Barrie also presents a list of key phrases for understanding the Western city/Japanese city dichotomy:

  • patchwork (against network)
  • horizontal (more than vertical)
  • piecemeal (versus integrated)
  • decentralized (rather than centralized)
  • shifting and cloud-like order (rather than fixed and clock-like)
  • temporary (versus permanent or even eternal)
  • flexible (more than fixed)
  • content (against physical context)
  • vague (as opposed to clear) boundaries between object (building or city) and surroundings
  • areal (over linear and sequential) organization
  • fragmentation (over integration)
  • disconnection (over connection)
  • transformation and metamorphosis (over the static or unchangeable)
  • autonomy (over interdependence) of parts
  • attention to details and fragments before wholes (more than wholes before parts)
  • the flexible and indefinite (over the fixed and finite)
  • superimposition and co-existence of unlike parts (over compromise and integration)

Kansugibashi - Hiroshige (1857) According to Barrie, this print helps summarize how the urban space is traditionally conceived in Japan: fragmented, complex, with a multitude of activities taking place. The framing, Barrie asserts, is also deliberately ambiguous, avoiding any one central subject

AuthorChris Hamby

Japanese cities (right) tend to have multiple "centers" spread out over wide distances. The traditional Western city (left) tends to have a more dominant central coreIn understanding Japanese cities, we carry Western preconceptions of how cities are shaped and read. Barrie Shelton explores changing perceptions of cities like Tokyo through Western eyes over the course of the twentieth century. 

We see a shift, both in Western and Japanese planners and architects, from condemnation of the "chaos" of Japanese cities to a more subtle understanding of how these cities function. 

Western cities tend to have skylines which concentrate towards a central business district or downtown. In cities like Tokyo, smaller, quieter residential areas are bordered by high rise buildings on busy streets. These 'shells', rather than peripheral location, give these neighborhoods relative tranquilityIn particular, there are key distinctions in the way space is organized. Gunther Nitschke, in 1966, noted that space in Japan is not formed by compositional elements, as in the West, but more often through signs and symbols, and the current human use of the space. 

Jinnai writes that the open spaces of a bridge crossing often formed central public space in traditional Edo, and these spaces are often still in existence today. These open spaces were places for gathering, as opposed to the often closed and sharply defined squares of old European towns.This leads towards a more flexible urban space. Kisho Kurakawa uses the metaphor of tree versus rhizome when comparing Western and Japanese cities. Fumihiko Maki creates the useful dichotomy of 'clock' versus 'cloud.' The clock may be represented by a traditional Western city: the relation of parts to the whole are systematic - the buildings relate to the street which relates to the neighborhood which relates to local landmarks - and so on. The cloud may be represented by cities like Tokyo (Maki simply defines them as modern cities) where individual pieces of the city find an unstable equilibrium. For Maki, the cloud city is extremely adaptable and constantly changing. The clock city, while perhaps more beautiful, will be locked in stasis and have much more difficulty adapting to changes demanded of a modern city.

AuthorChris Hamby
Categoriesreadings, tokyo

While the previous readings downplayed the influence of the local community on the city development process,Tanaka points out that, at least in her case study, participatory planning in Tokyo is lacking because it leaves out important community groups, the machizukuri, who already consider and take action on wider planning issues.

In her study of Komae City, a suburban city just outside the 23 wards, the city government took action in the early nineties to include citizens in the planning process, part of a larger change in the Japanese planning code enacted in 1992. While it was an early attempt at participatory planning, it is noteworthy that existing community groups are largely not consulted, rather the planning agency reached out to individuals. 

While community groups may not be entirely representative (Tanaka acknowledges that chounaikai, or traditional neighborhood groups, skewed toward the elderly and landowners), machizukuri, which are a relatively new phenomenon, grapple with larger planning issues and are ideal community members for planning outreach.

AuthorChris Hamby
Categoriesreadings, tokyo

The Tokyo region experienced massive growth during the twentieth century, and Okata and Murayama explore some of the consequences of rapid expansion without strong planning. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government did not enact strong planning laws until the 1960's, and even afterward development was haphazard and very often under served by urban infrastructure. It's important to recall that while sprawl poses a large problem for Tokyo, the framework of sprawl used by North American planners should not be employed. 

Most new construction was transit-oriented development - Tokyo's new suburbs were largely not populated by automobile commuters. And unlike the United States, Tokyo (and Japan overall) is currently undergoing a rapid retraction as the population begins to shrink and younger people move closer to the inner city. This puts pressure on the older single family homes in the inner wards to develop high-rise manshons which strain the already thin layer of infrastructure and open space of the neighborhood.

