Aesthetics Wiki

Visual Pollution is the term given to a visual phenomenon that occurs in many major cities, particularly in shopping districts and entertainment hubs. These places are usually cluttered with human activity (like cars or tourists) and are filled with massive amounts of advertisements and chaotic mixes of neon lights and colors.

This type of places are often criticized for their unabashed mass-consumerism, but some people also find it visually appealing and even an iconic aspect of these urban areas. This locations have inspired various modern aesthetics like Cyberpunk and Synthwave because of their maximalistic use of neon lights and futuristic ambients.


New York City[]

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The Times Square in New York City (1898).

The first place to contain Visual Pollution is thought to be the Times Square in New York City. At the time the place was known as Long Acre, and it was a relatively chill neighborhood. However, during the late 1880s, it underwent various transformations to make it more safe and futuristic. New elements were introduced to the Times Square, like electricity, in the form of theater advertisements and street lights[1]. Although it's not like it is today, this means that the typical Visual Pollution style in various cities dates back to over 140 years ago.

This style kept evolving in its appareance. In 1942, after the Great Depression and during World War II, the mayor of New York City (Fiorello La Guardia) made some reforms in the Time Square, including adding more illuminated advertisements and lights in the interior and exterior of the neighborhood.


Asakusa park

Asakusa Rokku (1922).

Visual Pollution is also seen in Japan. Around the start of the 20th century, colorful advertising banners were used to grab attention of visitors of the entertainment districts.

As the country began to experience rapid economic growth after World War II, Japanese businesses started using neon lights to create eye-catching and attention-grabbing signs, and they started using bright colors and bold designs. One of the first areas in Japan to be heavily influenced by this aesthetic was Akihabara, a district in Tokyo that is known for its electronics stores and Otaku culture. This style still holds significant popularity in the major cities of other east Asian countries, including Japan, South Korea, Thailand, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.


Hankoya, an online store that sells Japanese seals.

The aesthetic Visual Pollution had also propagated to early websites in the 2000s in a electronic form of Dollar Store Vernacular. They were filled with long lists of links, large paragraphs of text, buttons, images, logos, and promotions. While this style faded out on Western websites in favor of Minimalism (the opposite of Visual Pollution), it continued to be the predominate style in Asian websites.


Some visuals prominent in Visual Pollution include:

  • Digital billboards
  • Chaotic mixes of neon colours and lights
  • Exaggerated amounts of advertisements
  • Cluttered signals and screens
  • Brand logos
  • Giant statues relating to marketing and brands
  • Excessive amounts of information
  • Mass lighting and electricity
  • Shops relating to mass-entertainment (theaters, cinemas, pop culture shops, etc.)
  • Roads full of people or cars


This type of places in major cities are often criticized because they promote a culture of mass consumerism and are generally extremely harmful to the enviroment, as well as the people who live in these areas. Neon lights create a significant amount of light pollution on the areas, and they can interfere with some people's daily lives: it can make it difficult to sleep around the area, attract massive amounts of tourists that outgrow the locals and affect people with sensory processing disorders negatively. These exaggerated amount of neon lights also require a lot of electricity to function properly, causing worrying damage to the local landscape as well as climate change. In recent years, some cities have taken steps to reduce this phenonenom. For example, in Hong Kong, neon lights are starting to be taken down because its autonomous government has introduced new regulations to promote environmentalism in the city[2].

Real World Destinations[]

  • Times Square, New York City, United States of America
  • Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas, United States of America
  • Breezewood, Pennsylvania, United States of America
  • Niagara Falls, Canada
  • Akihabara District, Tokyo, Japan
  • Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan
  • Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo, Japan
  • Shinjuku City, Tokyo, Japan
  • Shinsekai District, Osaka, Japan
  • Myeongdong, Seoul, South Korea
  • Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
  • Piccadilly Circus, London, England, United Kingdom
  • Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
  • Kowloon Walled City, Kowloon, China (formerly; demolished in 1993)



  • Akira (1988)
  • Blade Runner Series (1982-Present)
  • Black Rain (1989)
  • Bloodsport (1988)
  • Bullet Train (2022)
  • Cars 2 (2011)
  • Cool World (1992)
  • Double Impact (1991)
  • Drive (2011)
  • Ghost in the Shell (1995)
  • Only God Forgives (2013)
  • Pixels (2015)
  • Ready Player One (2018)
  • The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
  • Tokyo Mater (2008)

Video Games[]

  • Cars 2: The Video Game (2011)
  • Cars Race o Rama (2009)
  • Cars Toons Mater's Tall Tales Wii (2010)
  • Cyberpunk 2077 (2020)
  • Duke Nukem
  • Hotline Miami
  • Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days
  • Katana ZERO
  • Neon District RP (ROBLOX)
  • No Straight Roads (2020)
  • Red Steel
  • Shadow Warrior (1997)
  • Sleeping Dogs
  • Streets of Rage
  • Synth Riders
  • VA-11 Hall-A