to explore built environments in different contexts, and record my instant impression with tools in my hands. In the fall of 2017, an internship opportunity at Shigeru Ban Architects brought me to Tokyo where I was able to investigate this intriguing city and orther cities in the Japan where majestic infrastructures, flourishing public spaces and diverse architectural languages shape distinctive built environments. Simultaneously as built environments impacts the ways people live, the particular social and cultural characteristics among people’s lives are reflected on the built environment. During my 12-week internship, I utilized my weekends and afterwork hours in evenings to explore Tokyo and with a camera, a sketchbook, and a gel pen. Instead of focusing on the masterpieces of architecture, I put my visions primarily on the scenes of vernacular cityscapes and the ways people spend their lives in the context. In addition, I managed to travel outside of Tokyo and explored urban environments in other regions of the country. In mid September, I took my steps onto the devastated land of Tohoku where the population gradually decreases under the post-tsunami scenario; in late October, I travelled through Kansai region to Kyushu Island and experienced different cities along the routes of the Shinkansen railway. Instead of professional works, the photos and sketches showing in this booklet are pieces of instant record of what attracted my eyes and what triggered my thoughts. To help understanding my focal points of each captured scene, I organized these scenes into four major categories being: residential environment; infrastructure; public life; and urban-landscape. The booklet is made as a source of inspiration for my future design and study. If the booklet is circulated, I hope it to be a guide book and a source of intuitive information for potential readers who are interested in relevant topics regarding the built Japan.


Chubu Aomori









Chugoku Tokyo


Yokohama Kamakura Kansai

Shimonoseki Kyushu Fukuoka










Kumamoto Kagoshima



The force of nature


Delicate living environment


Meant to be temporary


Collective living




Transit culture


Infrastructure as attraction


Infrastructure in daily life


Cultural activity


Dining out






Moments out of offices and schools


URBAN-LANDSCAPE Cities from above


Perception of the built world


Memories of the Imperial Japan


Post tsunami


Residential Environment

RESIDENTIAL ENVIRONMENT Knowing the extraordinary density of Japan, I was quite surprised when I arrived at the center of Tokyo and saw vest residential neighbourhoods mostly consist of single houses. In other cities with similar densities (such as Shanghai, Singapore, and Hong Kong), apartment and other forms of collective living dominate the residential life. Whereas in Tokyo and other cities of Japan, many cities still insist living in independent houses built on private lots, regardless of how limited the lots are. Living in a shared house on the highland area of Yoyogi-Uehara, I had to walk up and down on stairs and ramps in order to get to the nearest train station. Although the walks were frustrating, I could perceive my affection towards this neighborhood when I reached the front door of my house at night and saw lights twinkling at numerous houses beneath the stairways.


a abandoned old house with greenery protruding out of the fence Setagaya, Tokyo

Residential Environment

a commuter riding bicycle through the neighborhood at night Yoyogi-Uehara, Tokyo

a sense that someone is reachable to the street Yoyogi-Uehara, Tokyo


houses pushed towards the narrow street Yoyogi-Uehara, Tokyo

House without setback Unlike a typical urban house in Western countries which tend to leave a wide space for a specific program (a court yard, a parking lot, a porch, or simply a basketball stand) which separates the house from the street, a vernacular urban house in Tokyo is likely to push itself to the edge of a street. While the spatial constraints make it impossible to leave any privilege for ‘space of privacy’, these houses without setback somehow made me feel safe when walking among them at night. Although I might have been the only person on the street of Yoyogi-Uehara at 1 o’clock, the proximity to imminent front doors of houses and lights shining inside windows transmitted a sense that someone is reachable to the street.

Residential Environment

a student walking along a canal next to houses Inari, Kyoto

section of a typical street in residential neighborhoods of Tokyo Yoyogi-Uehara, Tokyo


a housewife walking home with groceries in bags Inasamachi, Nagasaki

Residential Environment

vertical layers of houses on a mountainous neighborhood Inasamachi, Nagasaki

curved streets are barely visible among clusters of houses Inasamachi, Nagasaki


lots are arranged on ‘steps’ in the suburb Hobashira, Kitakyushu

The force of nature As a country with its topography mostly shaped by mountains and rivers, Japan has a profound history of building cities following particular topographic features. Comparing to other cities I have been living in (such as Miami and Zhengzhou) with a sense of distance measured by rigid city grids, mountainous cities in Japan feature a different sense of distance. In Tokyo and Nagasaki, mountainous regions are filled with organic residential neighborhoods as small single houses are relatively adaptive to complicate topographic conditions. In these areas, the sense of distance is more intuitive. It was quite frustrating walking in the residential neighborhoods of Nagasaki which involves ceaseless steps up and down on slopes and destinations that are seemingly visible but unreachable. On the other hand, the force of nature creates incredible views to neighborhoods. As roads and paths are typically hidden behind, what I saw on Inasamachi residential neighborhood were numerous houses stacked on top of each other toward the sky.

Residential Environment

stacked houses visually overlapping each other Yoyogi-Uehara, Tokyo


this neighborhood on a hill had been an evacuation spot during the 2013 tsunami Hiyoriyama, Ishinomaki

Residential Environment

greenery and pavement in a small alley of the old town Karuizawa


living with stream, greenery, and sunshine Nanbacho, Kyoto

Delicate living environment In densely packed residential neighborhoods, most houses are lack of gardens or other forms of private outdoor spaces. Even so, people would not compromise regarding their living environments. They actively decorate the facades of houses with elegent fences and facilitate the public space outside of individual lots. Wherever possible, communities create and manage linear walks, waterfronts, greenery, cultural facilities, and decorative installations in order to maintain their delicate living environments.

