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Tokyo Vernacular

Tokyo Vernacular: Common Spaces, Local Histories, Found Objects

Jordan Sand
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 222
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  • Book Info
    Tokyo Vernacular
    Book Description:

    Preserved buildings and historic districts, museums and reconstructions have become an important part of the landscape of cities around the world. Beginning in the 1970s, Tokyo participated in this trend. However, repeated destruction and rapid redevelopment left the city with little building stock of recognized historical value. Late twentieth-century Tokyo thus presents an illuminating case of the emergence of a new sense of history in the city's physical environment, since it required both a shift in perceptions of value and a search for history in the margins and interstices of a rapidly modernizing cityscape. Scholarship to date has tended to view historicism in the postindustrial context as either a genuine response to loss, or as a cynical commodification of the past. The historical process of Tokyo's historicization suggests other interpretations. Moving from the politics of the public square to the invention of neighborhood community, to oddities found and appropriated in the streets, to the consecration of everyday scenes and artifacts as heritage in museums, Tokyo Vernacular traces the rediscovery of the past-sometimes in unlikely forms-in a city with few traditional landmarks. Tokyo's rediscovered past was mobilized as part of a new politics of the everyday after the failure of mass politics in the 1960s. Rather than conceiving the city as national center and claiming public space as national citizens, the post-1960s generation came to value the local places and things that embodied the vernacular language of the city, and to seek what could be claimed as common property outside the spaces of corporate capitalism and the state.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95698-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiii)
    Jordan Sand
  5. MAP
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  6. Introduction: Rediscovering Tokyo’s Vernacular
    (pp. 1-24)

    The last decades of the twentieth century saw a worldwide efflorescence of public history and preservation. In what Andreas Huyssen has called a “voracious museal culture,” vast numbers of new sites and objects came to be identified as historically significant and were set apart for commemoration.¹ The range of meanings sought in the vestiges of the past expanded, too. Politically, preservation took a populist turn, while commercially, heritage became part of a global industry.

    Tokyo came late to this trend, ostensibly with little material to preserve. Destroyed and rebuilt repeatedly since its founding, the city by the 1970s retained little...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Hiroba: The Public Square and the Boundaries of the Commons
    (pp. 25-53)

    In 1939, as the war in Asia escalated and Japanese authorities increasingly repressed dissent at home, Marxist historian Hani Gorō published a small paperback about Michelangelo. The book opened with a photo and description of Michelangelo’s “David.” Hani portrayed the artist himself as an underdog fighter for justice like the subject of his sculpture. He described Florence’s central Piazza della Signoria, where the “David” stands, in the following way:

    This was the piazza [hiroba] where several thousand representatives of the citizen masses [shimin minshū] of the free city and independent state of Florence gathered in an atmosphere filled with energy...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Yanesen: Writing Local Community
    (pp. 54-87)

    Perhaps no large city in the twentieth century was rebuilt as frequently and on as sweeping a scale as Tokyo. Yet piecemeal development changed the cityscape as profoundly as the catastrophic effects of the Great Kanto Earthquake in September 1923 and the firebombing in March 1945. It took the urban economies, transforming rows of houses into apartment blocks and mom-and-pop shops into commercial high-rises, proceeding unevenly and leaving pockets of older streets and building stock behind. The two contiguous Tokyo neighborhoods of Yanaka and Nezu, located on either side of the boundary between Bunkyō and Taitō Wards, survived much of...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Deviant Properties: Street Observation Studies
    (pp. 88-109)

    Another trajectory away from the politics of the public square and into the everyday city lay through personal appropriations of vestiges of the past found in the streets. Despite the inherent fragmentation of the masses that such a move implied, people could be mobilized into active publics around the personal and the intimate as well as the communal, and rallied to the cause of overlooked, unvalued, and seemingly insignificant things, precisely because they survived, yet to be claimed and given meaning. This chapter examines the popularization of this approach to the city in 1980s Tokyo through a movement called street...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Museums, Heritage, and Everyday Life
    (pp. 110-141)

    Starting in the 1980s, museums in Tokyo began to collect everyday objects and reconstruct everyday scenes of the past. This was a new kind of public investment. It also established a new public commemorative language for Tokyo, built around the everyday and the ordinary. This new public history drew from a longer intellectual tradition of the study of everyday life, which, after 1970, converged with a developing exhibit design industry that made scenes of everyday life one of its specialties. The confluence found fullest expression in the planning and design of the Edo-Tokyo Museum, completed in 1993 (see figure 12)....

  11. Conclusion: History and Memory in a City without Monuments
    (pp. 142-166)

    John Ruskin states the ethos of historical preservation in the epigraph above in stark terms. Presented in this categorical fashion, the imperative to preserve would bring history to a stop, leaving us with an untenable accumulation of detritus. We would have to become nomads to escape it.¹ Of course, Ruskin was arguing primarily for preservation of particular kinds of buildings: the Gothic churches of northern Europe, the stone and stucco palazzi of Venice and Florence, or the ruins of imperial Rome—piles of stone and mortar that had stood for centuries or even millennia. By the end of the twentieth...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 167-200)
  13. Index
    (pp. 201-208)