Students travel to Japan and explore “Design Through a Tourist’s Eye”

Japanese spaces have long been shaped by and responding to effects of wars, conflicts, and calamities including earthquake, tsunami, fire, flood, and volcanic eruption. Cities in Japan have been rebuilt many times and understood as transient and temporary while seeking identity on a global scale.

While Japanese culture is often viewed as unique and even insular, much of what affects the country’s approach to design stems from foreign influences and the desire to connect globally. Sometimes commemorative spaces and global tourism coincide in “dark tourism” attractions.

Through “outside eyes” students in Associate Professor Yutaka Sho’s “Design Through a Tourist’s Eye” 5-week summer travel seminar explored a diverse range of Japanese sites and structures, focusing on 5 key sub-themes to tourism architecture: war tourism; post-war planning and globalization/development tourism; spectacle tourism, disaster tourism, and heritage tourism.  As they traveled, they developed their own considerations of future design and planning with respect to the people affected.

“To address today’s far reaching and urgent global risks, it is important more than ever that design responds to what tie us all,” says Yutaka Sho.

Students explored: “war tourism” sites such as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and war memorials in Tokyo; sites of post-war planning and globalization in the metropolis of Tokyo, as well as “development tourism” visits to suburban New Towns and themed cities; “spectacle tourism” sites such as the 1970 Osaka Expo and 1964 Tokyo Olympics venues; “heritage tourism” sites such as Kyoto, Nara and Kamakura; “disaster tourism” visits to Tohoku—site of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown; and Naoshima, an island that was affected by economic downturn, depopulation, and aging then reborn as a popular site-specific art platform. Each student developed a research project based on one tourism subtheme and learned from people on the ground.

“Although they may never become experts on Japan,” says Sho, “the students were able to exercise their design research skills from diverse perspectives afforded by tourists’ eyes.” (by Elaine Wackerow)