Design · Visual Communication

Beneath the Signs. Strategies of Behaviour Prescription and Negotiation of Values in the Communication Design of Tokyo Metro

Tatsuma Padoan

This paper intends to investigate the functioning and efficacy of visual design and social media in everyday urban life, by exploring the strategies of prescription and negotiation of values employed by a particular corpus of subway posters. Since September 1974, the Tokyo Metro subway company has been distributing a series of posters which invites, in a humoristic style, to respect the «good manners» inside its stations and trains in service in the Japanese capital. The name assigned to these adverts is Manner Poster. The three editions from 2008 to 2010 are particularly striking for their irony and visual impact. Produced by the graphic designer Yorifuji Bunpei, they depict narrative situations inside the subway stations and trains, where one or more persons perform, under the astonished eyes of the other passengers, actions considered as «ill mannered». The images actually present paradoxical narrative sequences, visual hyperboles which exaggerate actions considered as impolite, trying to emphasize the negative effects on the other passengers.

However, the analysis of this «subway etiquette» discourse and of its development along the three editions, reveals a particular linguistic and visual differentiation of identity, which points to models of behaviour and sociality very different between each other, according to the Japanese or foreign origin of the passengers to which the poster’s persuasive action is directed. I will therefore try to demonstrate, on the one hand, how the interactions between poster-actors and human actors try to define distinct regimes of political enunciation (Latour 1999), on the other hand, how parodic translations of the Manner Posters – which immediately proliferated on web-sites and magazines in Japan – also lead to modes of negotiation of the values and social bonds prescribed.

Biographical Notes
Tatsuma Padoan (PhD) obtained his doctorate in Languages, Cultures and Societies (Religions and Anthropology of Japan) in March 2011 from Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. He is currently part time lecturer in Cultural Anthropology at the Free University of Bozen/Bolzano, and part time lecturer in Japanese Religions at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, where he is also member of the International Semiotics Laboratory of Venice. His research areas cover the study of ritual – including religious materiality, pilgrimage and ecstatic possession – as well as the study of design practices and the politics of urban space. In terms of methodology, he is particularly interested in the relationship between generative semiotics, linguistic anthropology and Actor-Network-Theory, as a set of models for the practical analysis of local discourses in Religion, Material Culture, and Science and Technology Studies. He has been visiting research student in the Study of Religions at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and research student in Cultural Anthropology at Tokyo’s Keio University, carrying out research activities in this field in Japan.



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