Residential Environment

a canal can make a compact neighborhood livable and breathable Inari, Kyoto


many residential neighborhoods have railway lines running through Inari, Kyoto

a typical section with railways and residences on two sides Jiyugaoka, Tokyo

Residential Environment

the residents or the architects of this house might have interesting thoughts on design Karuizawa


a stream running through a residential neighborhood creates lively scenes Horikawa, Kyoto

a variety of single houses and collective residences in the suburb Inari, Kyoto

Residential Environment

a man walking toward a wall of red lanterns Yoyogi-Uehara, Tokyo

a pedestrian path with linear greenery in the middle of a street Jiyugaoka, Tokyo


you may find a temple right in the middle of a residential neighborhood Setagaya, Tokyo

you may also find a mini shrine at a corner of a street intersection Setagaya, Tokyo

Residential Environment

transformation of my shared house which happened within 4 days Yoyogi-Uehara, Tokyo


clothesline poles extruding out from temporary houses Tosu

Meant to be temporary In major cities of Japan, the increasing inheritance tax is forcing young generations to divide and sell part of their private land out. In the post-bubble urban scenario, houses are meant to be temporary in respond to frequent land redistributions. As the monumentality of urban house decreases, houses are designed and built with light materials and simple structural systems which allow disassembly and transform of houses with ease. When I moved in to my shared house in Yoyogi-Uehara, I did not expect that the staffs were able to attach a ‘room’ to the house within a few days. However, it truly happened in late October when they decided to add a new restroom. In a typical morning before I went out, two workers walked into the house with a box of tools. In the evening of the same day, I went home and saw a small portion of the living room blocked by plastic sheets. In the next few days, the two workers brought a variety of materials and worked inside and out of the living room. After 4 days, a small metal box was attached to the exterior wall with a restroom and a laundry space inside. It is hard to imagine how frequently such vernacular housing transformation happens in sporadic residential neighborhoods of Tokyo.

Residential Environment

vernacular apartment buildings in various styles standing next to each other Matsubara, Tokyo


the decorative facade of an apartment Daikanyama, Tokyo

Collective living Although forms of collective living in Japanese cities are not as dominative as they are in high-density cities of China and Europe, you can still find different types of apartments and other communal residences in Japanese cities. With iconic features such as exposed circulations and facades of balconies, Japanese have developed their own features and typologies of collective residences.

Residential Environment

I could see portions of a high-rise residence through the canopy of the Inokashira Park, I wondered what the residents could see from their balconies Kichijoji, Tokyo 28

even in the ‘high-end resort town’ of Karuizawa, you could find some low profile rentals Karuizawa

a capsule hotel I used to live in, this typology has became a icon of Japan tourism Nagasaki


INFRASTRUCTURE Travelling through the Japanese Archipelago by Shinkansen and other JR lines, I could genuinely perceive the significance of the infrastructure and the impact of it on people’s life. As a developed country, Japan is still enthusiastic in building new commuting systems upon its existing railways. Comparing to many other developed countries where public transits are falling behind due to the lack of maintaining, Japan has trains and trams well operated for decades under high volumes of passengers. On one hand, the compactness of urban spaces, topographical limits for vehicles, and high density of population make it suitable for the use of massive transportations. On the other hand, the stable social order, low crime rate, and well developed sense of public services contribute to great experiences of riding public transits. With train stations being the most active urban infrastructural joints, a variety of associated services evolve around stations and integrate into the overall infrastructural system. In a sense, people in major cities of Japan are living more lives upon the infrastructure than the fettered land underneath.


the integrated megastructure of Shinjuku Station Tokyo


a guard witnessing countless people passing through gates Shinjuku Station, Tokyo


tourists arriving at the the resort town of Karuizawa for their weekend getaway Karuizawa Station, Karuizawa

Stations To my experience, train stations and tram stations might be the busiest places in cities of Japan. At gates of Shinjuku Station, You can see people talking on their phones while smoothly swiping their Suicas on the machines as subconscious actions. You can also see someone waving hands as a farewell to his or her friends on the other side of the gates. For most citizens, train stations are significant parts of their life. Most of the local stations are designed purely for the transit as the fundamental function. In contrast, megastructures of major stations are becoming integrated urban centers with a large range of programs. Every time when I walked through the Shinjuku Station, the numerous signs indicating various services and arrows to all directions made me feel that I was in an indoor city. Station is also an ideal typology for architects and designers to serve the public with their distinctive ideas. Standing in the center of Kyoto, among the elegant temples and shrines from imperial period, the mountain-like glass facade of Kyoto Station gives a powerful impression as it exemplifies the way people live upon infrastructures in the modern era.


the only platform of the a local station Higashi-Matsubara Station, Tokyo


a train arrived at the station at noon Nakakaruizawa Station, Karuizawa

a train arrived at the station at sunset Nakakaruizawa Station, Karuizawa


dynamic scenes composed of trains and pedestrians moving at different speeds Kita-senju Station, Tokyo


