by

When I think of Japan I tend to think of beautiful design. Zen gardens, temples, shrines, tea ceremonies, manga, anime, wabi-sabi… the list goes on and on. Yet for some reason Japan just can’t put any of this together to make a decent looking website. Where did they go wrong? What in the world happened? Time to find out.

Japanese Websites

Let’s start out by looking at some bigger Japanese websites. These are just a few examples that will give you an idea about the “Japanese aesthetic” when it comes to web design.

Rakuten

Rakuten is a lot like the Amazon of Japan (with a bit of Ebay thrown in). Japanese websites love text, and this is no exception. While there’s a few images here, the more you scroll down, the more text you end up seeing. You’d think that a shopping site would want to have more images to entice you, but the Japanese web aesthetic of textiness is strong with this one.

NicoNicoDouga

NicoNicoDouga is like the YouTube of Japan if YouTube wasn’t already the YouTube of Japan. It’s particularly known for the ability to add comments right onto the video screen. Once again, we see a ton of text. We’ll delve into why this is in a little bit, but it must be important if you cover your video website with text instead of video, right?

Gigazine

Gigazine is a popular tech blog in Japan. It’s full of strange color choices, missing padding, and advertisements. Though this site is fairly image heavy for a Japanese website, just keep in mind that it’s catered towards the more tech-savvy, which is obviously why this is such a beautiful website. Speaking of which, how many ads can you spot?

Japanese Website Aesthetic

So what is the “Japanese Website Aesthetic?” There are quite a few patterns that show up again and again in Japanese web design, I think.

  • A lot of text, really packed in there
  • Smallish sized images
  • Columns, usually three of them.
  • Poor use of white space / padding
  • (often) blue URL coloring
  • CHAOS

What does this sounds like… does it sound like American web design in the 90s / Yahoo’s current design to you? It certainly feels that way to me. How did this come to be? Why is Japan, the world’s leader in robotics, hybrid cars, and Gundam models, so far behind when it comes to the web? Where did they go wrong?

Mobile Phones

Mobile phones have ruled in Japan for quite a while, though personal computers are definitely catching up. Back when Americans were getting heavy laptops and Gateway computers, the Japanese were texting up a storm on their futuristic cell phones. Because of this alternate tech history, a lot of Japanese websites were designed for flip phones and eventually this became part of the aesthetic. To make a website work well on phones like this, you need to do a few things:

  • Skinny columns (that just go on top of each other on a mobile device)
  • Textiness… lots and lots of textiness.
  • Smaller images (they load faster!)

If you look at the example websites above, you’ll see that they have all of these things. While a lot of bigger companies have the resources to create completely separate designs for mobile and computer, smaller companies can’t do this. What’s the solution? They just end up making a website that (sort of) works in both. That explains why so many websites kind of look like they’re supposed be viewed on your phone… because they should viewed on your phone!

Slow Personal Computer Adoption

Nowadays individual computer use is really picking up in Japan. Ten or fifteen years ago, not so much. As I mentioned before, it was cell phones that won this war of Internet dominance. Now though, more and more people are starting to use personal computers. Although the current aesthetic has been built up around mobile phone use, I expect to see a shift as more and more people hop on computers. I don’t think Japan will catch up right away (it’s kind of like how developing nations are supposed to go through their industrial revolution, or something), though I do hope it moves pretty fast. I do not enjoy navigating you, Japanese web. You hurt my eyes.

Internet Explorer 6

When it comes to Internet Explorer 6 usage, Japan actually rolls in at third for the entire world. Only China (23.8%) and Korea (6.3%) out-muscle Japan (6.1%) in this out-of-date-browser-war. When you have this many people using such a terrible browser, you have to design with it in mind. IE6 limits what you can do design-wise, which means you have to make a choice: Do I make my website look not as good as it could be? Or, do I ignore this 6.1% of people and design how I want?

This isn’t even when you take into account IE7, which is better, but still not all that great to work with. Until people upgrade to better and more modern browsers, better design will remain more difficult. Not impossible, but this certainly doesn’t make things any easier. How do you get around this? Flashhhhh.