This type of vertical sprawl (for lack of a better term) appeared to pose a significant issue for inner-city Tokyo residents, as neighborhood groups found themselves ill-equipped to take on the real-estate industry. Battles over new developments go beyond simple NIMBY-ism, as lax planning laws and recent deregulation allowed for construction that was not only out of scale, but which would definitively change the neighborhood's population and living conditions. This, at least, seemed clear from Fuji, Okata, and Sorenson's study.

While these new high-rise developments are disruptive, it appears that the problem stems from these issues of lax planning in the past. It is because development occurs lot-by-lot and that new neighborhoods were built almost informally that we see these conflicts today. It is because neighborhoods are so under served by open space and other community facilities that an influx of young residents may be a concern. 

I liked Okata and Murayama's conclusion to their work:

Mixed use and vibrant looking vernacular urban places, often praised by European and American planners and urban designers, are merely incidental results of market economy and loose land use/building regulations and are actually vulnerable in many ways.

So while the Tokyo Metropolitan Government appears to be ahead of the national government in planning issues, neighborhoods in Tokyo will continue to be subject to the whims of the real estate industry. I'll try to suppress my own USA-centric understandings of planning while I'm in Tokyo, but these readings gave me the impression that planning as a profession has its work cut out for it in Japan.

AuthorChris Hamby

While I found myself disagreeing with much of Roland Barthes' Empire of Signs (it appears to come at the beginning of the height of Western fascination with the "Japanese Way"), I very much enjoyed the essay.

In particular, I was interested Barthes' notion that Tokyo resists printed interpretation, instead relying on orientation on the ground and continual experience. Just coming off of the fantastic Seeing Like a State, I wonder about how a large city, the capital of a wealthy and highly organized country, could resist the simplifying and codifying that one would expect to take place during periods of intense modernization. I imagine that the Japanese state has devised its own, less obvious system of control and information gathering that serves its needs in this city. I'm inclined to believe that the apparent chaos of a "city without addresses" is a superficial gloss on what is in reality a well organized system.

All the same, it does appear that neighborhoods in Tokyo support and rely on local expertise, and this quotation from the essay captured my imagination:

The inhabitants excel in these impromptu drawings, where we see being sketched, right on the scrap of paper, a street, an apartment house, a canal, a railroad line, a shop sign, making the exchange of addresses into a delicate communication in which a life of the body, an art of the graphic gesture recurs: it is always enjoyable to watch someone write, all the more so to watch someone draw: from each occasion when someone has given me an address in this way, I retain the gesture of my interlocutor reversing his pencil to rub out, with the eraser at its other end, the excessive curve of an avenue, the intersection of a viaduct...

AuthorChris Hamby

Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, in Void Metabolism, asserts that in order to understand the current condition of the Tokyo neighborhood, one must understand the cycle of housing. Due to various economic, legal, and social forces, houses grow smaller as lots become subdivided and land prices rise. 

Neighborhoods may then be made more readable by attempting to discern the "generation" of a site. This applies to commercial neighborhoods as well as residential. What at first appears a jumble of styles and sizes becomes more clear.

This pressure, he continues, forces buildings to completely fill their potential envelopes, stifling outdoor life and creating buildings which simply "fill in the gaps." For the next generation of housing, Japanese architects should strive for three conditions:


  • Bringing people from outside of the family back inside the house
  • Increasing opportunities to dwell outside the house
  • Redefining the gaps


AuthorChris Hamby

Despite the small lots, the houses are invariably detached and line up side-by-side with a narrow gap between them. In Japan, this is due to an ordinance stipulating that only one structure can be built on a lot, and a civil law that requires the exterior wall to be set 0.5 meters back from the edge of the lot. Though the size of the houses is the same in a subdivision, there is a vast range of subtly different colors and shapes. Hiroshi Naito has described this type of landscape as "spineless," but a subdivision that has done its utmost to express its individuality within plots of land of the same size is indicative of the fact that an egalitarian civil society and a functioning democracy exist in Japan. Yet, at the same time, within this standardized community, people remain divided and isolated.

from Tokyo Metabolizing

AuthorChris Hamby
Categorieshousing, tokyo

I am travelling as a student with the Pratt Programs for Sustainable Planning and Development to Tokyo, Japan between the dates of May 24th and June 10th, 2012.

While in Tokyo, we will be learning about physical planning as it is practised in Japan as well as researching aspects of public space and how it is used.

My group will examine formal aspects of Tokyo public space, and I hope to use this blog to record my experiences and help serve as a living notebook for our work while in country and in the follow up work we'll undertake over the rest of the summer.

AuthorChris Hamby