‘please wait until passengers leave the train before boarding...’ Gaiemmae Station, Tokyo

a mother and a daughter among the queuers at an Shinkansen platform Tokyo Station, Tokyo


a group of students and a foreign travelor waiting for trains Inari Station, Kyoto

a traveler sitting next to his backpack Aomori Station


Chapter 1 of the commuter’s daily routine: morning in a line Yoyogi-Uehara Station, Tokyo

passengers boarding onto a Shinkansen bullet train Shin-Aomori Station, Aomori


still and movement Harajuku Station Tokyo


a train passing by a platform at night Ochanomizu Station Tokyo

a waiting room in the middle of a platform Shin-Aomori Station, Aomori


passengers and a Shinkansen bullet train at sunset Hiroshima Station, Hiroshima

a cloudy afternoon at a Shinkansen platform Sendai Station, Sendai


these two children were exciting about what they saw in the countryside Kawabe Station, Aomori

an infrastructure right next to the landscape Kawabe Station, Aomori


students walking across the tram tracks Kumamoto Tram Station, Kumamoto

‘this train will departure momentarily’ Osaka Station, Osaka


late night commuters leaning against the back panels of the station Izurodori Tram Station, Kagoshima

the humble bus stop in front of a construction site was decorated by lanterns Kagoshima


a big Y under the blue sky Miyajimaguchi Station, Hiroshima


the canopy of the station reaches a visual synchonization with the coatings on a train Aomori Station, Aomori

simple and pure functionality Ajigasawa Station, Aoyama


the skyline of Shinjuku behind the station Shinjuku Station, Tokyo

movements under the signs at a station exit Shinjuku Station, Tokyo


commuters in a weekday morning Shin-Osaka Station, Osaka

the exposed structures and building systems make the station like a grown creature Osaka Station, Osaka


finally saw a piece of sky after a long subway trip Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae Station, Kyoto


morning sunshine projecting through the glazed roof to platforms Osaka Station, Osaka



the megastructure, needless to say... Kyoto Station, Kyoto


a symbolic ‘gate’ which is clearly not scaled for human passengers Kyoto Station, Kyoto


light and reflection Kyoto Station, Kyoto

this might hall literally be the core of the city Kyoto Station, Kyoto



a megastructure is created with one of the busiest train stations as its basement Nagoya Statoin,Nagoya



a station complex has to serve different programs in order to become a real core of a city Nagoya Statoin, Nagoya


slowly shifting light and shadows with rapidly moving passengers at an exit Yokohama Station, Yokohama


station - platform - street - coast - sea Kamakurakoko-mae Station, Kamakura

as a city famous for its imperial castle, the design of its train station is quite surprising Himeji Station, Himeji


did these students like the ‘Kyushu Red’ coating? Kumamoto Station, Kumamoto


an old man looking out of window at sunset somewhere in Kyushu

Transit Culture Meanwhile when Americans were developing their distinctive ‘highway culture’ alongside the expansion of highway networks in the 20th century, the rapid development of the national railway system in Japan nourished a ‘railway culture’, in which, models of trains evolving with various aesthetic approaches and their personated characters being commercialized in many fields of industries. Nowadays, as the railway culture still evolves, its influence expands toward other transit systems in Japan and promotes a extensive ‘transit culture’. During my trips to different cities, I experienced how distinctive styles of local trains and trams in some regions enhanced my impressions of the regional cultures. Currently, China is experiencing extraordinary development of high speed railways and local public transit systems like Japanese did during 1960s. While I am fascinated by the transit culture I experienced in Japan, I always expect to see something to be evolved among public transits in China.


connected locomotives of Shinkansen bullet trains with different designs Fukushima Station, Fukushima

do you perfer the Limited Express (grey) or the Sea Side Linear (blue, behind)? Tosu Station, Tosu


‘Kyushu Red’ is especially eye-catching during the dark night Kurume Station, Kurume

I was not the only one photographing this specially coated train Kamakura



the Gono Sightseeing Line brought me to the Showa Era Ajigasawa Station, Aomori

I was pretty sure that I was in the Showa Era... Aomori


how to driving an old style tram Nagasaki

a tram as part of the urbanscape Kagoshima


at that moment, I was wondering why they did not update tram vehicle for decades... Hiroshima

... a few minutes later, this guy came and arrived at the same stop... Hiroshima


a dock and a ticket office can be a simple but interesting photo-taking spot Yokohama


train observation is a good way of spending lunch time Kyoto

Infrastructure as attraction In addition to the primary functionality, some pure and simple attractiveness can also make an infrastructure important to a people’s life. In many case, people visit an infrastructure simply to experience the atmosphere and the view, rather than actually ‘use’ it. The beauty of structures and incredible views from an accessible platform can make an infrastructure an attraction to both local people and tourists. At the Osanbashi Pier of the Port of Yokohama, I saw people standing, walking, and sitting on the wooden roof terrace to enjoy the skyline of Yokohama. There had been even more ‘viewers’ than the actual passengers waiting for cruises at gates. At Aomori Port, I saw people walking back and forth on a pedestrian bridge without reaching the other side. For them, the bridge was more of a platform to experience the sea breeze in a cool day than an actual connection over water. At the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, I was fascinated by the magnificent structure of the suspension bridge and stood underneath for nearly an hour to enjoy the bridge and the foggy view of the Akashi Strait.