Flash

Remember when America was all into Flash? I feel like Japan’s been going through that lately, which seems right on target because they’ve always been about 10 years behind in the game that is web design. If you design in Flash, you don’t have to worry so much about IE6. That being said, the most popular phone in Japan (iPhone) doesn’t work with Flash. Right now Japanese web design is a little too buddy-buddy with flash in my opinion. It makes for poor user experience, generally, which goes right along with all the other problems that Japanese web design has. Hopefully we’ll see them kick this “fad” to the side of the road here pretty soon, especially with touchscreen mobile getting so important.

It’s Not All Bad, Though

All that being said, there’s a lot of great web design coming from Japan as well. To round out this article, I thought I’d share some examples of beautiful web design. Click on the images to see the actual site in action.

Uniqlo

Ishiyama Senkoh

toyota art

Toyota Municipal Museum Of Art

Hanamichiya

Swiss

Taromagazine

Takeo Paper Show

While a lot of these websites are a lot better looking (in my opinion) than the examples shown at the top of this article, though some of them are done in Flash (ick). I suppose if you’re looking to design with IE6 in mind, Flash is a good way to get around that?

Whatever happens, though, I’m really looking forward to the evolution of Japanese web design. With everything except web design, Japan has such an interesting aesthetic. If it could be applied to Japanese web design, well, I think we’ll end up seeing some really innovative stuff.

So, here’s to hoping they don’t actually follow in our footsteps. If they can avoid the phase where everything’s a ridiculous gradient… well… I’ll be happy. Wabi-sabi it up, please.

  • Paladin341

    IE6? Wow….  You’d think they would start using Google Chrome more since Google Maps has so much love in Japan.

  • Dy~

    For a country that’s so tech savy, they sure are behind – hopefully they’ll catch up rather quick

  • http://twitter.com/WackoMcGoose Kimura

    If I ever get enough money to do a homestay in Japan, once I get settled in with my new 家族, one of the first things I’m doing is getting them to install Firefox.

  • Flayer Marian

    To be honest most the Japanese sites for businesses outside of the internet (Weekly Shouen Jump as an example) have imo really good pages.

  • http://www.trainerkelly.net/ Kelly

    I love that I’m not the only one thinking this when I look at Japanese websites. XD I love their language, culture, and all, but man! Their web design is so behind. The cellphone reason makes 100% sense, but still. They could do something much more visually appealing. Most Japanese websites I’ve been on make me want to claw my eyes out they’re so badly done.  OTL Hopefully they’ll catch up soon enough.

  • Flayer Marian

    Nah never mind. Jump’s pages sucks. Its different from the stlye they had some month ago.

  • Tess

    I remember trying to buy books from Japanese Amazon…….. I remember thinking I was lucky I got the right things xD

  • RAWRRAWRDINOSAWR

    I was always wondering why Japanese websites look so crappy! :D I thought it was just a nostalgia thing. I had a speaking partner – totally awesome guy; I was a freshman undergrad and he’s like reaching for his macroeconomics PhD and works for the government already – and we were talking about the internet one time. I brought up Yahoo! JAPAN – the worst offender, if you ask me; makes Rakuten look tidy – and I just asked,

    “So, why do Japanese websites look so crappy?”
    “I…” He paused. “I don’t…know… D: They do, don’t they. Why do they do that??”

    I feel like the person who reveals to young children that cool things aren’t actually that cool. THAT person. Hopefully, I have not changed his entire worldview. 

  • coldcaption

    I see that a lot of American web designers just ignore IE completely. In high school they all had some old version and websites would display with all kinds of layout problems. I didn’t hold that against them because I don’t think web designers should have to put up with it; if people won’t get better browsers, it’s on them!

  • Extrarice

    I wonder if the markup semantics for both HTML and CSS being English might also contribute to not-as-slick website design? I can’t imagine my English-speaking-self being able to code anything if the semantic structure was based on, say, Farsi.

  • JatinChittoor

    Yea, I always thought Japan was lacking in the IT sector and that’s why their web pages are so wordy!

  • testyal1

    Now that’s an idea. Making a chair out of ス and other fun characters.

  • Jateku

    This explains a lot!
    I was always wondering why Japanese websites almost always look like yahoo :b 
    I’m sure Japanese are the same way with american websites.

