Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Meditation: Reading, and Visual

Reading, and Visual:

So, can these two dots be connected: we see a lot of people (particularly outside of Tokyo) reading comic books (illustrated novels?), and the streets are full of garish signage, even in small towns with small street commerce stores. The Japanese learn at least four alphabets (including ours) in school, and often the signs include at least three sets of script. Yet, just about every restaurant (85-95%, even the fancy ones) put plastic models of their menu outside next to or in place of a menu. Steve told us it made it easier to figure out what kind of restaurant it was, which I don’t think is true if you know how to read and the one page summary of the menu is put in the window. Six or seven plastic displays version equals a whole page of text? Is that a fair fight over content?

I have come to the conclusion that this is because this society thinks in pictures, not words. I can’t prove it (unlike everything else you’ve been reading, which is solid fact-based analysis). Those little maps, hey they are visual representations of where you are or where you want to be, why bother with an actual address. Even the menus inside contain plenty of pictures.

People are using their cell phones non-stop (not talking on them) and whenever I look they are playing games. Only in Tokyo did we see people reading on the subway or trains, And, again, this was a low percentage to those fooling with their phones. I-phones are not prominent here, they are expensive, new in the marketplace, and Apple partnered with the worst carrier. Now I realize that if we saw someone using an I-phone, they probably were foreigners and had roaming turned off (like DB).

Two different times (not just once, I guess that is what “two” means) we were in galleries where if you used the picture list to orient yourself to the price list, the picture titles were upside to the map. An accident? In a third gallery, we asked for the prices and it took two clerks cross-referencing different books to give us the prices (and not doing it particularly quickly). An accident? Taxi drivers studying small maps over and over again, making me think they couldn’t read. An accident?

And, the street level garishness is an attempt to get you to look in the store window or even go into the store. Plus, a lot of the stores are product separated, like the one in Kyoto that DB figured out was selling only things that measure. We found a cutlery, and they only carried things that cut (not necessarily just knives). The confectionery stores (the millions of confectionery stores) all tended to specialize: the waffle store, the mochi with bean paste filling, the mochi with ice cream filling, on and on and on. Generally same for restaurants, the all-in-one eatery (like a cafĂ© or diner or Denny’s) is not very common here. So, once you’re there, you know you’re there. Which makes it kind of funny to show more than one picture of what you’re hawking, since one picture should be enough. Same with the plastic displays, if you have a regional style cuisine, how many versions do you have to show?

The subway signs are therefore a good fit, since with one color, number, circle, and letter combo you can pretty much define the train, station, platform you want. It took us a while, we finally got to point in Tokyo where we could read the overheads and find the ticket price. On the machine, they have a “mock” grid: you pick how many individual tickets you’re buying, and at what price, and they show only the amounts that you can afford by the money you have inserted. Pretty slick…and pretty much done everywhere.

I am sure I am missing some other examples. In any case, you get the idea: pictures count more than words.

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