Part 2 in PDD’s cultural observations in Japan series: Cleanliness | PDD

Part 2 in PDD’s cultural observations in Japan series: Cleanliness


on December 15 2011

PDD Designer, Researcher and unofficial in-house Visual Ethnographer, James Steiner, recently went to Japan working on a project for one of our Asian clients. In what will be a three piece blog series, we will look a bit closer at some of the cultural distinctions that are manifested in the everyday design of Japan.

In our post last week, we talked about Japan as the world’s efficiency powerhouse. This can easily be reflected in its approach to cleanliness as well. Cleanliness transcends hygiene here. Religiously, it is for most people either associated with morality (Buddhism) or purity (Shintoism). In other words, cleanliness is as much a part of the Japanese respect of the environment and personal well-being as it is about their spotless trousers, clean streets and sanitary precautions.

As shown in the top picture, it is not an unusual sight to see pavements being cleaned manually. What the picture also highlights, however, is the personal aspect of cleanliness, namely the worker’s hygiene mask (mostly used to protect others from people’s own bacteria). From the arrival hall in the airport to the city’s many ATMs, the endless attention to banishing bacteria is visible everywhere.

The ‘disinfection’ door mat below is one of the first things you will see in Japan when arriving at the airport. With designated disinfection and health rooms in the arrival area, Japan immediately comes across as a hygiene- and cleanliness-centred society.

Japan pt 2 Cleanliness disenfection

Japan pt 2 Cleanliness Disenfection 2


The picture below shows one of the city’s traffic inspectors. Besides from being very polite and effective, it is worthwhile noticing his white gloves. Like with many things in Japan, the colour white is often used to give the impression of things being new, sterile, pure and clean.

Japan pt 2 Cleanliness Officer white gloves

The prevalence of white seat covers that can be seen around the city, especially in the form of lace, functions as a protection for surfaces and a visual reassurance of cleanliness.

Japan pt 2 Cleanliness Lace cover

Another example shows that even Tokyo’s parking meters can be given a sense of purity and cleanliness with the use of white. Unlike the greasy and vandalised parking meter of London, this one almost has a ‘friendly face’ to it.

Japan pt 2 Cleanliness Parking Meter

All photos ©James Steiner, PDD Group Ltd.