  • http://last.fm/user/ars-poetica Kairi

    It’s so awful that it can only get better (I hope).

  • Stroopwafel

    Can anyone tell me, is that スイス website really just a site where you order a tiny chair in the shape of a katakana ス?
    Could anyone tell me if they ship to Holland?

  • ですこ

     You broke that man. He may never Internet again.

  • ですこ

     I’d buy a chair made out of 椅.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=607790802 Alex Napoli

    This question has been on my mind for about a year now, but every Japanese person I’ve asked thinks the web design is perfectly fine.

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet

    Yep. This is a large trend among web designers. Sometimes it costs a lot of money and time (and headaches) to write up an alternative design/hacks just to support IE. Weighing the options, it’s not worth supporting for some.

  • Kevin Lee James

    Well, seeing as Yahoo still dominates Google in Japan it’s not that surprising. 

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Yeah, I’ve always kind of wondered that too.

  • coldcaption

    I took a class in that high school for “Advanced web design.” It was nice because I already knew a lot of the material, except my teacher graded with IE. I made the same case to her and she was rather immovable over it, but she sometimes would accept layout issues because of it anyway. It killed me when I’d work on a design for hours at home and bring it to school to find it backwards and upside down.
    Love your designs here, by the way. Gorgeous stuff!

  • Xsuna

    Yeah, got to agree with this post. As feel as that, any idea why they tend to use quite an ugly font in many things, not just websites but also things like some video games?

  • Kevin Lee James

    The bright side to this is, like the end of this post says, Japan still has some amazing web and graphic design amongst all the utter crap; especially from some bloggers over there. Love the YowaYowaCamera blog. Simplistic. 

  • ChaseM314

    ¥39,800 seems a little steep for a chair shaped like a ス. 

  • hobbid hobbin

    Am I the only one who thinks the text based pages work better? I really the like the whole total chaos sort of thing. 

  • lightroy

    Oh, so there are also well-designed ones XD wasn’t aware of that.
    Anyway, I hope this will change soon. The zen art and concept of perfection applied to web design would be..well, great. As it should be, imho.

  • DenjinJ

    Japanese fonts are orders of magnitude bigger than English ones, not counting full multilingual Unicode ones. They can be quite expensive and you can’t really assume most people have a lot of them, so you kind of get a “serif” (common sorta brushlike) one, and a clean sans-serif one.

  • DenjinJ

    I definitely prefer them – they’re low on resource usage and widely compatible. It’s way nicer than say, most English sites for car makers, where the site is either a huge Flash object or behaves like one, and if you have a different browser than they made it for, you get screwed up drop down menus that might pop up across the screen, or vanish when you try to select something from them. Or the site may lag a second when you click something as it loads a fullscreen image in an attempt to be some kind of magazine layout or something.

    It’s like in Japan they tend to think “we want people to be able to use this site whatever they have to access it with” while a lot of bigger English sites seem more like “if visitors aren’t using my favourite browser, then screw ‘em – they wouldn’t get my brilliance anyway.”

    Sadly that seems to be infecting Japan now too? Say what you will about the old sites, but in the examples here, the functionality of the old ones looks clear, and the new ones look like they’d be nice to hang in a gallery, but from those screenshots it’s almost like a puzzle trying to guess how they might work.

  • Shirokuma

    Actually, a print designer once pointed out to me that Web site design in Japan mirrors the primary principles of print design here: The so-called makunouchi bento layout. Look at the pages of any major consumer information-oriented magazine (Trendy and Mono are two particularly egregious examples), and you’ll see what he means. First you make a lot of boxes, then you fill them with stuff.

    Funny, because the classic design aesthetic here was often so spare, even dramatic… But it’s good to see some examples of that finally turning up on the Web, too (although some go the other extreme–there are sites that are so spare as to be completely inscrutable!).

  • Natalia

    Shirokuma’s on the money – many magazines are similarly cluttered and chaotic. Great article!

