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Why Japanese web design is so different (2013) (randomwire.com)
367 points by Fiveplus on Nov 20, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 207 comments

Regarding advertising, the article states: "Rather than being seen as a tool to enable people Japanese companies often see the web as just another advertising platform to push their message across as loudly as possible. Websites ends up being about the maximal concentration of information into the smallest space akin to a pamphlet rather than an interactive tool."

I find this quite ironic, especially given how unusable most websites are due to third party advertising resources being loaded into them these days. HN users in particular will agree I bet, ad blocking seems prevalent here because of that exact reason.

I think Japanese websites are better in this sense because their ad technology is usually 'outdated' banner ads and internally served sponsorship content. They're luckily stuck in the era of static and freshly-baked server-side content.

I agree with you but unfortunately these sites almost always have poor usability too.

Well, it's one single component of the problem, there are many other factors involved in bad UX. Resources wasted on advertising are unequivocally the hardest to justify out of them all.

Isn’t it the easiest to justify? As in, you justify putting ads on your site because you get money for it.

IMO, the Web could stand to be a little bit harder to use.

I've, unrealistically wanted there to be "read only" access where someone would then apply to some organization demonstrating aptitude for write access.

I'm just joking but then again I'm really not


I bet this is related to Eternal September

To filter out idiots and the lazy. 'Normies'.

Snobbism aside, I would gladly give up on some "usability" for a passive web (basically raw HTML or even Gopher or Gemini) and a separate active web (basically a proper virtual machine perhaps like Squeak/Pharo).

But as soon as you cut off ways to make the Web more "engaging", it makes it far less interesting for the ads market, so less contents. Even individual content producers (e.g. Youtubers, Twitchers) look for monetization these days.

> and a separate active web (basically a proper virtual machine perhaps like Squeak/Pharo).

Something like WebAssembly, then?

AFAICT WebAssembly is in the continuum of HTML/CSS/JS, and is intended to "make things faster", so there is no reason to separate things that are essentially text and medias from things that are essentially programs.

In other words, WebAssembly won't cut the Gordian knot, in my opinion.

Here is where I consider myself a segregationist. Give them their web: Facebook, YouTube, Google, et al. -- leave me out of normie net.

You needn't join in. You are free to segregate yourself.

Are they? You still are in same infrastructure and legal framework. Thats like saying you are free not visiting neighbouring apartments. Their "influence" (smoke, noise) is still leaking to your space. Same with web. Like facebook negatively affecting separated web forums.

You can find another infrastructure and legal framework like Project Gemini, and I'm sure other separatist protocols will pop up in the future.

> I think Japanese websites are better

They are only better if you never use them.

The few Japanese websites I've used have been superior to their American equivalents. Kotobank is definitely a lot more pleasing to the eyes than Webster's.

Seems like every knock off search engine/content farm site.

? It's not a search engine. Did you not even get past the second page.

So you refute an argument based on a few exceptions ?

Every once in a while I browse the internet without an adblocker and I wonder how people can live like this.

This!!! I'd much, much rather have some obvious in thr face banner ad then the shit that passes for modern web these days. Less information does not mean more useable.

Does anyone know if all the GDPR type laws in EU and US are causing Japanese website makers to add consent forms on their websites?

That’s probably the worst usability problem with the current web, it used to be popups, now it’s constant in your face consent forms. Consent forms are really just legally enforced popups.

Probably US users don’t know how bad it is because the US sites only add them to requests originating in the EU.

I don't think that's the case, if only anecdotally, as I have seen a huge uptick in these consent modals in Canada.

Most of these sites needed or wanted them implemented on the cheap. Restricting it to EU customers would require extra work...

It’s surprising to me that sites which depend on users seeing their content to make money, would add something that blocks the user from seeing the site.

It makes no sense. If there isn’t a legal requirement, why would they risk impacting their ability to make money?

I started my first tech startup in Japan in 1998 and have built several since them.

For the last 20 years there has been a steady stream of articles on how Japanese web design is "broken", or "behind", or "cluttered".

There is also a steady steam of UI experts arriving from the US telling Japanese companies they need to modernize their look and feel.

The thing is, e-commerce sites like Rakuten are already heavily A/B tested and optimized. That graphic experience is common because it is most effective. Any analysis that does not focus on actual, observed user behavior is simply navel-gazing.

That said, the ubiquity of iPhone and Android UI is causing a shift in Japanese UI/UX design. People are becoming used to that as the primary interface.

I don’t understand the aversion to information density that designers have. In my experience, old school server-rendered sites tended to be jam packed with more information and richer tooling than most of the SPA-type sites you interact with these days.

They might be “ugly” from some bauhaus art school designer’s standard but I’d way rather use an old school but feature rich interface like eBay than the sleek-looking but totally UX deprived site like FB marketplace. I recently liquidated a bunch of my belongings to move, and I can’t deny that it’s probably the best tool to do something like that because of the eye balls, but god damn. The mobile first design, gobs of white pace, the annoying “blurred copy of your picture behind your picture” effect that local news sites seem to love, completely re-created React component replacements for every standard UI element like a select drop down. It was usually easier to just use my phone than their website.

My guess is that tech nerds generally have way higher than normal tolerance for information density. For example, people always balk when I have quick looks at unpretty JSON to see if it kinds looks like it should, often even other devs. My impresssion is that for a lot of "normies" high information density equals unparseable unless they are already familiar with the information structure.

I guess. I mean, it’s not like I want things to be a big spreadsheet of information or something. A simple example is the semi-recent redesign of Strava. It used to be more of the old school Rails server-generated HTML variety and then they redesigned it to have huge buttons, rounded corners, infiniscrolls, etc. some things are nice like the training calendar, but in the past it was a lot easier for me to load a page of my historic activities to quickly estimate for myself something like “how many rides did I go on between thanksgiving and Christmas?” It was more about the data that I used the site for.

Now I have to enjoy the “experience” that some designer put together which doubtlessly enhanced their engagement. More often than not I’m not looking to “experience” anything. I just want to load a page of data and quickly review it. Over designing things and and hearing PMs drone about “experiences” for everything has made that word chafe for me lol. It’s like they think logging into their website should be like going to Disneyland or something.

