“With respect to clarity, simplicity, and boldness of line, the Japanese have been a thousand years ahead of us in fine art and graphic design. Our best painters learned minimalism, cartooning, and much else from the Japanese during the “Orientalism” period of the late 19th century. Before that, western fine art was judged in part on its complexity and detail. And our posters and advertisements! Don’t ask.”
Great article and comments many of which have touched on the visual complexity of newspapers & other media, the Kanji writing system, and the places people live. One factor I have not seen mentioned is the effect of the population density on Japanese comfort levels with visual complexity.
I go to Sapporo regularly, and while it is considered a smaller city, I’ve been exposed to such large numbers of people in concentrated spaces that it makes NYC appear sparsely populated. There was one festival in Odori Park where there were so many people, most of who were in motion, that I could not visually track my fiancée who was a foot or two in front of me. I had to hold on to her physically because my brain was in overload. It took a while to get used to that kind of thing, but I would imagine growing up in such an environment would account for the high visual complexity that you see in media: lower complexity would reduce the concentration of information to below accepted levels.
One other factor I should mention is that many of the truly minimal and peaceful places in Japan are meant for special occasions such as a vacation or to take a quick rest from the frenetic pace of daily life. These are exceptional places rather than the rule and there is usually a place like that not too far away.
Lastly Japan is a contradiction. In many ways it is still the 1980’s there, while at the same time feeling like the future. Sometimes this is detrimental, but it is also part of what makes Japan great. People still make things in Japan, and hopefully the current wave of caring about the provenance of things we buy will reinforce that and prevent them from repeating our mistakes in that area. At the same time, not always the people making things are specialists in their field. Sometimes people within a large company are assigned projects in an area where they have no experience. I could see the company website falling under this category. :)