Japan-ness + Gaijin-ness

Critical Explorations in Culturally- Sensitive Holistic Design in Urban Tokyo

  • Brian R. Sinclair University of Calgary
  • Yuki Sinclair University of Calgary


Tokyo is the world’s largest, utmost complex and arguably most livable city. With a metropolitan region housing more people than Canada, Tokyo proves enigmatic – despite overwhelming size it’s walkable, attractive, resilient, safe + dynamic. As a living laboratory for study of Architecture, Planning and Urban Design, Tokyo is second to none. The present research, critically considering & imaginatively exploring pedagogy, culture and competency, focused on an annually-offered Japan-based innovative/immersive study abroad initiative for environmental design graduate students. Urban design is at the core of the threemonth study abroad venture. Lying at the nexus of Architecture & Planning, Urban Design in this amazing city is rich, diverse, creative and highly successful. In a city with daunting complexity quality of life is astounding, richness of milieu is remarkable, and design boldness unparalleled. The term abroad is structured with two intertwined course offerings – design studio and urban theory class. Both studio and theory class engage in intense critical analysis of city and components. The three month period is organized into three related phases: Characterizing Tokyo; Urban Ideation, and Urban Design Intervention. Threading through of these aspects is overarching interest in urban typologies. Key to learning is development of self/world views, including sensitivities around Japan-ness (local) versus Gaijin-ness (foreign) perspectives on design. From a learning perspective few vehicles are as potent as study abroad. The research, focused on development/analysis of a Tokyo graduate studio, proffers an innovative model for studio-based education and offers lessons surrounding potent ways to prepare design students for the realities of more complex, demanding and internationally intertwined futures. The present paper is exploratory in intent and extent – it examines a unique study abroad venture and novel teaching approach that is in many ways speculative, preliminary, unconventional and provocative. The paper reveals key dimensions of pedagogy, encounter and education that open fascinating doors and call for richer and more rigorous study.

How to Cite
Sinclair, B., & Sinclair, Y. (2018). Japan-ness + Gaijin-ness. ARCC Conference Repository. https://doi.org/10.17831/rep:arcc%y464