I think (but I'm also someone who likes more densely packed interfaces) that it boils down to "discoverability" and friends: a sparse interface with a few well chosen controls can be easier to explore and navigate, precisely because there is less information. So on the one hand it eases the task of the user (cognitive load, if you want), and on the other it forces the builder to prioritize.

If that leads to difficulties for complex and infrequent tasks, it's only a disadvantage for the more technically oriented user.

I see what you mean. I always get this feeling that all the changes are better for people in general, but power users get screwed in the move. I used to love how difficult power powerful UIs were. Back in the 90s and 00s, tools like photoshop and Office used to be complex, but felt so crisp that once your learned them, it was like playing a piano. Muscle memory and keyboard shortcuts made things feel so fast. Now it feels like everything tried to “learn” my preference or suggest shit to me.

Dialing numbers and texting on my old flip phone used to be easy. Now, using google voice on my iPhone to dial a number is horrendous because it’s trying to “suggest” someone for me to call with every digit that I dial.

I also like to do as much as possible via the keyboard, but that rarely works on websites anyway. They don't have to be incompatible: quite a few shortcuts in MS Word still work, even though they've change the UI model several times, and (at least in Office) they're customizable.

I agree that suggesting a contact based on digits is a very odd feature, one of the type "because we can". I can't imagine it being helpful at all, really: almost all users know how to operate the contact list.

If you rely too much on A/B testing it is easy though to get stuck in a local minimum defined by users' expectations... Or to build a site that generates a lot of revenue but that's not optimal for users, and when a competitor breaks out of the local minimum by changing the paradigm, all the users go there.

This is true in general, but in this specific case looking at the biggest online marketplaces (e.g. amazon, aliexpress, ...) they come from completely different places and have converged to the same kind of conclusion.

There might be other paradigms looming out there, but the current situation is not just people lazily relying on A/B testing.

The same kind of conclusion? Amazon and AliExpress have wildly different design philosophies. One has pointless, hard to use coupons and mini games, and the other is Amazon.

I use AliExpress _in spite of_ their UI, not because of it.

Aren’t both at the same level ? Amazon is horrible in many many ways.

You’d think a bookstore would have a good way to show books of the same series in order, and make it easy to find any specific issue. Or help you follow random authors, and not just some handpicked ones, or notify you of a new book coming out in the future. All of these use cases are mildly (wildly) broken and it was the core of their business for a long time.

When I say they are similar, I’m thinking mostly about how they’re ignoring “pretty” and “logical” design trends and stick to very basic while chaotic page designs.

They say that Bezos has strong opinions on how Amazon's UI looks and intervenes to stop them changing it, even though it's bad.

Amazon has idiosyncracies, but Aliexpress is outright trash. It's the worst of the West-facing Chinese ecommerce sites (with the worst support too).

Shouldn't it be a local maximum ?

It's just as often that one optimizes for minima than for maxima (eg. latency or revenue). When there isn't a natural orden it's a coin flip (eg compounding latency and revenue in a single function). And anyways both are functionally equivalent by means of order invertion.

Personally, when speaking in abstract I stick to saying "local extremum" just to avoid this nagging question.

For that matter Amazon and eBay are both pretty goddamn cluttered to. As long as you're comparing e-commerce sites there isn't that much difference.

That's all created by the seller, not by Rakuten though. You can do the same on Amazon (at least in Japan, idk about other Amazon)

According to some accounts I've seen, Rakuten sales/support not just encourage but instruct sellers to do this until they oblige

Scroll down on certain Amazon listings and you'll find similar graphics from the seller. The difference here is that atleast the Japanese ones look nice.

Honestly, I think Amazon and eBay look terrible.

Yeah, they're not designed to look good, they're designed to sell.

He doesn’t understand the culture and instead of trying to learn he throws it in a bonfire. For some reason the “clutter” is seen as professional, both serious and that you have content. Western culture is being very playful instead with big videos and pictures, which is as fitting for children as adults.

Shouldn’t a designer be able to put themselves into the mindset of the customer?


This has made the rounds on HN several times already.

153 comments - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16254569

129 comments - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6718067

I was thinking something similar - these days really valuable contents seem to resurface from a few years back. Two days ago I was reading a blog post from 2012 which I though was worthwhile. Walden's Thoreau states that 'Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.'

=> I believe that we are lacking the commitment that one had to put into a project such intent as a book then with the current fastfood social medial / article generation. I also believe that in its place, a hybrid of sorts will come and surface softly back multiple time to underline the impact it left on the collective unconscious. This sounds like what we're seeing.

How does it matter? If it gets rediscovered and is found interesting today, why is that bad? It's clearly dated, and if it was uninteresting it would simply die.

Not necessarily bad other than the fact that the 2020 web is quite different to the 2013 one. It can also be worth looking at the top comments of the previous posts.

The crammed design is also seen in their electronics and other household items. Things that seemingly that have 1 function such as rice cookers and toilets are jam packed with buttons, lights and beeping.

I also avoided Toyotas because of the crammed dashboard/consoles and all the beeping. Unlock door, closing hatch door, starting the car is just beep, beep, beep. Instead of toggles like BMW, they would have an individual buttons for AM, FM, CD, Bluetooth, Aux.

I take it you've never used a Japanese rice cooker? They have far more than one function -- aside from making steamed rice, you can make rice porridge, congee, steam other foods, and some can even be used to bake cakes. Not to mention you can time-delay the cooking to specify when you want the rice to be ready (which means it also has a clock). These are just the features my middle-of-the-road rice cooker can do -- more expensive models have even more features.

So the buttons are serving a purpose, the question is whether it's better to have more buttons or more touch-screens or other "less crammed" designs. Aesthetic concerns aside (personally I've gradually grown more fond of the "crammed" designs as having their own aesthetic), buttons are also practically better because they always do exactly one thing -- meaning it's easier to learn and use for most people (including older and vision-impaired users). If the cost of having less buttons is that users have to learn how to navigate a set of menus for each appliance they own (many of which will have rubbish UIs) then I'll take the extra buttons. I also like that my rice cooker beeps when it's done -- it reminds me to go fluff the rice (or acts as a signal that it's time to have dinner).

Cars are possibly the best argument for physical-button-based designs -- because you usually operate them without looking at them! Touch-screens or any other complicated but "less cluttered" design just means that you can't use them in that setting. I get anxiety looking at the Tesla dashboard -- maybe the reason they're developing self-driving cars is so that you can operate the dashboard without crashing?