  • http://twitter.com/Jomann Jomann

    Recently nico douga has rolled out a new web design for premium users called “nico zero”
    its a really modern take on their old layout, and everyone that I has used it said its “hard to use”.
    also a lot of japanese people on nico I see they use internet explorer when browsing the web.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1130205792 Lars Bauer

    wohoho, thank you :D
    it’s just i like another japanese website and i’m like: omg! this looks like a webpage i built at some free space at the age of 14. it really does

  • Xxx

    ジャップのWEBデザイン糞すぎワロタwなんで2003年ぽいんだよwww
    http://engawa.2ch.net/test/read.cgi/poverty/1337109555/

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001462817558 Michael Baltazar

    So everyone is Japan were using cell phones but now they are transitioning to personal computers? Does that mean not many people there use laptops or tablets? And if they used cell phones, are they using smart phones now?

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Just saying that personal computers / laptops / etc are getting more popular compared to before. Both are pretty necessary, though, and phones are still the winnarrs

  • cmm

    I don’t agree with you at all.

    Chaotic and festival design match with the character of NicoNico Doga more than looks-well-designed but totally empty website. The design of Rakuten imitates the design of advertisement by supermarket distributed everyday with newspaper. Have you ever seen that kind of advertisements? Gigazine inherits the atmosphere of text-based site in the early days of internete. The design matches with the dubious character of the website as a source of information.

    Web browsing with cellphone is not relevant at all. They all have substantial reason for their design and you are just missing the point because of your superficial aesthetic.

  • Travisnamewebster

    Doesn’t Japan have spies to take other peoples ideas? Or is that just all the other countries. Lol

  • linguarum

    A similar thought – When people think of Japan, they think cool design and architecture. So when I first went to Japan, I was surprised to see so many buildings are boring, gray, and rectangular, kind of like a Stalin-era prison. I think it’s the same with Web design as with architecture – old and utilitarian tends to win out over new, cool and designy.

  • Empathyart

    That swiss design is awesome.

  • Airwalker

    One thing I find annoying about Japanese web sites are small images on blogs. I understand that they are practical for fast loading times on phones, but then when I proceed to click on them in an attempt to see what’s actually there, they’re still just as tiny!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jathon.thompson Jathon Thompson

    Japan + Web Design = my kinda article. :D

  • http://twitter.com/akky Akky Akimoto

    I agree with cmm. Those designs are well considered for majority Japanese users, that’s why they beat their competitors. You should also think that the difference of characteristics between ideogram(Kanji) and phonogram(Roman alphabet). Just filling Japanese text into so-called modern western web design will not be the best for local market.

  • ですこ

     You mean… people who visit other websites…?

  • Hinoema

    So if flash is (ick), what do you think of JSP?

  • http://twitter.com/suiius Yui OKADA (SUZUKI)

    All of his “better samples” are made in Flash era of Japan, I suppose. Yes, we finished “all into Flash” period in this 3 years (because of iPhone and iPad) and struggling next design standard with HTML5… this is just my opinion though. 
    Actually I haven’t thought about portal-sites-like text-oriented-design sites really because many of these websites have never changed their website structure from their start so this article’s point of view is very interesting, thanks.

  • Stroopwafel

    あっ ちょっと高いですね

  • Sssss…

    Brilliant topic and article. I retweeted this earlier today.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1567001652 Jamal Antonio

    My thoughts exactly :P

  • http://www.spinxwebdesign.com/custom-web-design/ spinxwebdesign

    Well found, it seems whether this web design is a past history or may be what the future of web may switch to such a mode of designing in order to make it look good in all those mobile phones which has induced those Japanese to build such websites long time before.

  • 名無しさん

    きんめえサイト
    外人死ね
    日本にストーカーしてんじゃねえ

  • http://www.tokyowebdesigns.com/ Tokyo Web Designs

    Great article.

    Covers a lot of the same ground as an article we independently wrote a little while ago about Japanese Style Web Design.
    http://www.tokyowebdesigns.com/advice/2124/japanese-style-web-design

    To summarize
    – Dense text
    – Banner Graphics
    – Anime Graphics and Icons
    – Color Chaos
    – Flash Animation
     

  • ですこ

     lol

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    ikr! When I’m looking for images for blog posts and such, I know that when I find something on ameblo or something it’s going to be way too tiny :(

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Schools are especially like this :( Seriously look like prisons.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    lol

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I don’t think that they need to change to a Western design – in fact I hope they don’t. I want Japan to have their own design aesthetic, but I also would like it if it were more pleasing to the eyes, generally. Of course, that’s totally opinion, and I shouldn’t be arguing opinion so I won’t, but things like better use of whitespace, choice in colors, and characters per line would make a big difference.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    ikr

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    oh? Interesting. Nobody likes change, I suppose. It’s why people are so pissed off on Facebook all the time.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    That’s really interesting! And kind of makes sense, too. Hmm, ‘bento aesthetic.’