the Akashi Strait under the Akashi KaiKyo Bridge Kobe


a red ship passing beneath the Akashi KaiKyo Bridge Kobe

the small glass box in the structures is actually an observation platform with a cafe Kobe


for them, the bridge was more of a platform to experience the sea breeze in a cool day Aomori Bay, Aomori

a terrace of the train station serves as a observation deck for train viewer Shinjuku Station, Tokyo


the Osanbashi Pier itself looked more like a cruise than an actual cruise Port of Yokohama, Yokohama

this photographer looked more professional than me Port of Yokohama, Yokohama



various moments on the terrace of the Osanbashi Pier Port of Yokohama


the Aomori Bay Bridge framing the sky and the port Aomori

is the Aomori Bay Bridge an infrastructure or an architecture? Aomori


in evenings, this magnificent stairway turns into a giant screen for animations Kyoto Station


a heavy canopy over the pedestrian passage in the middle of the avenue Bansui dori, Sandai


a pool with fountains at the center of an avenue Sanjo, Kyoto

Infrastructure in daily life Apart from the majestic infrastructural structures which integrate programs, there are ubiquitous small infrastructures and specific infrastructural components in Japan that fill into the daily life and largely impact the way people live. Some of them are well organized and help making a comfortable and convenient urban life; some have distinctive Japanese characters that contribute to create particular moments of daily routines in the social and cultural context of Japan. Before I went to Japan, I had never seen a convenience store as an infrastructural element of a city. However, the living experience in multiple cities of Japan convinced me that 7-11, Family Mart, and Lawson could be recognized as a sort of infrastructures with their versatility and necessity in daily life. To many salarymen in Japan, a workday starts at a convenience store at 9 A.M. and ends at a convenience store at 11 P.M.


the mystery of Shinjuku: are you sure that you are standing on the actual land? Shinjuku, Tokyo

to the street on the ground level, this is an overpass; to the highway obove, is this an ‘underpass’? Shibuya, Tokyo 82

late night commuters walking on an overpass with the business district behind Shinjuku, Tokyo

to these students, this overpass might be part of their school life Tosu Station


you have to develop a mindset of mechanical design if you want to do a project like this Osaka


in a sense, this scene is similar to scenes of Americans picking up their cars at garages Sendai


an air hostess drinking at a kiosk with vending machines, there should be Wi-Fi and outlets ITM airport, Osaka


an overpass with ramps designed for cyclists Yokohama

people waiting for a train to pass by at a crossing gate, this happens everywhere in the city Yoyogi-Hachiman, Tokyo


living infrastructure: one of the few 7-11 stores in the suburb Karuizawa

living infrastructure: the only LAWSON in the marginal village Ajigasawa, Aomori


living infrastructure: one of the thousands of 7-11 stores in Tokyo Yoyogi-Uehara, Tokyo

living infrastructure: one of the thousands of 7-11 stores that open 24/7 Yoyogi-Uehara, Tokyo

Public Life

PUBLIC LIFE Japan is known of its spatial constraints and the introverted cultural characters which apparently limit activities to happen outside of the private sector. However, to my experience, Japanese are highly active in public life with distinctive features, emphasis, and rules in response to the particular context of the country. First of all, the spatial constraints may impact more in the private sector than in the public space and activities. Currently, middle class families in Japan are living in relatively small residences comparing to those in most other developed countries. People would spend most of their time at offices, in cafes, on streets, and even sitting somewhere in a train station, instead of staying at home. Although vest public spaces such as city plazas rarely exist in Japanese urban environment, the high demand of public life generates a variety of inspirations and ideas regarding the design of small spaces and the transformability of occupied spaces that are temporarily not in use. On the other hand, the introverted culture of Japanese people ironically helps maintaining the public spaces and their qualities. As Japanese keep the sense of ‘do not bother others’ in their minds, they spontaneously preserve public facilities and keep their spaces clean. Moreover, the density of population and the ease of accessing different places with public transits promote people to gather and public activities to happen.


an extensive arcade covering a commerical street for miles long Sendai

Public Life

a local festival with a grand parade extending from a commercial street to a shrine Jiyugaoka, Tokyo


a local festival with a parade happening on a commercial street Ikebukuro, Tokyo

Cultural activity Similar to what I experienced in China, most people in Japan embed general religious activities in their life without persisting in a single belief. Many Japanese worship multiple gods and take part in various cultural and religious activities in different occasions. In such context of the society, diverse cultural activities are opened to the everyone regardless of their preferred believes. When I explored different neighborhoods during weekends, I often found myself falled into a group of people in celebrations. As Japanese cities are lack of dedicated plaza or gathering place, many of these events happened in narrow alleys and crowded religious sites. Although spatially limited, the atmosphere of being surrounded by people contributes to shape magnificent impressions of the events. In addition to the organized events, activities of blessings and worships constantly happen at temples and shrines with crowds of tourists and local people, which is similar to what happens in China.

Public Life

out of streams of pedestrians, a man was walking toward a hidden shrine Nakakecho Shopping Street, Sendai


people, mostly tourists, were blessing in front of the major shrine Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

streams of people on the Omotesando (shrine-front path) of the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Kamakura

Public Life

tourists and students at an insence burner Todaiji, Nara


an old woman bowing in front of the Anyoji temple Kichijoji, Musashino

Public Life

a traffic policeman working at an enclosed local festival Yokohama

the annual Fukushima Festival with a parade and food services Roppongi Hills, Tokyo


a music festival in front of the station in the so called ‘ghost city’ Fukushima Station

Public Life


the October Festival happens every fall which provides opportunity to drink in the public the Port of Yokohama, Yokohama

Public Life


what you expect to see at the October Festival the Port of Yokohama

Public Life

buskers performing at a plaza in front of the train station Shinjuku Station, Tokyo

buskers performing under a highway bridge Shinjuku, Tokyo


buskers performing at a park Yokohama

an eye-catching chess game at the entrance of a shopping street Nakakecho Shopping Street, Sendai

Public Life

dining and drinking in a ‘cage’ under a railway bridge Shimo-kitazawa, Tokyo


one of the hundreds of small bars that only open at night Shimo-kitazawa, Tokyo

Dining out In Japan, restaurants, bars, cafes, night markets, food trucks, and coffee kiosks are great places to observe public life. The stable social structure and the deeply rooted ‘spirit of artisan’ nourishes diverse dining and cooking cultures. Dining and drinking services are offered in a variety of forms, including family-operated restaurants in residences, bento stores, stand-only ramen shops, and pervasive boxed products in convenience stores. You could eat at the waiting area of a train station, on the grassland of the a park, on the rooftop of an office building, on the bank of a river, and on a plastic bench in a dark, narrow, and crowd Yokocho.