I have an orthogonal approach to rice cookers. I find that the extra features are pointless and were added purely to differentiate themselves from competitors (or even between models themselves).

Of the people I know who use rice cookers, they all use it to make rice, but usage of the other features drops significantly afterwards. After all, do you feel like using your rice cooker to make oatmeal?

My ideal rice cooker has one button: a physical switch, and no timer.

My rice cooker has different buttons for different kinds of rice (because they require different cooking times and temperature gradients), and rice porridge is quite nice for when you're sick -- I guess you thought I meant oat porridge in my original comment. And being able to have freshly-cooked rice at a fixed time (for breakfast or dinner) is super useful. I personally don't like congee (I didn't grow up with it), but my partner cooks it from time to time for herself. So we end up using most of the features pretty often.

But I guess whether you'd find those features useful really depends on how often you eat rice at home -- my partner is from south-east Asia so rice is part of basically every meal. When the rice cooker is empty, I fill it at night and set it to finish cooking in time for lunch the next day (if you just cooked it and left it overnight it wouldn't be as fluffy).

I don't use my rice cooker to bake cakes, but these kinds of features are born from the fact that in Japan very few households have full-sized ovens and so other appliances have to fill those needs.

My rice cooker at home have setting for different type of rice. Because unless you know what you are doing, different type of rice (Japonica, Basmati, Thai Jasmine, etc) have a slightly different requirements in term of water volume, etc.

This "crammed" design allows for button-function coupling, which makes buttons stateless and predictable.

Yep, When you want FM you can press the FM button rather than press the mode switch an unknown number of times requiring you to watch the display. My car has a rotary selector for air con mode and I usually just turn it all the way to one side and move it the number of clicks I know are needed. That way no looking is required.

I don't think any technology has improved on the decades-old three-dial system for air control in a car.

You're not fan of thermostat controlled systems where you set a temperature you want and that's what it maintains?

We have a Subaru with manual settings (3 dials) and a Volvo with a thermostat. The Volvo was set the day we bought it and I don't know that we've messed with it since. The Subaru, on the other hand, is always being adjusted.

The Volvo one seems to be smart enough to know when hot or cold (dry) air is needed on the windshield. It's pretty great.

Personally, I much prefer the manual ones, where I can trivially tweak the settings without having to think about it or look away from the road. But that's in part because I usually have the windows down, so constant adjustment is needed to compensate for speed, outside temp, wind speed/direction, etc. - at this point, changing it is second nature. With a touchscreen, even if I could get used to the lack of tactile feedback, it's impossible to know if the right screen is up without looking away from the road (the same issue arises with radio settings).

3 dials, with one being the temperature, one being the fan speed, and one more for the modes:


They're aware; they're saying that targeted temperature is a simpler control that obviates the need to try to manually tune the fan, used vents and degree of heat.

But the reasoning for choice of the first two isn't just about desired temperature.

Basically I think three dial is the right UI, but the temp one should be a thermostat, not output control (as I guess it generally is based on experience) - that doesn't obviate the need for (or utility of) the other two.

I was just trying to help the disconnect between those users. I think that makes sense. I also like the utility of applying air to the different vents, especially in the winter as I live in a cold area and either defrost faster, warm my feet faster or warm my hands faster.

But fan speed is different than temperature?

I believe the Volvo system ties fan speed to the difference desired and actual temperature / humidity.

Yep - that's essentially what our Subaru has and I'm always messing with it as I drive.

IMHO, the Volvo system is superior. That car also cost about twice as much so maybe it's not fair to compare the two.

I've experience with many of the thermostatat systems, and none of them seem to know what I want.

I don’t know about anyone else but the move to touch screens has been awful. I don’t need 2 menu layers to adjust the air temp or seat heater. All I really want is apple carplay.


It's one thing to have a touch screen to control your phone - where your attention is the phone.

It's another to have a touch screen to control the accessories of your car - where your attention is driving.

Actually that's exactly why I like Japanese made product. In the west it's almost always 3 button device but to access most functionality you need to do some arcane ritual like press this button for 5 seconds then press this button then you will see the LED flashing and now you can do what you want. I'd MUCH rather have 30 buttons all which precisely do one thing.

> Things that seemingly that have 1 function... are jam packed with buttons

    $ ls --help | grep '^ *-' | wc -l

I am pretty sure you could write the same article with the roles reversed.

That in itself does of course not take away from the article, but I am catching some negative undertones how Japan is "behind" or "unable to change" because of their society. I guess you could even open the bottomless barell of a discussion about racism, but my point is just this:

Seeing "them" as "behind" is a bad way to think about it and prevents true understanding.

Family staffed restaurants which revenues are 90% regulars remake their website and the agency slabs a 4MB hero image on their "landing page". They of course don't need any of that. Only clicks the website gets are people checking the opening times or showing their friends how grass-roots it is. To literally quote the article "Once a precedent has been set for things looking or behaving a certain way then everybody follows it, regardless of whether there is a better solution."

Consider the memes about the weird distorted discolored vector graphics everything tech now has [0]. Consider JIRA managers talking about a 4 second loading target for web pages. We are actually subconsciously aware that "our way" is just as random, weird and wrong, we just like to default to "ours=the way".

Fun article - definitely made me think - but IMO the real takeaway is: The Overton window of design is arbitrary and way more influenced by what $IMPORTANT_PERSON said in 2003 than by logic or sense, and we are not there yet.

[0] https://old.reddit.com/r/starterpacks/comments/jwsagt/big_te...

It's funny to me that one could look at these webpages and think they're "behind": https://www.yomiuri.co.jp https://okwave.jp

They load pretty much instantaneously, run few scripts, have no swooshing animations or scroll behavior overriding, elements don't jumble around and rearrange themselves as the page is loading... they are basically just plain text and hyperlinks on a plain background. From my perspective they're lightyears ahead of the state of English-language webpage design.

I guess they're behind in the sense that they have declined to incorporate many new bad practices. They're behind like a farmer who doesn't use pesticides, a candy-maker that doesn't use artificial coloring and flavoring, or a gas station that doesn't play ads on a screen at the pump.

Article is 7 years old

Yomiuri, at least, looked very different back then: https://web.archive.org/web/20131231233037/http://www.yomiur...

