Twitter Thread of Observations and Surprising Moments in Japan Goes Viral

Smoking Room in Japan

Smoking Room in Japan. Photo by Nevin Thompson

When Marcin Wichary, the well-known past design lead and typographer of the blogging platform Medium, visited Japan for several weeks, he immediately took notice of the UI or “user interface” of Japanese life. The signs, buttons and general ways of doing things such as lining up for the train or purchasing a meal might be facts of life that Japanese people take for granted but are surprising to people from other parts of the world.

Over the course of his two-week stay in Japan, he starting using Twitter to document his observations about Japan's approach to everything from signage to trash receptacles. The result was a massive thread with 300 individual tweets that quickly went viral:

This was Wichary's first trip to Japan, and immediately he noticed the difference between the Tokyo subway system and the BART rapid transit line in San Francisco, where he works.

As he live-blogged on Twitter, Wichary frequently asked for insights about the various phenomenon he encountered such as these signs notifying subway users how far above sea level the entrance is. (These signs are in case of tsunami — tsunami waves following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake towered over thirty meters above sea level in some places on Japan's northeastern coastline):

In other ways, Wichary's trip to Japan, such as this style of analog clock commonly found in Japanese train stations, uncovered some nostalgic memories:

Wichary frequently took note of train and subway signage intended to improve manners and social harmony:

Other times, he investigated the user interface of the mundane experiences of daily life in a big city in Japan such as purchasing tickets at a quick-service lunch counter:

As a designer, Wichary was also interested in the aesthetic of Japanese currency:

Like many visitors to Japan, vending machines were also a mystery to be deciphered:

Wichary also noted some of the more subtle differences between Japan and the United States, where, out of superstition, buildings typically do not have a thirteenth floor:

His hotel room was also a source of curious observations:

In the replies to the Tweet, it was pointed out that the flashlight would come in handy in the case of an earthquake or another event where there might be no power and therefore no lighting.

Wichary, who is writing a book about the history of the keyboard, took a special interest in Japan's approach to keypads:


Read the rest of the Twitter thread on Japanese keyboards here.

Wichary also noticed that signage can be overly complex with high information density in Japan.

Like many visitors to Japan, Wichary was struck by the care taken in Japan to avoid disturbing others. For example, Wichary noted that construction worksites typically post a schedule to alert locals about when work will take place:

By the end of his trip, Wichary was impressed not only with the courteousness he observed, but how certain approaches to life were common throughout the archipelago:

Wichary's original Twitter thread can be read here, and he has also just published a blog post about his trip to Japan:

This article has been updated to reflect Marcin Wichary no longer works for Medium.

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