Public Life


open kitchens and bars serving commuters at night Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho, Tokyo

Public Life

all you need for opening a open kitchen in a Yokocho Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho, Tokyo


enclosed and opened dining areas Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho, Tokyo

Public Life

people like to browse Yokochos even when they are not hungry Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho, Tokyo


an eternal question: what to eat for lunch? Kichejoji Station, Tokyo

Public Life


not every store in a Yokocho flourish at night Hapina Nakakecho, Sendai

Public Life

temporary dining quarter frequently happens in bustle commerical neighborhoods Aoyama, Tokyo

the daytime shopping street for souvenirs is turned into an open-air bar at night Yanaka Ginza, Tokyo


open food stalls on the side walk serving Chinese food, reminded me of my hometown Ikebukuro, Tokyo

a salaryman walking along seafood stalls under a railway bridge Yurakucho, Tokyo

Public Life

in the morning, this looked like an abandoned metal container... Shimo-kitazawa, Tokyo


at night, it opened as a steampunk style beer kiosk surrounded by young people Shimo-kitazawa, Tokyo

girls at a food truck at a local festival Yokohama

Public Life

a ‘high’-end cafeteria at the National Art Center Roppongi, Tokyo


how does the famous Ichiran Reman shop work a Ichiran branch at Shimo-kitazawa, Tokyo

Public Life

a woman walking along a river bank at sunset Kumamoto


you can always find pedestrians around a train station, even at mid-night Yoyogi-Uehara, Tokyo

Pedestrian As public transportation dominates the way people commute in cities of Japan, walk (and sometimes run, especially at train stations) becomes a necessary procedure of daily life as it covers minor distances between stations and destinations. As I frequently walk through Shibuya Cross at nights, the classic scene of the Shibuya Cross never fail to amaze me, where streams of people from all directions merge at the center of the cross, then spread out and leave the cross for vehicles.

Public Life

walking under a railway bridge Shibuya Station, Tokyo

walking into and out of a platform at a station Shimo-kitazawa Station, Tokyo


walking across a railway when the gate is open Higashi-matsubara Station, Tokyo

walking on an overpass on the way to a station nearby the Sakuranomiya Station, Osaka

Public Life

a large group of pedestrians walking across the street, happens once every 120 seconds Shinjuku, Tokyo

the giant slopped ceiling contributes to a great covered walkway Shinjuku, Tokyo


the experience of walking in the rain may not be as romantic as it sounds like Shinjuku, Tokyo

Public Life

commuters walking under advertising panels Sendai Station, Sendai


rushing across the street in the rain Sanomiya, Kobe

walkway - greenery - vehicle street - sidewalk - block Kamakura

Public Life

people waiting for traffice lights to change color at a pedestrian corssing Shinjuku, Tokyo


a woman waiting for traffic lights at a pedestrian crossing Shijo, Kyoto

walking out of the station, into the rain Kanazawa Station, Kanazawa

Public Life

most of them looked like after-work food seekers and shoppers Yurakucho, Tokyo


hundreds of people were walking across at once Shibuya Crossing, Shibuya

this guy suddenly became the focal point among hundreds of people Shibuya Crossing, Shibuya

Public Life

a view of the the Tokyo Skytree taken from crowds at the Nakamise Commercial Street Asakusa, Tokyo


Omotesando shoppers reflected on a reflective glass facade of a mall Omotesando, Tokyo

Shopping In response to the necessity of walk in the urban life, urban typologies and facilities in Japanese cities are evolved to improve walking experiences. Many of them actually set pedestrian as the primary object of service and help shaping a lifestyle with dedicated pedestrian streets full of stores and malls. Apart from the ubiquitous shopping streets with particular pavements, ceilings, and arcades, some of the regular streets are transformed into temporary pedestrian-only shopping regions in settled periods of time. The familiar street beneath the studio I worked at was set to be pedestrian-only everyday between 4 P.M. and 6 P.M. During workdays, I occasionally saw vehicles turning back in front of a ‘pedestrian-only’ sign. This scene always made me wonder if some car drivers in Tokyo envy pedestrians with privileges given by the whole urban environment.

Public Life


moments of a temporary pedestrian zone on a cloudy Saterday Ginza, Tokyo

Public Life


the Akihabara shopping district and the Otaku culture Akihabara, Tokyo

Public Life

shopping in the rain, or maybe they just wanted to walk in the rain Shinjuku, Tokyo


not as crowded as in the daytime, but still flourishing Harajuku, Tokyo

Public Life


massive shopping center + major station = core of public life Umeda, Osaka

Public Life

young people talking in front of a store Shijo, Kyoto


shoppers walking into a small alley from a covered shopping street Shijo, Kyoto

Public Life


the Kichijoji Sun Road Shopping district was conspicuous in front of the station Kichijoji, Musashino

Public Life

you can always find a commercial street full of advertising panels next to a major station Kichijoji, Musashino


shoppers and staffs in front of a Uniqlo store Kichijoji, Musashino

say Ohayoo to those walking in a covered shopping street in a weekday morning Kagoshima