And yet the minimalism improves even further.

These websites look excellent... I think I will re-style my website in the same style.

It's pretty disingenuous to pretend that those sites the kind of sites that are under discussion here.

Feel free to read the article, where those websites are linked as the examples being discussed. Absolutely hilarious comment though.

> Go on a safari around some of Japan’s most popular sites and here’s what you can expect to find (see Goo, Rakuten, Yomiuri, NicoNico, OKWave, @cosme, and more):

The links, in case you still don't want to read the article:

- https://www.goo.ne.jp

- https://www.rakuten.co.jp

- https://www.yomiuri.co.jp/

- https://www.nicovideo.jp

- https://okwave.jp/

- https://www.cosme.net/

- https://www.slideshare.net/socialogilvy/top-50-japanese-webs...

The article was written seven years ago. What you see now is not necessarily what you would have seen in 2013.

Thank god for Wayback Machine!



Pretty close, same dense pack of information, tiny photos. Seems to check most of the list.

I think there's a temptation to subscribe to a "progress is inevitable and recency is a reflection of quality" view, especially amongst tech-oriented people.

I think this is very similar to discussions of payments in the US vs China, with QR codes vs credit cards. Credit cards are old tech now, and so a country building out a ton of infrastructure today has no real reason to follow that path now that there are alternatives. But a country with a ton of infrastructure already built for them also doesn't have much incentive to rip all that out and replace it. So something primarily determined by "what was the state of tech when building out infrastructure for the first time" now gets used to answer a question of "who is a more advanced society?"

(Here it's more a question of "what were influential design trends" instead of "when did you build your infrastructure" but that's a similarly arbitrary starting seed, as it were, not a reflection of "progress.")

I think they're comparing apples to oranges.

If you're looking at Rakuten then compare it to Amazon and eBay which are also pretty cluttered but functional.

If you're looking at Yomiuri then compare it to New York Times or CNN or Fox News all of which are pretty cluttered but functional.

That minimalist "clean" look isn't a general trend of e-commerce and news sites even in the US, if that is what they are using as a reference point.

Japan has no shortage of modern web design either. You just have to be looking in the right places, e.g.

This temple https://www.kiyomizudera.or.jp/

This Michelin restaurant http://akiyamashirokane.com/

Mazda https://www.mazda.co.jp/

This tea house https://www.fukuda-chaya.jp/

This startup https://www.kudan.io/jp/

This web design dude https://kuon.space/

This startup accelerator https://www.j-startup.go.jp/

This website about traditional Japanese colors https://nipponcolors.com/

I can't read the sites, but looking at some of them, I might honestly prefer US websites looking like the Japanese ones instead of the boring, spread-out, slow-loading versions I see today.

Even in the author's website. It's not bad per se, and it seems to load fast. But there is more spacing than necessary, and the minimalism makes it look like any other blog.

> Seeing "them" as "behind" is a bad way to think about it and prevents true understanding.

So I guess still using Fax Machines to do business in 2020 is not "behind", it's just "different" right?

Let's call a cat a cat when we see one.

From a NYT article [0] about fax machines in Japan.

>Handwritten messages have long been a necessity in Japan, where the written language is so complex, with two sets of symbols and 2,000 characters borrowed from Chinese, that keyboards remained impractical until the advent of word processors in the 1980s. Faxes continue to appeal to older Japanese, who often feel uncomfortable with keyboards, experts say.

People can write handwritten notes when they order from a restaurant, for example.

[0] https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/14/world/asia/in-japan-the-f...

I see you’re being downvoted but as someone who lives in Japan and had the misfortune to agree to doing a survey this week on tourism which entailed my looking at around 57 tourist websites that made me viscerally angry at how bad they were, I can say you’re right on the money. To say so is not racism or any such thing other than the ability to correctly describe a situation.

Stating the differences, especially the poor quality of the websites is normal. There’s a bunch of terrible web developers here, and they get paid to make terrible websites.

The racism starts whenever a foreigner starts explaining Japanese culture, and they will usually incorporate some old fashioned Japanese nationalism.

Japanese people are just people. There is nothing inherent to our culture, genetics, or soil that makes us like bad websites. We just have plenty of bad web designers.

You have to understand, Japan is an individualist country, unlike collectivist American culture. For example, in the US, there are large hospitals, because we expect to be treated together, but Japan has small clinics due to its individualism. Similarly, in the US, we build large highways for everyone with street signs and house addresses, but in individualist Japan, you have to navigate the subway alone through neighborhoods with no street names. Finally, the article shows that US websites are aimed at a collective culture, but Japan aims small websites geared towards ease of creation: collective readership be damned.

> There is nothing inherent to our culture

The article states some reasons under Cultural Differences that are inherent (though not unique as the Update 1 note shows) to Japanese culture that would explain the proliferation of bad web design. Maybe they're wrong but they at least seem reasonable. Are we going to argue that Japanese culture generally is going to have no effect on work style and commerce on the web, while we're also to believe it's just chance that led to 2 out of 71 (I checked) of the websites I looked at being adequate?

> The racism starts whenever a foreigner starts explaining Japanese culture, and they will usually incorporate some old fashioned Japanese nationalism.

I'm not sure about the old fashioned Japanese nationalism, but have you considered the possibility that they've experienced a modern type of Japanese nationalism and it's going to be incorporated into their assessment of life in Japan?

> we're also to believe it's just chance that led to 2 out of 71 (I checked) of the websites I looked at being adequate?

We all know it’s ugly. Nobody looks at those designs with approval and admiration.

> I'm not sure about the old fashioned Japanese nationalism, but have you considered the possibility that they've experienced a modern type of Japanese nationalism and it's going to be incorporated into their assessment of life in Japan?

There is no modern type. This is a country run by old men. They keep repeating their Japanese people propaganda, but you don’t have to believe it. In that sense, when I first arrived in Hawaii to study, my foster family felt very strongly about America being the best in everything, and they made sure I heard it all, but in the end, I never really believed what they said. It sounded too similar to what my family said back home.

> We all know it’s ugly. Nobody looks at those designs with approval and admiration.

Well, at least that's an insight. I wasn't sure that anyone Japanese does think it's ugly because, as the article points out at the very beginning, it's in contrast to other parts of the culture that are deemed part of the design world.