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I think there should be an in between – I agree those flashy (often in flash) websites should be gone. But, with the power of responsive design and more touchscreen phones… well… good things could happen!

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Have you seen http://www.yahoo.co.jp/ ? It’s like Yahoo, but from 10 years ago.

    To be fair, though, Yahoo Japan makes mad bank, and Yahoo America is falling apart, so maybe they understand something we don’t :P

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    That’s definitely a great point – I wonder?

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    You just told him Santa Claus isn’t real. How could you?

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    lol, good luck!

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    kekekekeke

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    That’s good to know, thank you!

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I have no idea~ :)

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Yeah! I want that expensive chair…

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Ikr! Gotta get those monks out of their temples and into computer labs.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    It’s aesthetics and what you’re used to, I suppose. I imagine many Japanese people think our design is uggggly ;)

  • http://www.standingmist.com ikari7789

    Great article on this. As I read the first two paragraphs or so, the reason for the amount of text finally clicked haha I’d never thought of it before. I’d also read somewhere that they, meaning Asian cultures in general, prefer a more “compact” view. I think that things could be improving more quickly though since web design has come a far way in the past 5 years or so, and so much more is accomplish-able with so much less work than in the past. Creating a page to display on mobile/PC takes on a fraction of what it once did, and I hope it starts to show. Even with amount of smartphones that Japanese now use, a lot of their websites are even built for mobile online, but can’t even detect a smart phone! It’s a pretty rough spot.

  • Jateku

    I thought It could not get any worse…Then (http://www.yahoo.co.jp) O_O…I’t jest got worse…

    Yahoo Japan probably does better because a lot of Japanese use yahoo.
    I don’t know why though, Google is so much better.

    Also (Bing it) or (Yahoo it) does not have the same catchy ring as (Google it).

  • khakionion

    Amazon will occasionally vomit up a huge image of text, complete with image maps, for their big announcements. You can find bad web design anywhere you look for it.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    That is the result of testing though. I hear those work really well for them!

  • khakionion

    Great point! In that respect: How well/poorly do these Japanese portals and sites work for Japanese visitors? 
    There are plenty of Japanese commenting on this article about how they prefer the “Japanese” focus on functionality over being “too smart” with their design. And plenty arguing the opposite, as well, I should note!

    “そして、オタクもオサレもどっちもキモいという点では変わりない ”

    http://blog.livedoor.jp/dqnplus/archives/1712669.html

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I mean, I think Japanese websites are very usable – extremely usable. Being the snobby person I am, though, I’d also like to think there are ways to make usable websites while still being pleasing to the eyes… Middle ground! All I want!

  • khakionion

    Sure, and the topmost image in your post is definitely not pleasing to the eyes for various, universal reasons. I don’t think, however, that there’s anything particularly wrong with the design of the Nico Nico or Rakuten home pages, though. 

    Were it my site, would it look like that? Nope! But, I think reaching for “middle ground” in a subjective world like visual aesthetics is how we get uninspired stuff. Like you point out, this is a Japanese aesthetic and to appeal to a different taste is to appeal to…well, a non-Japanese taste. :)

  • http://www.tokyowebdesigns.com/ Tokyo Web Designs

     I’m not sure if the HTML and CSS semantics themselves are a barrier, although I take your point.

    But language definitely is a barrier to Japanese web designers keeping up to date with current trends and cutting edge practices. If you can’t directly read industry leading blog sites like A List Apart to find out about new stuff and converse with other designers globally then you are certainly going to be at a disadvantage.