Public Life

staffs finished their works and were saying goodbye before leaving the store Kagoshima


covered shopping street might be part of the urban infrastructure in many japanese cities Shinsaibashi, Osaka

Public Life

an alley in a red-light district at the city center Kumamoto


a shopping street as a tourist attraction specialized in Chinese food and souvenirs China Town, Nagasaki

Public Life


different types of covered shopping streets Nagasaki

Public Life


a extensive shopping street spaning across the city as an urban core Hapina Nakakecho, Sendai

Public Life

looking from above, the arcade covering the street seemed to be an infrastructure Hapina Nakakecho, Sendai


is this an indoor or outdoor environment? how would you like to categorize it? Hapina Nakakecho, Sendai

Public Life

this store specialized in apple products (I mean the fruit) is becoming a symbol of the city A-Factory, Aomori


the previous industrial facilities is transformed with new meanings to the city A-Factory, Aomori

covered pedestrian walkways with bicycle parking space are essencial to Japanese cities Aomori

Public Life


elegent design of architecture can effectively bring customers, especially in the digital era where people like to share photos of their shopping experiences online Daikanyama, Tokyo

Public Life

an old man looking down from a historical bridge; a woman was standing underneath Meganebashi, Nagasaki


elementary school students playing under the bridge Meganebashi, Nagasaki

moments out of offices and schools Japanese society is famous for long hours of work, the intensity of working environment, and the lack of leisure time which I genuinely perceived during my internship. Aside from shopping and dining (which sometimes also involves firm matters as firm-oriented dining parties frequently happen), how does Japanese spend the rest of their moments out of their offices and schools? Surprisingly, I witnessed many people just sitting somewhere and walking along the streets during their valuable leisure time. I deem the general high quality of the public spaces in the built environment of Japan contributes a lot to this particular way of enjoying leisure. As a geographically small and isolated country with merely few renowned sightseeing spots in terms of natural landscape, Japanese consciously established their cities and built environments with moments and details that is worth observing and experiencing.

Public Life

moments of the station plaza in daytime Kagoshima-Chuo Station, Kagoshima


moments of the station plaza at night Kagoshima-Chuo Station, Kagoshima

while waiting for trains... Osaka Station, Osaka

Public Life


some were waiting for trains, some might just want to sit there Shiinjuku Station, Tokyo

Public Life


what you expect to see on the river bank Kamogawa, Kyoto

Public Life

the river bank in a sunny morning Kamogawa, Kyoto

the river bank in a cloudy afternoon Kamogawa, Kyoto


the river bank in an evening after rain Kamogawa, Kyoto

the river bank at night after rain Kamogawa, Kyoto

Public Life

Young people talking in an alley Nakagyo, Kyoto


a woman in kimono ready for photography Gion, Kyoto

Public Life

even when the stores were mostly closed, there were still people walking along the street Nakamise Shopping Street, Asakusa, Tokyo


they might just want to see the temple at night Nakamise Shopping Street, Asakusa

people like to visit these archaistic shopping street, but not necessarily for shopping Ise

Public Life

sitting and talking under the sunshine Sendai Station


you might hardly see crowds in the outdoor stadium, but you would definitely hear them Ise

Public Life

a linear greenery in the middle of a commercial street can be a great place for leisure Jiyugaoka, Tokyo

children excited about their trip to Itsukushima Hiroshima


cycling with a railway on one side and the sea on the other side Kamakura

a family fishing at a canal in a weekend day Ajigasawa

Public Life

fishing under the sunshine Nagasaki Seaside Park, Nagasaki

walking along the coast and enjoying the view of a dockyard under hills Nagasaki Seaside Park, Nagasaki


sitting on the grass and observing the mountainous residential neighborhood Nagasaki Seaside Park, Nagasaki

enjoying the stunning view from the peak of the city Inasa Observatory, Nagasaki

Public Life

an observatory on the peak of a mountain provides great a platform for art students Shiroyama, Kagoshima


observing, sketching, painting, photographing, and introducing the city to friends Shiroyama, Kagoshima

walking the dog in a morning under a smoking volcano Water Front Park, Kagoshima

Public Life


enjoying pieces of art 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa


URBAN-LANDSCAPE The unique urbanscapes of Japanese cities are shaped by the combined impacts of socio-cultural contexts and geographical features. Views of Tokyo from an elevated observatory might be chaotic with informal grids and clusters of small houses oriented toward various directions depending on their lot conditions. However, when you actually walk in a neighborhoods of the city, you might feel a sense of orderliness with appropriate scales of streets, greenery, and buildings. This intricate impression of the city results from correlated factors involving social contexts, cultural influences, architecture, urban design and master planning. Growing up in a city of China, I perceive both commons and differences between contemporary Chinese cities and Japanese cities, I wish my coming investigation of cities in China (which will happen in the spring of 2018 as expected) will bring me new clues of how built environments and the ways of living influence each other. As for landscapes in Japan, the contradiction between the limited land area and demands from the enoromus population would not leave them alone. Japanese architects believe that Japanese architectures and cities are evolved as part of the nature, which is reflected in the harmonious coexistence of built environments and landscapes. In contrast, I deem landscapes of Japan to be part of built environments as Japanese cities actively utilize mountains and rivers to create particular urbanscapes. As many hikers in China and western countries hike toward peaks of mountains for to enjoy views of landscapes, most Japanese hikers use observatories on mountains to enjoy the view of cities beneath.


