Architecture is a gray area

Walking along with a friend yesterday, I paused and backtracked along the walkway, until I reached what would have been the center of the road (I say ‘what would have been’ instead of ‘what was’ simply because we were on an elevated walkway, a couple or few stories up from ground level, so we weren’t actually in the road… plus, I’m not so sure the road actually went directly underneath us, as we were in front of a train station… anyway…).  I gazed, intrigued, down the corridor of this main street.  We were a few floors up on all the buildings, and so, instead of seeing the gray lower portions of each building, we saw the upward-reaching, colorful advertisements attached like little stick-on banners (although they were glass or metal or the likes) on most of the buildings.  All I could think was, “Look at all the colors.”

We had earlier been talking about how gray Japan seems to me.  Not as a society, but in terms of its buildings.  Everything constructed just seems so gray, I can’t imagine why anyone would want such dullness?  Streets, buildings, houses – everywhere you look is a shade of gray as its main color.

Now, as we looked out on this surprising mini-sea of colors, Japan seemed even more crazy to me.  Why?  Because who on Earth is going to see those advertisements?  Sure, we just noticed them, but only just barely, and I can’t read any of them, anyway, because each individual ad is too small (assuming I could read the Japanese in the first place).  Even on the ground, craning up your neck, you’d hardly be able to read anything more than the first one or two signs (Yes, I have tried many-a-times).  So why on Earth is 1) advertising so inaccessible to the eye of the passer-by, and 2) all the color up where no one gets to enjoy it, and all the gray down low for everyone to see?

In expressing my thoughts and sentiments on the matter, my friend shared with me the fact that Japanese law only allows buildings’ exteriors to be black, white, or gray.  Why?  ‘So everyone is together,’ he replied.

This struck me even more odd.  Not for uniformity, as I felt it was forcing people to be, requiring them to set aside their individual personalities and self-expressions, but for togetherness, for unity.  Now perhaps this was merely how this one person worded it.  Perhaps it is the way everyone who knows about the law would word it.

Nonetheless, it really had me think about how I was viewing the situation.  Perhaps it isn’t such a troublesome annoyance, so much as a team-building, unifying experience.  Maybe that’s why Japanese architecture is renowned – because they have so much emphasis on lines, angles, shaping, knowing that they have limited options on color.  And perhaps it isn’t.  Either way, it’s a fun thought experiment to play, and it reminds me to talk more to local people about things that rub me an odd way – perhaps they have the keys to transforming my experience, simply by sharing the Why behind the event.

 

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2 thoughts on “Architecture is a gray area

  1. Interesting. Have you ever seen videos of Japanese children’s choirs? The kids look exactly alike, taking the uniformity of choral singing to an extreme. I wonder if this and other arts are influenced by a standard Japanese urge for unity? And how different from America, where you are fascinating if your house or your manners or your clothes break the status quo.

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