    Case in point, one of the “sea change” events of the last 12 months or so has been the mainstream adoption of Responsive Design, which some people attribute to a seminal article in ALA. http://www.alistapart.com/articles/responsive-web-design/

    Yet how many big websites are there in Japan that use Responsive Design?
    Very very few IMHO.

  • http://www.tokyowebdesigns.com/ Tokyo Web Designs

    I think we should make a distinction between “aesthetics” and “design”.
    What you find visually appealing and what I find visually appealing is a subjective matter.
    But design or more accurately “universal design” should appeal to almost everyone.

    Universal design theory is based on the concept that anyone, regardless of age, abilities or background should be able to navigate, access and learn a website. It’s not just a matter of helping people with disabilities. Its a design approach that should increase the comfort factor for everybody using a site.
    http://designfestival.com/popular-mistakes-in-universal-web-design/

    So while I can understand that some Japanese sites might be looking to copy print advertising styles or trying to achieve a certain tone, I really think they have a lot to learn from modern UI and AI theory.

  • http://www.tokyowebdesigns.com/ Tokyo Web Designs

     that should be UI (user interface) and IA (information architecture) ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/akky Akky Akimoto

    When the Universal design, modern UI and IA are mainly led by English (or Western) speakers, it is not a good idea to assume if ‘the one size fits all’ approach really works everywhere. I agree that finding the least common denominator of what people around the world feel comfortable is a good thing, (and it is also possible that more people will be westernized and prefer those designs in near future) but that is on the middle of the long road. We do not know if the future Universal design would be the same Universal design when, for example, more than half of the active Internet population become combination of Chinese and Indians.

  • Kincaid42

    lol but its the exact opposite when you go to anime websites, the whole site is basically one big huge picture. Maybe because it’s meant for younger people?

    http://medakabox.jp/ 
    http://www.tv-tokyo.co.jp/anime/bleach/ 
    http://www.kurobas.com/ 

  • Vijin

    It seems a bit of a stretch to suggest that 6.1% share by IE 6 is driving Japanese web design. As in, that more or less invalidates the argument. I think you are spot on with the influence of keitai though, and that probably explains the majority of it without any need to bring in IE 6…

  • timey whimey…

    I think I agree with this article.

    Maybe Japanese are so used to simplicity of web designs, and often likes things fast and quick. But the point is, if you want more viewers, go get a better design! Okay, NicoNicoDouga is a very good website. I really love it, really, I do. But if they just re-design it a little (or make it more like Youtube, i dont care) plus add some bigger images, it will look more attractive! Sometimes, my eyes got so blind with that heavy-texted Japanese websites. (.___.

    Just to make it short, the point is:
    – Make it informative
    – Make it more interesting and attractive
    – Images…okay, small at first. But when clicked, I think it’s best to make it fit-to-screen.
    – In total, something in the middle will do. Information and images, all balanced well.

    Each person have their own different preferences and opinions, and I’m not pushing my opinions as well.
    Oh well….

  • nagz

    the typical japanese website looks more 1996ish :)

  • cmm

    Talking in the framework of “Western/Japanese” design reveals how superficial you opinion is. I was surprised that there is a person who thinks in such an empty framework in this 21th century. Why you so 19th century? Haven’t you ever learned how to write reasonable essay at school? It’s a shame even for “westerners” to be introduced in such a superficial understanding about design.

    Anyone can make “looks cool” website as they learn a bit of design. It’s not that hard. It’s nothing but a commodity skill. Of course even you can do it. I guess the designers made those websites had greater skill than you do but didn’t make it “looks-cool” simply because they know better what marketing is than you do. What is hard is to understand the demand and to make a website that actually attracts consumers. Niconico and Rakuten actually did it. The other websites may find it good to make it looks cool. That’s it.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Of course it’s superficial – we’re talking about the way something looks :p

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    But what about the website’s PERSONALITY?!

  • Jerrychi123

    many chinese major websites are waaaaaay more chaotic

  • イブ

    This comment is pretty late, but I’ve had this page on my browser tab for a long time, trying to find the time to really give it a thorough read. Anyway, great article that resonates with me, as a web developer and student of Japanese language and culture. IE6 is the bane of all web developers. I remember when Flash was the hot topic, and I got on-board early. Now I realize it’s best used as small applets within a larger HTML5-based layout. I did go through a period of making full sites in Flash. That was before I was conscious of search engine optimization. It’s weird to think that Japan is behind the West in web development, but I’m living in the bubble of Silicon Valley. Considering the great points you made about the dominance of web-enabled phones in Japan, it makes a lot of sense.

