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Posted : 2010-03-12 17:18
Updated : 2010-03-12 17:18

Japanese Subculture Inspires Innovations



By Chung Ah-young
Staff Reporter

Nintendo is not the only Japanese invention that has hilariously changed people's lifestyles. Japanese culture is consumed in many countries through animation, manga, video games and high-tech gadgets, which are full of their own uniqueness and creativity. What is behind this cultural and industrial power?

``Neon Genesis of Geeky Girly Japanese Engineering'' written by Japanese technology consultant Morinosuke Kawaguchi deals with how to leverage Japanese subculture for top-tier product development and innovation.

Kawaguchi has received critical acclaim for the book in a wide range of media outlets, including Japan's top quality newspapers.

The book shows ``tools and products that are natural to the Japanese but seen as unique by international standards'' and assesses temperament, mentality and values of the Japanese people who create them.

The author, who specializes in its subcultures, points out 10 aspects of Japan's geeky nature in products and states that what drives Japanese product-making is the country's standout ``childishness'' and ``girlishness.''

The book draws parallels between the ``otaku'' (geek) characteristics of Japanese craftsmanship, evident in products ranging from automatic flushing toilets to industrial robots, and the unique cultural sensibilities of Japanese girls.

Kawaguchi says Japanese customers tend to personify the objects and build a relationship with what they already own, believing that the objects have the same ``soul'' as human beings. Personification enables them to create popular animation and character cultures, which particularly shine in the ``otaku'' sector.

Japanese people hold a funeral for chickens every year to pay regrets to chickens that were killed and eaten. It is one of the examples of ceremonies known as ``kuyou'' in Japanese that honors objects and animals. Rites for dolls, needles, shoes, cooking knives and, nowadays, even computers reflect the importance of the items and their strong attachment to them.

The author points out that their industrial products are inspired by such characteristics. For example, headlights of Nissan's luxury sedan Cima resemble the big and twinkling eyes of a prince in the manga series, ``Sapphire: Ribbon no Kishi.'' Headlights of the Yamaha YZF-R1, a sport bike, are modeled after Kumadori, the theatrical make-up to underline and enhance certain qualities of a kabuki (Japanese traditional drama) role to the audience.
Customization is also part of its subculture strengths. Customization can be understood in two different ways _ tailored manufacture fitted for the customers' tastes, and products that have turned into a convenience for individual users over a long time.

Japanese engineers and manufacturers develop products that cater to a growing demand for customization and individuality. Their customers are allowed and encouraged to design their own personal products to a much more far-fetched extent than is possible today.

A variety of types of the Japanese bullet train, Shinkansen, are closely related to preferences for customization. Unlike other high-speed trains with only one or two types, the Japanese train has 13 types because people believe that ``their trains should be different from others.''

Diversity is one of the characteristics of Japanese products from various stationery shops, toys, cosmetics, magazines and other miscellaneous items.

In addition to these creative designs, Japanese product quality is arguably second to none in the world. But they put more emphasis on ``human interactions'' between users and products. Japanese products are designed not only for users but also people around them. The polite culture in Japan reduces noise from electronic devices to bring harmony with others while providing users with convenience.

For instance, Japanese society based on a mutual respect and courtesy creates new tools for the road. If you want to express your gratitude when you are allowed to move in front of their cars, Japan's ``Thanks Tail'' gives you a chance to do it. The ``Thanks Tail'' is a robotic rendition of a dog's tail that is controlled from inside the car and can be wagged to say ``thank you'' to the car behind you.

Kawaguchi says the development of Japan-style products has been possible because of the customers' choice, a particular sense to discern ``good'' products from others that makes manufacturers pursue their own philosophy in innovative products.

The author claims that the country can expand its future by strategically utilizing its ``geeky and girly'' culture, which is at the opposite end of the ``mature and manly'' culture of the West.

The book is highly appreciated as it shows the source of strength in future product-making not only for Japan, but also for other countries, from a new perspective, with numerous illustrative examples that help readers to understand.

chungay@koreatimes.co.kr

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