the skyline under a volcano Shiroyama, Kagoshima


a few skyscrapers in between a large cluster of densely packed mid-rise buildings Umeda, Osaka

a large piece of land under development leaves a ‘black hole’ in the middle of urban lights Umeda, Osaka


it may or may not have a master plan... Osaka

Cities from above Nearly every city in Japan has a public observatory that enables citizens to view the urbanscape from above. A bird-eye view would allow me to observe the overall composition of an urban pattern and offer me a particular perception of the neighborhood that is sometimes different from the one I get when walking on streets. In order to deepen my comprehension of a particular built environment, it is important to study the correlations and contrasts between what I saw from above and what I actually experienced on the ground.


the northern part of Tokyo with densely packed blocks and small lots Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo


buildings oriented toward different directions with traffics interspersed among Tokyo Tower, Tokyo


one of the few neighborhoods in the city that is built under ‘modern’ standard grids Shinjuku, Tokyo


a newly developed district of the city on the sea with a purely ‘modern’ urbanscape Minatomirai, Yokohama


Nagasaki at sunset Inasa Observatory, Nagasaki

a city wrapping around a bay Inasa Observatory, Nagasaki


shipyards at the coast Inasa Observatory, Nagasaki

the infrastructure on the peak is built mostly for the observatory Inasa Observatory, Nagasaki


the skyline under a volcano Shiroyama, Kagoshima


a conspicuous temple among vernacular buildings Shiroyama, Kagoshima

a giant torii that leads people toward the mountain Inasa Observatory, Nagasaki


the city grids in Sendai is more rigid comparing to the ones in many other Japanese cities Sendai

notice the bright ‘tunnel’ which is actually an extraordinary covered commerical street Sendai


magnificent infrastructures Sendai

this had been an ordinary Japanese city before the 2013 tsunami Fukushima


a ‘major’ city in a marginal region of Northern Japan Aomori


another ‘major’ city in a marginal region of Southern Japan Shimonoseki



the coastal city of Kitakyushu from the sunset to the evening Mount Sarakura, Kitakyushu


these stairs and the view might have been part of this man’s daily routine Chiyoda, Tokyo


narrow pencil buildings meet the magnificent railway bridge Kanda, Tokyo

Perception of the built world Although digital navigation systems are bringing the sense of city plans to our minds, most ordinary people living in the society perceive the built world by scenes and moments caught by their eyes in their daily life. Although people like to introduce and advertise a place with fancy views from observatories or aircrafts, what largely impress us in our living experience are the street views, architectural details, transitory scenes from windows of vehicles, and curves of skylines from our eye-levels. As an architecture student, I consciously value architecture and urban design projects with plans and models consist of crucial information. On the other hand, as architectural and urban design is meant to serve ordinary people’s lives, we have to always think about how ordinary people value a project as part of their living experience.



Shibuya not merely means the classic image of the bustling cross Shibuya, Tokyo


topography + densely packed buildings = built mountains Daikanyama, Tokyo

the compactness sometimes blurs the sense of scale and perspective Yurakucho, Tokyo


the peace and quiet surroundings makes this small shop more luminous Jimbocho, Tokyo

the world of dazzling advertising panels and ceaseless streams of people Ginza, Tokyo



a canal can add distinctive features to a neighborhood Akihabara, Tokyo



how water impact the pattern of a built environment Kamogawa, Kyoto



how water impact the pattern of a built environment Kumamoto


water contributes to overall and detailed views of a neighborhood Asakusa, Tokyo


water contributes to overall and detailed views of a neighborhood the Port of Yokohama



the compactness can be sensed by both the distant view and the architectural detail Azabu Juban, Tokyo


when a human-scale street has a enormous structure above... Akihabara, Tokyo


similar scenes happen in different cities... Nagasaki



the presence of mountains can largely affect the impression of a city Nagasaki


the impact of light to the impression of a city Kagoshima


greenery in the prospect and in the detail Kyoto


look up... Shinjuku, Tokyo


look up... Sendai


look up... Roppongi, Tokyo


look up... Sendai


look up... Ginza, Tokyo


look up... Shinjuku, Tokyo


look up... Shinjuku, Tokyo


look up... Asakusa, Tokyo



look up... Kyoto Station


look up... Kyoto Station, Kyoto


look up... Karuizawa


look up... Kyoto


look up... Shibuya, Tokyo


dynamic railway... Chiyoda, Tokyo


dynamic railway... Yoyogi-Hachiman, Tokyo

dynamic railway... Tenma, Osaka


dynamic road... Akihabara, Tokyo

dynamic road... Osaka


dynamic road... Aomori

dynamic road... Tokyo Station, Tokyo



architecture has to be beautiful in a ‘town as resort’ Karuizawa


the complexity of a megastructure Tokyo International Forum, Tokyo


the orderness of an architectural detail The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo



a piece of red among the desaturated cityscape Nebuta House Warasse, Aomori


impressed by the chaos Nagasaki


impressed by the neatness Roppongi, Tokyo

impressed by the light Kurume Statoin


the Metabolists called these ‘street furnitures’... Karuizawa


the Metabolists called these ‘street furnitures’... Chiyoda, Tokyo


skyline above water Tokyo Bay


skyline above water Nagasaki Bay


skyline (mountain line?) from a park Nagasaki

skyline from a pier Yokohama


skyline from a street Kyoto

skyline from the 6th floor of an apartment Osaka


the presence of the nature is conspicuous in a small village Ajigasawa, Aomori


in many cases a mountain could dominate a scene of a village Maibara

with absence of skyscrapers, sky can also dominate a scene of a town Karuizawa


urban environment - agricultural environment Kumamoto


is agricultural (cultivated) environment considered to be built environment? Aomori


the life-cycle of traditional Japanese architecture follows the rise and fall of the nature the Imperial Palace, Tokyo


a corner of the Imperial Palace with clusters of skyscrapers in the background The Imperial Palace, Tokyo