Other than that though, I'm not sure what your point is?

> They keep repeating their Japanese people propaganda, but you don’t have to believe it

Strangely enough, I have no inclination to believe it. I'm more worried about the insidious racism and xenophobia that it breeds in those who do believe it, which seems to find enough expression in the general population that there's an endless stream of anecdotes shared among foreigners here.

> my foster family felt very strongly about America being the best in everything, and they made sure I heard it all, but in the end, I never really believed what they said. It sounded too similar to what my family said back home.

Okay, it's just bad luck and foreigners are being mean by bringing up fax machines. Convenient how that argument insulates the culture from criticism and implies that nothing should change, which is a view that over-patriotic people would probably agree with.

Throughout the world it is often the case that early adopters of a technology build so much infrastructure around it that their cost of switching becomes much higher.

Another case in point: The US just can't move away from credit cards and slow freight trains and cars, all due to infrastructure issues, while countries that have been historically behind have been able to jump ahead to mobile payments and high speed rail.

Arguably, freight trains in North America are more advanced than Europe. They’ve had automatic couplers for a long time, they have a huge loading gauge allowing double stack freight, they have trains that can be miles long (compared to Europe which is working on a sub-network allowing 700m).

The big difference is really the infrastructure and the ownership structure. Since the infrastructure is private and being competed on, it’s not shared across operators. It’s not a public utility and consequently in a sort of optimal state of minimal spending.

Anyway, the story is much more complicated than „early adopters“.

I suppose you haven't been to a doctors office recently? Fax machines are a staple in every single one.

Since when is business reduced to doctors offices ?

That's irrelevant to their web design.

You are right. Their web design is even worse.

I think for 40-something years Japan was held as a futuristic, technologically advanced country in America even after Japan's stagnation and the American consumer tech renaissance of the last 20 years. It's clear to me that people can't accept that America is the most technologically advanced nation on Earth, and has been.

Have you been to Eastern Asia recently? I've just recently travelled from the US to Singapore and I can say the USA is absolutely behind in public infrastructure.

Try a crazy modern place like Hong Kong or Shaghai (where I went several years ago, but already had the impression these places are ultramodern compared to US/Europe) and you'll quickly understand what you're saying is incredibly wrong.

Since when is infrastructure the only metric of technological advancement ? Thats only one of the things you can do with money.

I wasn't addressing public infrastructure at all, for which the US is definitely behind not only east Asia but a big part of Western Europe too.

I had to disable Adblock Plus for some reason to get the entire page to load.

Ditto on the point where Japan is stuck in the 1980s future. Everything's optimized for tiny cellphone screens optimized for text. If I recall correctly iPhone adoption was slow, and many people lacked a desktop to provide updates. I still find wifi to be incredibly scarce in Tokyo. If people want a desktop, they go to a cafe. If they want a mobile connection, it's faster to just use your telecom plan.

That seems to have changed under COVID.

I believe the reason for slow iPhone adoption was that they already had i-mode: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I-mode

The primary reason for slow iPhone adoption in Japan was that both NTT Docomo and au/KDDI, the largest carriers, initially refused to stock it. (Japan has a strange model where the telcos basically control what handsets can be sold.) SoftBank was the first to start selling it, and this propelled them from being a bit player into a top-tier telco.


The most incredible thing is they are still supporting the service till 2026 despite its usage being in decline since 2008

> If I recall correctly iPhone adoption was slow

No way. It's hard to exaggerate what a smash hit the iPhone was in Japan. It immediately changed the mobile landscape, and continues to have an outsized market share: ~57% compared to 45% in the US

Yes, once it was available, but dominant players NTT Docomo and KDDI refused to sell it for years. It was SoftBank who took a punt, and it paid off big time.


> I still find wifi to be incredibly scarce in Tokyo.

Train stations, 7-11, Family Mart, Starbucks, Gasuto, McD's.

Plus all of the locations in the Japan Connected-free wifi app.

Wifi WAS extremely scarce in Japan. When I lived there a few years ago the phone plans were great for me but it was very difficult for friends visiting to have internet even in Tokyo. When I was there last year there seemed to have been a pretty big push in preparation for the Olympics, most stations did not have WiFi in 2015 when I moved away as an example

If by “a few” you mean more than 5 then maybe. Free WiFi in all convenience stores, most train stations (almost all in bigger cities Tokyo, around half in bumfuck countryside where I live), many major public spots and department stores, expressway buses, and many cafes and restaurants all have free WiFi.

I was without a SIM card for several months recently and rarely had to go far finding connectivity.

I put the exact year I moved away.

It is still very scarce outside of the Tokyo bubble. Japan is not Tokyo.

> Everything's optimized for tiny cellphone screens optimized for text.

That sounds great tbh. Not everything needs to be a 4MB bootstrap.js webshit that doesn't even load with adblockers enabled.

Fanboy’s Annoyance list contains a filter ##.headersocial, which is triggered by the headersocial class on the body element, and so it nukes the whole page. I’ve reported this upstream; I believe changing it to ##:not(body).headersocial should fix this site, or maybe they’ll make an exception for this domain instead.

Edit: that was quick! Fixed in https://github.com/easylist/easylist/commit/4bf4c04186f4a7d9....

I've seen a lot of pocket wifi routers also for locals, which is really neat when you travel and your accomodation comes with one of these since you can carry it around all day for wifi and don't need a simcard.

The bit about scarce WiFi is surprising. Back in 2005, I did a lot of warbiking in Tokyo, and signals were easy to find.

That was 15 years ago, everyone has high speed mobile plans now so there's no demand for public Wi-Fi.

for me, wp.com was being blocked.

FYI: "ublock original" is the better and independend ad-blocker.

I had to disable uBlock Origin to get the entire page to load, so in this case it has more to do with some filter.

The Japanese site I use most frequently, which is a high quality store that sells FLAC downloads, has a relatively modern design. https://ototoy.jp/

I believe it's not just a Japanese thing but Asian in general, but I fail to understand the reasons. Some 16 years ago at a company I worked with we were testing some mini industrial PC and embedded boards for a project, so we had to download lots of documentation from the manufacturers site which was located in Taiwan. Those weren't home or business PC boards, their site target audience would be mostly engineers and technicians but it was anyway ridden with Flash blinking buttons and heavy (albeit minimalistic, still awful) graphics for everything where a highlighted text link would suffice. That site was a nightmare to use, and the slow bandwidth when connecting there from the EU certainly didn't help. But there weren't lots of ads, quite the opposite, they used Flash and blinky objects extensively like their page had to draw more attention on a multi screen wall against other pages, just like a billboard. They weren't alone however as I recall having seen in the past other Asian manufacturers technical sites doing essentially the same thing.