  • http://espo.in/ Jonas

    It may seem like Japanese design is crap, but that’s not really true. Sure, many Japanese sites look like crap, especially the big corporate sites, and mobile sites. There are many reasons why this is, and at the end of the day it makes total sense. They’re trying to attract a very large audience on thousands of different devices and setups, which makes compatibility and user experience a much bigger problem than whether a header should have a gradient or not.

    Another big reason why they look like they do is because it sells, and it sells like butter. The whole advertisement culture in Japan is really something else. It’s screaming, colorful, wacky and in many cases plain ugly. But it sells, and therefore it affects all kinds of media. Personally I often find myself appreciating that and prefer it to sites that are trying to sell and be clean at the same time. Most of the time that just ends up looking half-assed.

    And as a web developer myself, even though I don’t normally use Flash, that’s really not something to bash on. Flash is a really good tool and most of the time you probably don’t even realize when it’s being used. What we see now instead, is web developers (sadly including myself) trying to emulate Flash using other tools that aren’t as developed, and it just doesn’t look as good, it’s not just there yet.

    Lastly, among web designers especially, Japanese web design is actually very well-known. Anyone who has bought a book for web design inspiration should’ve noticed the countless Japanese designs that are, compared to many others, extremely technologically challenging because of the creative thinking that goes on behind it. It doesn’t always add up to something useful, but that’s how you win prizes.

    ;)

  • http://www.twitter.com/christaran Chris Taran

    I still love me some gradients :P

  • Say what~!

    Like your article. Especially with the IE6 and IE7 paragraph.

    As a web designer/code with Japs as customers, they really want IE6 and later on if they find out that the website that you make is not IE6 compatible, they yell!
    To tell the truth, many big companies still use IE6. Its just because their IT people only made their specific intranet sites compatible with IE6 and nothing else. Kinda like the activex only shitty web cams.

  • 太郎 山田
  • Chiisana_Hato

    I use to be an Art Director for an American national newsstand magazine. All those bento box layouts are because some researcher in the late 1980s “discovered” that readers liked their information broken up into small, bite-size pieces – um, just like bento! We had to redesign our layouts and editorial content to meet these new findings. *Sigh* I guess the plague still is running its course.

  • Hide.S

    The other famous Japanese trend is extremely lengthy landing pages which you have to scroll down like 5,000 pixels to get to the bottom.

  • grotesk_faery

    I always see people in Japanese media using flip phones. I know you said the most popular phone now is the iPhone, but what do people that don’t use them use? Do they have smartphones and android, or just the flip phones?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nat-Wel/1477579975 Nat Wel

    Even though web design is an art subject and young Japanese are getting better at typing roman characters. It still comes to pass that most computing manuals are done in English. Korea is in the same boat. It worsens since multiple languages are now done for high technical web sites. 
    For this drawback the web designers above have done a good job. International businesses like Amazon don’t have this problem since they can draw up the best programmers who live nearest to one of their offices.
    In any case, graphical rich sites are not always better as take up considerable bandwidth, an increasing hazard when mobile internet surfing is now more common.

  • http://www.sushi-suzuki.com/ Sushi Suzuki

    As someone who grew up in the East and the West, I would argue that Japanese web aesthetics isn’t stuck in 2003, but has developed in a way Japanese people expect and like.

    I decided to write a much longer response to this article on my blog comparing the information density and aesthetic in Japan v.s. the West.

    I know it’s a little late, but here is it:

    http://www.sushi-suzuki.com/sushilog/2012/05/sense-of-beauty-and-information-density-east-v-s-west/

  • Hatakikomi

    I disagree. Having built sites for a Japanese company for several years they wouldn’t hear of not supporting IE6 regardless of the limitations it forced upon us. To a customer centric company, as many Japanese companies are, 6% seems like a huge portion of potential users to willingly ignore. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cody-Dalton/27704471 Cody Dalton

    Is it bad I saw this articles title and immediately thought to myself:  Rakuten MUST be included in this list.

