USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

cost of efficiency

It’s astounding how quickly ones perception of a place can begin to shift. Japan, during the months preceding our arrival, had become built up in my mind as a place of fantastic efficiency and sense, where society functioned as it should. Coming from L.A. or more broadly, the U.S. in general this seemed incredibly appealing; on arrival this dream experienced a level of affirmation. The population exuded a certain level of awareness, blasé as Simmel calls it, that I had never seen before. Things work “properly,” public transportation is impeccable which should lead to a certain equalization of class, people are aware of their impact on the collective whole, quickly amassing into ordered lines and standing on the correct side of the escalator, they wait patiently at intersections, they follow the rules. The population, as a whole, is aware of its purpose, to make Japan economically more successful. But after this first impression, which could be described as the macro view, akin to de Certeau’s experience from the top of the World Trade Center, I had to come back down, I had to examine the situation from the micro level, from the street, and quickly my opinions on Japanese society headed in the opposite direction.

In the hope of making my impressions more understandable I will start with my conclusion, the majority of the Japanese population, like much of the globalized world, suffer from a complete absence of a self-determined consciousness, but unlike the majority of modern society, they are aware of their conscious death and have accepted it. With that said it is necessary for me to better describe my somewhat metaphorical notion of death, and death may be the wrong word for I am not sure there was life to begin with and can one exist without the other?  But I refer to the lack of self-consciousness or self-determination that permeates not only Japan but the majority of the modern world. They have no mental independence, and therefore, in my opinion, do not experience true life what the human mind is capable of. What strikes me about Japan is that the population has realized their lack of self-consciousness and accepted it. In order to achieve a consumerist society with this level of efficiency the people have had to, in what could be argued as their last conscious act, choose to give up their free will and consequently have every desire, ambition, dream catered for them.

Waro Kishi described Japanese culture as one of refinement, agglomerating technologies, ideologies, religions from their neighbors and vigorously polishing them, but instead I would describe Japan as the culture of imitation. Imitation is at the heart of consumerist culture and Japan, in my experience, is the champion of consumerism. From the vast shopping centers massed around transportation hubs to the Hips entertainment palace in Osaka, consumerism reigns supreme here and no one seems worried or ashamed. Debord describes it well near the conclusion of his work the Society of the Spectacle stating, “The acceptance and consumption of commodities are at the heart of this pseudo-response to a communication without response. The need to imitate which is felt by the consumer is precisely the infantile need conditioned by all the aspects of his fundamental disposition.”

Michael dH

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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu

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