The reason why people from a certain region like a certain kind of aesthetics?

Well, why do people have cultures might be the same question.

It's worth noting that most of the websites listed as examples no longer feature the sort of design patterns in the article.

Also interesting how, when Japanese fonts are used to write English, you can always tell that it winds the clock back about 20 years and turns to an inelegant pixelated dot-matrix level appearance.

In my experience Rakuten represents a more extreme example and isn't representative of "modern" Japanese UI/UX as a whole.

Companies started in the last 10 years are abandoning what we might deem as a cluttered aesthetic and moving towards something which wouldn't look out of place in the west. In fact my current company ended up going with the same UI when they launched in the US with minimal modifications.

  This is because each font requires thousands of 
  characters to be individually designed which is 
  prohibitively expensive, time-consuming, and 
  would take longer to download. 
Presumably a coherent hand-designed Japanese font reuses the same style strokes in different combinations. Are there tools to reduce the full set of glyphs to a subset of component elements?

There are starting to be tools aimed at generating a font file from a more compact representation that would let you e.g. reuse radicals between characters, but the font file formats are pretty wedded to each glyph's entry being independent AIUI.

Not really a tool per-se, Japanese has standardized subset of kanji suitable for computer use. This is the JIS X 0208 (Kanji 1 and Kanji 2 containing 6,879 characters) and JIS X 0213 (Kanji 3 and Kanji 4 containing 11,233 characters). There are several tricks font designer can utilizes, such as reusing radicals (component of a kanji) and combine them. This technique only works for certain type of fonts and still requires hand-tuning.

Even if you don't go down to the individual stroke level you can break kanji up into a set of radicals. If you mix that up with the katakana, hiragana, roman letters, and punctuation it's maybe something like 500 characters.

Given the affluence of emoji's and various Unicode symbols these days it weakens that argument even further.

> Given the affluence of emoji's and various Unicode symbols these days it weakens that argument even further.

Most of the time these symbols and emoji are using fallback font though. It's not included in every font.

When I was living in Tokyo, I asked Japanese people why their design was the way it is and if they liked it. Answer I got: "I don't know. I don't like that, personally".

It is explained: People want healthy McDonald's but they won't buy it.

Maybe because of tradition?

I think. Maybe some "We always did it this way, so we'll continue" thinking. (I think it's very Japanese)

I remember talking to a japanese (unfortunately I forgot the subject) but one sentence stuck 'if it were a rule(or law) it could have been changed, but it is tradition'

It's nice that the year is in the title, I remember seeing this before... In the current year though, I think a lot of JP web design is just as modern as western design. The main difference is that there are still a lot of JP sites that just don't really update their designs so you find them in the mix without having to dive. It's rather refreshing that you can see each of the "eras" of web design with JP sites, and when you visit a rather antiquated one it's often still active rather than relegated to a nostalgia piece. The "just don't update" thing does get taken a bit far in places though -- at my last job obsolete IE support was basically due to pressure from JP customers.

One example of a "web 2.0" era site (and it needs JS to work, so you know it's modern): https://maidragon.jp/2nd/ Flashy intro, bold non-box outlines of content sections and non-straight (i.e. it's slanted) text, animated background, static background element. News link button has character to it, it's not just a <button> with default browser styling nor with the standard bootstrap CSS and calling it a day. Clicking it goes to https://maidragon.jp/news/ which has a nice vertical column of main content, though again that so nostalgic (to me) slanted design shows at the top. Viewing the source (direct payload) you can actually read the HTML. It might be wordpress based?

For contrast one fully modern, including the "why does it need to be" part, is a site like https://sephira-su.fensi.plus/ Non-standard TLD, google translate doesn't even work -- I think because of shadow dom shenanigans. There's a dev blog about that site's tech that is readable with google translate though: https://cam-inc.co.jp/p/techblog/405653224037549201 (The dev blog and the company's home page itself is another modern site, it's even updated significantly since I saw it last in March, and they blog about other modern tech.) The backend of Fensi is microservices, content served in a "headless CMS" style, the front-end is built as a re-usable theme with web components (LitElement framework) making use of shadow dom...

In summary, there's plenty of modern web design going on in Japan, and just like here there's probably too much.

Don't want to light a fire here but I'd like to note that there is inherently something about Japanese culture (or Asian culture for that matter) that inhibits software development growth. Everything in Asia screams of respect for elders. In this case, the elders are the old design patterns and the older programming languages. It's the thought of why do something when it's not broken? As we move forward globally, we are all now realizing that it takes disruption to really create change. Something cultures in Asia are strongly against but are now slowly grasping. I believe this will all change within the next decade or so.

Just to add to this, I am Asian myself so I have experienced this and seen this first hand.

As if the "change" we have in UX currently is a good thing. Radical minimalism and the prioritization of clean design and simplicity over functionality doesn't necessarily look like progress to me.

Do you mind giving me an example of this in 2020? I do remember reading a lot about this in the last couple of years but it seems designers have been quickly to rectify it. Out of all the websites and apps I use commonly, I'm seeing less and less examples of this.

Try using the Facebook ads and Google Adwords interface for more than one week. Those are the worst interface I've ever seen. Slow and disfunctional, every click you get a spinner, I'm surprised it went to production, using that for more than a week is torture.

As if the spinners were not bad enough, now western web design created the animated grayed out text, which I particularly find an aberration.

Youtube interface is another example. You click on the "videos" tab and you get infinite scrolling without pagination. Killing pagination is a huge usability issue. Comments section with the "Load more" approach, another annoying feature, just load me all the comments in one go please.

I get what you mean, but you're basically complaining about UX. The guy was talking about radical minimalism. Not sure killing pagination is under the radical minimalism category...

USA just elected an ancient President and an ancient Speaker of the House, but we don’t respect them, so it’s not a Confucian country.

> I believe this will all change within the next decade or so.