    It’s awful because it’s generally a fantastic way to get things on the cheap, but my god that website makes me want to gouge my eyes out.  Navigating it is impossible.  You may as well just do it blind…

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    > To make a website work well on phones
    > like this, you need to do a few things:

    Perhaps, then, we are on the brink of a substantial change in this regard.  All the major web browsers have now added support for CSS rules that can be selectively applied based on the resolution of the available area for rendering the page, so you can, for example, tell the browser not display the large images if the page area is less than 900 pixels wide.  I recently implemented some of this for my employer, because the mobile-device usage on our site (www.galionlibrary.org) passed 5% for the first time last quarter, and we felt that it was time to start designing with mobile devices in mind.

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet

    Yeah.. Our kanji site, WaniKani, is built around responsive design. It’s pretty awesome except a few flaws with the concept. One inherit flaw of it is all the unnecessary data that needs to be downloaded and loaded for mobiles users. Why should the mobile user download a high res image (extra data), and take away processing time to be downscaled? And if your site relies on javascript libraries, you have to make sure it works on the mobile side also ;|

  • Gabriel Alejandro Zorrilla
  • Davegallant

    When I first met my Japanese girlfriend, a year ago, she was using IE (ughhhh)… I quickly removed all shortcuts to it and installed Chrome. :-)

  • Carlos

    This is just great. I needed this explanation really bad.

    Keep up the good work!

    Carlos
    Argentina

  • http://twitter.com/arniebal Anand Balsekar

    Interesting and well written. IMHO ignore IE6 even if you lose short term market share. And Flash. HTML5.

  • http://e-accidentlawyers.com accidentlawyers

    Great blog. So many blogs like this cover subjects that can’t be found in magazines and newspapers. I don’t know how we got by 12 years ago with just print media.

  • Danania

    http://designnlogo.com – really great design

  • http://www.facebook.com/ausgeschlachtet Рибэка Хынсон

    but, i PREFER that style of web design. now, here, we have endless scrolling pages that are ridiculously heavy on images that we can’t force to be split into pages [ex: tumblr, deviantart], or comments sections that endlessly let you load more comments [ex: cracked]. we have entire pages done in javascript, and if one element of the design fucks up, the WHOLE PAGE is fucked [pretty much, like, 70% of english websites]. we have sites completely and utterly incapable of supporting COMMON browsers [“Please switch your browser to one of our approved browsers!” i’ve been booted from firefox because the site only handled ie and chrome, blegh. ex: most job apps]. we have sites that are so fucking image heavy, that finding text explaining wtf is going on is nigh impossible [ex: apple and apple imitators]. there’s many more design flaws.

    we have a lot of design choices that, quite honestly, do not make things easier, or better, especially for people who do not have an updated comp. my computer can’t handle endless scrolling comments and/or images, and i’m not the only one who can’t. and honestly, i hate the way western media in general has shifted to match up to apple’s minimalist bullshit. advertising now is almost literally ‘let’s tell you as little about the product as possible, while having a bunch of sensational words tagged on it, and a shitload of images in place of text!’ and it’s about as helpful as using a spoon to cut a steak. tumblr as a site is the most gaudy site i’ve used [you click a video, it doesn’t instastart, it pops up in your fucking face, then you have to close that window to get to the original screen size, then it loads, blah blah blah.] maybe it’s my computer [that can run photoshop cs5 just fine], but i’m pretty sure it has more to do with how shit the web design is.

    and yes, i do like the ads from the 1950s more than today. and no, i’m not that old, i’m pretty young, haven’t even hit 20.

  • bsd_bsd

    What is that song on the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art site? It’s beautiful.

  • Rusubandenwa

    Visual-kei bands have so much 1998 realness going on with their websites. My favorite is that they still use splash pages to tell the user to differentiate between mobile and personal computer AND that the content on both versions of the site are completely different. Typically, the personal computer route is always unfinished and about 6 months out of date.

  • Dave

    Does anyone know the name of the font that the Japanese use when they write in English/Roman? The top photo that says “What place” and “Information gallery”. I’m looking for that old school crooked font look.