Learning from Japan

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Learning from Japan:
The 2012 Japan Summer Trip organised by Yutaka Yano from SKY-YUTAKA, Adjunct Assistant Professor School of Architecture, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, proposes to visit the West of Japan, starting from Osaka – Kyoto – Kanazawa – Shirakawa-go, then back to Osaka before returning to Hong Kong. Drawing on Japan’s eclectic mix of ancient and modern, east and west, we will study both historical as well as modern architecture. Through this 10day trip, it is hoped that Students will gain an insight into how culture informs architecture and how being resourceful and learning to be adaptive to nature has its roots in many of Japanese philosophical thought and culture.

Japan, an island nation with limited natural resources, continues to be an inspiration and source of interest to many architects and designers. Rather than focusing exclusively on built architecture, this trip intends to provide an insight into Japan looking from different perspectives that contribute to shaping our communities and environment.

Looking at current demographic trends of population in Japan and Hong Kong, both of which have similar low national birth rate[1] and increasingly aging society, there is sharp contrast between Hong Kong that is rapidly expanding city whereas in Japan most of the cities are shrinking except Tokyo. In addition Hong Kong’s population projection are on the increase[2] whereas Japan, currently, the population is expected to reduce by 26% before year 2050 from the 2010 level[3].
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To address some of this demographic trends and ease difficulty of financing the broad scope of local government functions, the Japanese National Government have been initiating consolidation of local government on voluntary basis to promote Municipal Merger since 2003. This underlies some of the broader challenges faced by Japanese cities to promote compact urban form while revitalizing and strengthening local identity; cities need strong sense of community to create attractive environment for the residents, especially the younger generation who have historically moved away from their hometown to look for opportunities in large city such as Tokyo. Today’s city centre needs to diversify to suit smaller urban footprint with range of functions including residential development to promote working environment without long commuting, and accommodate needs and services related to the elderly. This trip visits a selection of cities that are of contrasting demography and characteristics; it will be a good opportunity to reflect and think about the evolution of cities and its connections with architecture.

The era of depopulation and aging are often discussed in negative light in Japan, and Hong Kong in the case of aging society. However, some people in Japan are now taking this as an opportunity to improve way of life in such a society; some younger generation of people are choosing to stay away from the bright lights of the big city to enjoy alternative lifestyle[4], and some elderly population are organizing themselves into a cooperation creating micro economy such as managing neighbourhood farming, in some case, making use of vacant allotment that became available from the shrinkage at the fringe of the city. In this complex evolving society and cities, self-sufficiency seems one of vital ingredients in a key to realizing sustainability.

Questions for the students is “Are there design strategies and architecture that we can learn from Japan for the future of Hong Kong?”.

Organised by Yutaka Yano, SKY YUTAKA. Adjunct Assistant Professor The School of Architecture CUHK, Summer 2012.

[1]Hong Kong Source Planning Department Hong Kong 2030 promulgated in October 2007, comparison excluding number of children born to the Mainland Mothers.

[2]UN Population Division, World Population Ageing 1950-2050 data for China, Hong Kong SAR

[3]Japan Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Statistics Bureau http://www.stat.go.jp/english/data/handbook/c02cont.htm#cha2_1

[4]Japan’s youth turn to rural areas to seek slower life. BBC online 2011-11-28: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15850243