I heard that many decades ago.

Not unique to Asia, though. The software situation in Germany feels similar.

Some of the biggest technology companies in the planet are Chinese or South Korean.

Is that why the US government had to forcibly seize the US operations of an Asian social media platform popular with American teenagers? Those American teenagers were just so enamored with TikTok and all its oriental traditions./s

A while ago I saw a post about text-heavy websites in Japan, explaining it as a result of higher literacy rates and the expectation to see all relevant information at once, sadly I can't find it anymore. If you happen to stumble over it, much oblidged.

Not a Japanese, but this is exactly what I would like to get from the websites instead of huge pictures/videos and endless scrolling to get basic info.

Visually this website design reminds me a lot of Dekochari [1] and Dekotora [2]. Dekochari are highly decorated bicycles, and Dekotora highly decorated trucks.

All of them have this very bright, visually busy style that is, as the website says, very different than some imagine the Japanese aesthetics.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dekochari

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dekotora

The better question would be why Japan in general maintains its differences/idiosyncrasies from the west? Web design is not the only thing that differs.

Until recently Japan had very few foreign nationals, on the order of 1% even in 2005 [1]. Compare that to 10-12% in the US. That has recently been changing as Japan tries to bring in more foreigners to address its shrinking workforce [2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Japan#Foreign_...

[2] https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/06/23/japan-immigration-polic...

Having not seen the numbers, I'd guess that US is the outlier there, not Japan.

Homogeneous island nation! Like 97% of people in Japan are Japanese.


Japanese call it "Galapagos syndrome"

This misses that some pre-internet content looked different in Asia as well. You can see the high column count and small adverts with fancy text graphics on things like newspapers.

What's optimum has a lot to do with what people are already used to. No newspaper reader is going to be confused by a news website with the same layout as the print edition.

Let’s hope the rest learn from them and catch up soon.

Aside from the security implications of using IE/XP, um, no, how about we don't and let them do what they want? How dare the author maintain that they should follow the West's path of bloated web design practices. Get out of here with that shit.

The article is 7 years old, the technical aspects of this no longer have any valid representation

Wow, what's with the username?

Rakuten is the original Japanese Amazon. It has everything and is just as cluttered as Amazon. Pages are optimized for maximum spam. Might as well call it the spam UI paradigm.

Here are sites that don't spam.




And here is a web design aggregator. Here you can see more of the Japanese aesthetic at work.


The author correctly notes that Japan had wide adoption of the mobile web way before the rest of the world but doesn't explore why. And therein lies the answer.

SE Asian countries have a pattern of widely adopting technologies before others do. Despite not having any obvious technological edge. They just seem to catch on easier. It would seem to me people are simply more willing or more able to deal with them.

Patterns that may be a huge usability issue in one place might not be elsewhere.

Wechat in China is a good present-day example. It's not impressive in its tech or design. Would probably be considered a mess in most places. What's impressive is the adoption.

Japanese just naturally has a smaller natural column-width due to the density.

Everything gets broken into smaller chunks, and those chunks get put into small columns. The pictures are small because a big picture will throw things off.

I'm not sure, but I think Japanese people (and Asians in general) have very different rules for negative space - they either don't use it at all (and pack the design like blocks of tofu) or will use it in a very intentional way. It's rarer (as far as I can tell) for negative space to just relaxing filler, it's more a bold statement similar to an attention-grabbing graphic.

Not to mention, storing credit card details in plaintext.

Hmmm I definitely disagree with the “lacking emphasis”part. One of the Japanese alphabets is literally used to draw attention to words

This might be coming from my very short exposure to japanese culture. But can some explain how come it seems like japanese stylistic choices come down to two extreme opposites? either very minimalistic or extreme Insanity (or at least that's how my brain registers it :)

The last japanese website I used was Mt. Gox... That ended well.

Big fan of the Muji website actually

tl;dr: i-Mode.

Any answer to this question that doesn't include a mention of this is grossly misinformed to the point of being wrong.

Can you link to something or explain what that is for those of us not familiar?

It was basically the Japanese equivalent of WAP before smartphones but it's completely irrelevant now and even when it was a thing, I'm not sure it was relevant to desktop sites like this article is talking about.

i-mode usage peaked in 2008. While it has been falling since, it probably only became irrelevant around the time this was written.

A lot of the Japanese sites that I visit(ed) were designed for i-Mode first/only as late as 2011.

My understanding that i-mode markup was very limited and didn't include tables or css, so I don't think it would be possible for desktop sites from 2011 to have been designed for i-mode first. Common Japanese sites for desktop browsers from this period as described in the original article were extremely cluttered in a way that would have been completely impossible to read on a feature phone with i-mode.

I believe that as with WAP, it was necessary to have completely separate i-mode sites, so I don't think the front end rendering of one would necessarily affect the other even if companies like Yahoo Japan were serving similar content over both.

Essentially a beefed up version of WAP

The article actually does mention it:

> Japan was using their version of the mobile web on advanced flip phones long before the iPhone came along and in even larger numbers than had personal computers.

I think the bigger problem is that this is a seven year old article and the web landscape in Japan has changed significantly since then.

Picking a random example, the google.com home pages for English and Japanese are not very different:



They're almost identical except the English page includes links to Google Store and information about "Carbon neutral since 2007". The English page's "About" link is in the upper left corner of the page. The Japanese page's "About" link is in the page footer.

Google is an American company and the Google home page is pretty much the same in any language.

(Disclaimer: IANAL - I am not a linguist)

The Japanese language itself has very low "information density" - it takes many more syllables to convey the same thing in Japanese than it does in most languages. This is the result of the language having much tighter phonotactic constraints; literally there are fewer "legal" phonemes (and combinations of them) in Japanese than in most other languages. [1] This isn't a criticism of the language of course - just an interesting tradeoff: A Japanese speaker has fewer sounds to learn, but must learn to speak them faster in order to convey their ideas.

As a result, Japanese speakers are some of the fastest speakers in terms of syllables/second, out of necessity.

