Universal design policy and practice in Japan

The extract below is part of a longer paper published in the December 2014 issue of ‘Access by Design’, the journal of the Centre for Accessible Environments based in London. The full paper will be put onto our web site soon after its publication. The paper is based on a three week study tour conducted by the research team.

“A key feature in Japanese approaches to crafting environments that work well for people is the emphasis on clarity and legibility. One of the more disconcerting aspects of navigating around places is the ease with which one can become lost or disorientated, and in Japan there is awareness of the need to simplify the environment and create clear and simple route ways for people to follow. This is particularly important for people with learning difficulties and especially important given that dementia is on the rise in Japan and worldwide. The American urbanist Kevin Lynch (1958: 4) saw legibility as essential for people’s engagements with place and, as he said, ‘in the process of way-finding, the strategic link is the environmental image, the generalized mental picture of the exterior physical world that is held by an individual’. For Lynch (1960: 3), while one can learn to route find, ‘it now seems unlikely that there is any mystic “instinct” of way-finding’.

Rather, way-finding by design is crucial, and as the photograph of the snake shows, communicating place and location by use of pictures is an important way of seeking to open up the world, including the use of animal figures denoting, in the photograph, the dangers of snake presence to children in a Tokyo public park”.