German
01/01
Text

Although the standard of living in Japan is similar to that in Europe, Japanese cities distinguish themselves from Western metropolises due to their much higher density of buildings/population, their very fragmentary development structures and a highly differentiated mixed use also within individual districts. Tokyo’s traditional structure, which despite damage inflicted during the Second World War still characterizes much of the city, resulted from post-1945 redevelopment that was technically modern but respected traditional subdivision of plots and land use patterns. Due to the economic situation prevailing at the time, reconstruction efforts were modest and pragmatic, such that, unlike what was happening in European cities at the same time, neither a strict function separation nor a systematic loosening up of the residential districts was aspired to. In most cases, property owners chose instead to erect new buildings on the plots lining the narrow streets. The development was therefore decidedly dense, fragmentary and mixed. The qualities of pedestrian-friendliness and urban diversity that defined these settlement structures were not unlike those of the pre-industrial era, though virtually all the building stock originated from the 20th century. Thus, belonging to the special qualities of Tokyo is the fact that traditional neighbourhood structures, in which the rich traditions can be at once recognized, continue to exist even without a historicizing design.
On the other hand, the modernization of the city during redevelopment was only selective and concentrated on infrastructure measures. The areas around the station developed into new business districts, which have been augmented since the 1960s by the construction of large-scale, high-rise office block complexes. Most of these new service clusters are situated right next to traditional areas. Characteristic of Tokyo’s current spatial structure is, therefore, the stark contrast between extremely fragmentary residential areas directly adjoining markedly large-scale transportation and office building projects. Such architectural contrasts make the spatial structure of Tokyo is difficult to comprehend from a Western perspective informed by a sense of geometric orderliness. Nevertheless, the individual areas each have their own, albeit ‘hidden’, neighbourhood structure. Thus, despite the devastation inflicted during the war the fragmentary residential districts exhibit a rural quality, a seemingly traditional affinity of the families for their neighbourhoods. This in turn is characterized by a great sense of responsibility coupled with rigid social control mechanisms operating among the inhabitants.
In terms of everyday use of the inhabitants, this structure means primarily that the city, despite the immense size of many of its subspaces, exhibits distinct small-scale qualities and a high density of activity. Thus, in the inner city districts one finds traditional family-run businesses and services facing the street or even occupying street space itself. In addition, many everyday activities take place in public space or in common facilities that from the flat can only be accessed via public space. Flats in Japan in general, and in Tokyo’s inner city districts in particular, are extremely small and expensive compared to those in Europe, which has resulted in the continuation of a ‘living-outside-the-house’ way of life, despite increasing material prosperity. In Tokyo, more and more functions of everyday life are shifting from the private to the public sphere. As most flats are very small, people rarely cook and eat at home, preferring to make use of the numerous noodle shops, fast food restaurants, sushi bars, tiny stand-up restaurants, etc. Many people also make use of the so-called konbinis (convenience stores) that are usually open around the clock. Sentos (public baths) are popular for bathing, while in laundrettes dozens of comic books are provided for one’s entertainment. Living is spread across the city. Private flats are chiefly used for sleeping and as storage space.  The activities of living are increasingly fragmented such that the inhabitants are becoming urban nomads.

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