Therefore it's no surprise that the typography is going to appear more "densely packed" on a Japanese website. With the exception of Kanji which is a pictographic (logographic? I'm not really a linguist) writing system consisting of many, many characters (and thus can be quite information-dense) - Japanese's other writing systems are purely phonetic - each character representing a single syllable. Take a look at the front page of a Japanese newspaper and show it to an English speaker, they will think it's "crowded", but I bet if you translated it to English you'd see something that resembles a typical English paper.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonotactics

As a Japanese native who's fluent in English, I disagree with this. I regularly translate English (mostly technical) texts to Japanese, and the translation I get is roughly the same size as the original. Its density is certainly not "very low".

The reason that you might think that Japanese is more "bloated" is probably because the form of the language you hear most - in TV news and speeches - are in the "polite" form. In that case, they mean to be verbose. But in the casual form, the same thing can be said much shorter.

Also, keep in mind that Japanese has a very different phonetic system. Their phonetic intuition is mostly based on "mora" and many find the notion of syllable confusing and inconsistent. I don't think these two are very comparable (at least mentally).

It's funny that you mentioned that a Japanese newspaper looks more "crowded" than English one. Japanese people would think the exact opposite. The "information density" is really in the eye of the beholder.

Thanks for calling me out, there. I did some digging and I _think_ this is where I first came across the idea of "information density" as a function of info/syllables: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235971274_A_cross-L...

The methods this paper employed may certainly be biased in a way that makes Japanese appear less information-dense than other languages.

As for the _written_ language's density, that's entirely different! You say that as written, translations come out to be about the same in Japanese and English, I assume this corresponds to roughly the same number of characters as well? If so, if we can believe the authors of the paper above that Japanese has less information-per-syllable, then perhaps Japanese writing's syllabic/ideographic writing system accounts for this handily such that the information density of _written_ Japanese is about the same as written English.

For what it's worth, I think you were agreeing with me actually:

> Take a look at the front page of a Japanese newspaper and show it to an English speaker, they will think it's "crowded", but I bet if you translated it to English you'd see something that resembles a typical English paper.

What I meant here was that in terms of _written_ information density there are clearly significant gains made thanks to the writing system.

> I assume this corresponds to roughly the same number of characters as well?

Japanese usually has less characters, but Japanese character are bigger than average latin character.

I am completely ignorant here--how common is the polite form on websites?

It's complicated, but perhaps a good comparison is newspaper headlines in the West: headings and phrases etc are compact without ever being slangy.

For example, a random ad on the Yahoo Japan homepage proclaims 予約来場いただくと進呈QUOカード5000円分, which means "get a 5000 yen gift card if you come visit", but uses literary words like 来場 (arrival/visit) and 進呈 (gift) that would rarely be used in spoken Japanese, and even the polite いただく (to humbly receive) is in the short "dictionary" form instead of being conjugated out the way it would be in speech.

Depends on the type of websites. Most corporate websites are polite. In a message board like 2-chan, (unsurprisingly) not at all. Actually, some of the most vulgar Japanese that most people would never speak in real life can be only found on the Internet.

> I am completely ignorant here--how common is the polite form on websites?

Not op, but I can answer.

Not very common (reported speech, simulating speech, etc.).

i agree. The length is roughly the same, if not actually shorter in many cases. Syllables per second isn't a good measure of information density.

In terms of character count, it takes fewer characters to convey an idea in Japanese than in English.

You see this in NES/SNES-era game translations. Both versions of the game had to use the same number of characters. So the level of detail in English is quite low compared to the original.

Recently, modders have hacked the English versions of the games to add variable-width fonts to achieve more true translations. Breath of Fire 2 is a good example.

Both are true.

Because each character is equivalent to an entire syllable in English, not a letter.

The visual density of Japanese characters has more to do with the fact that it's not a requirement to have white space between words so you can line break mid word. The characters also don't change in size (no real upper or lower case) so everything is pretty mono spaced.

For example look at the wikipedia article for mother in english vs Japanese



In the English sections with pictures there's significantly more white space between the text and pictures than in the Japanese version.

While I do agree with you on the spoken side, there was a comparative study of spoken syllables per language floating around at some point [0], is this really true for written Japanese ? As each kanji is potentially multiple syllables long when spoken but still one character when written, conveying a meaning of itself. (I'm simplifying here obviously, as there are kanji combinations to give a specific meaning, eventually modifying the number of syllables when spoken and others)

[0] : https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/9/eaaw2594

Kanji is efficient precisely because it is dense.

Yeah, what a weird comment.How can you argue that you need more length and characters when comparing 2000-3000 Kanji vs 26 letters (I am ignoring the "kanas" to simplify the argument) It is like saying Hexadecimal is more verbose than binary.

That's not how Japanese works. Yes Japanese uses Chinese characters that's only a subset of Japanese. Japanese sentences are typically a bit longer than English in terms of syllables and written length - their main reduction technique at the language level is omission, rarely efficiency improvement.

- Why's it so hot today? = 6 syllables

- Nande konna ni atsui no kyou? = 10 syllables (spoken colloquially)

What about written length? You can see the Japanese sentence is a little longer here (when the English uses a non-monospaced font). It's also enough to demonstrates the why using kanji doesn't always provide the huge reduction/compression that you're expecting.

- Why's it so hot today?

- なんでこんなに暑いの今日?

> Japanese sentences are typically a bit longer than English in terms of syllables and written length?

Do you understand than 1 kana represents 1 syllable? They are BY DEFINITION, more concise than Latin letters.

Wow thanks! I didn't understand that despite being able to read and write Japanese! Sarcasm aside you don't seem to have a very deep understanding so maybe you should be a bit nicer when expressing your opinion.

> 1 kana represents 1 syllable

ちゅ <-- 2 kana, 1 syllable

> BY DEFINITION, more concise than Latin letters

smash <-- 1 syllable, 5 latin letters, ~3 kana in length スマッシュ <-- 5 kana

Why’s it so hot today?


Where in the US are you from?


Japanese sentences are usually shorter than the english translation.

For paid translations, English likes to charge by the word, whereas Japanese charges by the character. The rule of thumb for conversion is 2 JP characters --> 1 English word i.e. translating a 1000 character JP document you'll expect about 500 EN words at the end.

I speak Mandarin Chinese. They are kind of similar.



> The Japanese language itself has very low "information density"

This is just wrong as characters are much more concise than using Alphabet because of use of Kanji and the like.

Japanese is fast for sure, I'm not sure if your theory explain why Spanish is close second behind... (honestly I have no idea either)


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