Memories of the Imperial Japan As a country with profound history and relatively isolated society in the imperial period, Japan has abundant historical sites filled with temples, shrines, castles and palaces. Preservation of historical architecture has been a heated topic to study and practice in many countries. In contrast to Europe where the architectural culture is based on durable materials and monumentalities of great architectures, Japan has a long tradition of practice with wooden structures and embed architecture into the short life-cycle of the nature. The distinctive architectural culture of Japan is shaped by the particular environmental context and general believes in the power of nature. Instead of maintaining the withered wooden structures of historical buildings for thousands of years, Japanese tend to preserve the craftsmanship of traditional architecture by the ceaseless practice of reconstruction. Looking at the ‘brand new historical buildings’ in different cities of Japan, I perceived a particular vitality of historical heritage which is different from the one I witnessed in Europe. The giant roof structure of the Todaji Temple in Nara reminded me of Chinese imperial architecture which had great impacts on Japanese architecture. As a developing country with a rising consciousness of historical preservation, how will China respond to the enormous architectural heritages in danger?


a red frame of the cloudy sky Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto


gold under grey Kinkakuji Temple, Kyoto

I am interested in how this traditional piece facilitated the radical Metabolism Movement Katsura Imperial Villa, Kyoto


historical architectures and neighborhoods are alive in certain ways Gion, Kyoto


an old temple might not be as appealing as a luminous metal tower... Zojo-ji Temple, Tokyo

... but they possess their vitality in their own ways Zojo-ji Temple, Tokyo


part of the nature or not? Meiji jingu Shrine, Kyoto


sketch in the rain... Nanendo at Kofukuji, Nara

learning how to construct it vs. maintain the existing ones, which one to chose? Toji, Kyoto



a spiritual world among the nature Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto


traditional structural details in the contemporary world Nara


a contemporary house may also be an achievement of the historical precervation Nara

people were walking on this bridge with their suits and fashions instead of kimonos Kyoto


a still traditional passenger bridge in front of a dynamic railway bridge Kokura, Kitakyushu

in a small city, a tenshukaku (observatory) on a castle may still be the peak of the city Kokura Castle, Kitakyushu


the magnificent castle looks like an unreachable mirage from the contemporary city Himeji

generally, a well maintained and accessible tenshukaku shapes a great tourist attraction Osaka Castle


the boat was still practicing the traditional ritual of entering the gate to the god The Great Torii, Itsukushima

embedding into the nature and simultaneously standing out from the nature Itsukushima


althrough in a historical quarter, they reserved no hestitation in re-painting the walls Kurashiki Beikan Historical Quarter

burning wood decks maybe one of the earlest techniques of building preservation Kurashiki Beikan Historical Quarter


looks like Ishinomakian did not give up on their built environment Ishinomaki


such construction scene could be found anywhere in the city Ishinomaki

Post tsunami Many cities in Japan have achieved extraordinary built environments with the power of master planning, infrastructures, and architectures. However, at the coast of Tohoku which encountered the great 2013 tsunami, I sensed how fragile a built environment could be under an overwhelming natural disaster. During my two weekend trips to Tohoku, I witnessed both hopefulness and hopelessness of people living in the area. At the Fukushima Station, I saw people gathering around a temporary stage and applauding for the performance in a lively atmosphere. Meanwhile, a commercial street located only several block away had closed rolling shutters at most of its stores. At the peak of the Hiyoriyama hill which had been a major evacuation spot during the 2013 tsunami, I saw the devastated coastland of Ishinomaki where trucks were running on the unpaved paths in between construction sites. Before 2013, the bulwark along the coastland had been one of the most magnificent infrastructure of Ishinomaki. However, it failed to prevent the flood from intruding into the city. Walking on streets of Ishinomaki, most people I saw were uniformed workers working on numerous construction sites. Do people still have confidence of revitalizing the built environment at this place? If yes, what idea will they come up in regarding the next disaster? If no, where should they go?


there were numerous containers in parking lots and corners of streets Ishinomaki

it is rare to see ‘container row houses’ on the top of a store in the center of a city Ishinomaki


there seemed to be a sort of nomadic culture evolving among these temporary structures Ishinomaki


someone owning this large lot only had a small warehouse built up Ishinomaki


was this seemingly unnecessary overpass built after the tsunami? what is it for? Ishinomaki

pervasive metal warehouses everywhere in the city Ishinomaki

Residential Environment


this is a disaster relief condo prepared for the post-tsunami city however, there seemed to be few residents living inside Ishinomaki


in the march of 2013, hundreds of people had been camping at this spot at nights Ishinomaki


it must have been an horrible scene: the tsunami swallows a city under a guardian shrine Ishinomaki

May Peace Prevail On Earth Ishinomaki



how will this place be like in 10 years? Ishinomaki



judging by lively scenes at the station, you won’t believe that this is the horrible Fukushima Fukushima Station


several blocks away from the station, a ghost town appeared Fukushima


will people come back to rebuild the devastated city? Fukushima Station

Haoyu Wang (916)281-5554

Survey of Japan 2017  

photos and sketches recording instant moments that caught my eyes and triggered my thoughts during my trip to Japan

Survey of Japan 2017  

photos and sketches recording instant moments that caught my eyes and triggered my thoughts during my trip to Japan