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Mirrors of Memory

Mirrors of Memory: Culture, Politics, and Time in Paris and Tokyo

James W. White
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Mirrors of Memory
    Book Description:

    As society becomes more global, many see the world's great cities as becoming increasingly similar. But while contemporary cultures do depend on and resemble each other in previously unimagined ways, homogenization is sometimes overestimated. In his compelling new book, James W. White considers how two of the world's great cities, Paris and Tokyo, may appear to be growing more alike--both are vast, modern, dominating, capitalist cities--but in fact remain profoundly different places.

    Tokyo's growth appears particularly organic, with a pronounced austerity and boundaries far less clear than those of Paris, which has been planned and manipulated constantly. Paris has a thriving center and a noticeably more contentious relationship with its nation, and its own suburbs, than Tokyo does. White explores how the roles of cities and urbanism in each society, and the balance between nature and artifice, account for some of these differences. He also examines the role of authority in each location and considers the way catastrophes, such as war, alter a city--as well as the role fear plays in a city's construction.

    While the author acknowledges that Tokyo is more physically fluid and superficially chaotic than Paris, he also demonstrates that it has an invisible order of its own (including a center that, contrary to most assumptions, is not empty at all). White depicts a Tokyo that relies less on the monumental, and is less influenced by government, than most cities in the West. Where the culture of Paris emphasizes clarity, exclusion, and marginality, the public spaces of Tokyo express ambiguity, inclusiveness, and impermanence.

    In the end, White makes us reconsider which city better deserves the name "City of Light." Nonetheless, he warns, several factors may combine to discourage Tokyo's international ascendance and even to threaten the future of provincial Japan. Thus it may be Paris, paradoxically, that is better poised to improve both its own position and its country's in the years ahead.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3079-4
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-26)

    A Parisian in Tokyo, or a Tokyoite in Paris, will find much there that is familiar. Huge cities, embedded in yet bigger metropolitan regions, both are busy, vibrant, clearly prosperous, stimulating, and at the cutting edge of modernity, or postmodernity. Both are capitalist cities, brimming with consumer goods and leisure opportunities; both are “global cities”: cosmopolitan nodes in the web of global commerce, communication, human movement, finance, and corporate governance. Both are dominant, their countries’ capitals and largest cities by far, and home as well to disproportionate shares of their nations’ educational, economic, and cultural resources. They have long been...

    (pp. 27-43)

    In this chapter, I spin out descriptively some of the impressions offered in the introduction. Most of them will not surprise those who have visited either Tokyo or Paris, although most visitors will also be able to cite exceptions to the differences between the two cities. So can I. As noted in the introduction, anything visible in or said of Tokyo can probably be seen in or heard about Paris as well. Many of these observations might also strike one as self-evident, and indeed, many are. But why are they what they are, and why do the cities differ?


    (pp. 44-78)

    Studies of the origins, developmental trajectories, and contemporary shapes of cities are legion. Politics, economics, and religion dominate the discussion, and they certainly play a role in any effort to understand the differences between Paris and Tokyo. But by themselves those three are unsatisfying, partly because each begs further questions of origin and evolution. Other, more diffuse forces have shaped these cities as well. However much any such factors have played a role in shaping either city, no single one will have dominated; some complex of influences has been at work. Even ifallof these factors have played a...

    (pp. 79-103)

    In addition to the overall impressions gained from a walking tour of Paris and Tokyo, different parts of the cities appear different in form and function, and in the minds of the citizens as well. Four aspects of the centerperiphery continuum strike one most sharply: differences in the city centers; the differing clarity of the edges of both the city and the metropolitan region; the treatment and perception of these edges, or “margins”; and the extent of divisions within the city.

    Tokyo was famously described by Roland Barthes in Empire of Signs (1982) as having an “empty center,” occupied by...

    (pp. 104-131)

    Paris, far more than Tokyo, has been the plaything of its rulers, a canvas upon which national goals and personal egos have been brushed with broad strokes. But why might this be so? Both Japan and France have often had regimes which have guided, regulated, and shaped society and economy. Why might the city—the capital, even—have escaped the manipulative inclinations of successive Japanese governments? Or has it? Japan has certainly seen splurges of city planning. Has the backsliding after every burst reflected lack of sustained official interest, or have there been countervailing forces which have defeated regimes intent...

    (pp. 132-150)

    Strolling along the wide plazas of Paris, one can admire the arches, statues, and souvenirs of conquest and read the city’s history in the commemorative structures in which it is so rich. And, reading Western literature on monuments, one feels that, of course, this is how a capital city should be: “A city is not transformed simply because one modifies its streets and squares. It is transformed when great monuments are built in its bosom. These radiate in successive waves across the city—like a pebble which, falling into a lake, provokes concentric ripples—to modify its appearance and its...

    (pp. 151-180)

    This tour of Paris and Tokyo has been thus far literally an ego trip: I have recounted, and tried to interpret, some of the visual characteristics of the two cities as a visitor might see them. But how these cities have grown has been determined by how others see them. There is more to form than topography, technology, war, disaster, and diplomacy; more to centerperiphery contrasts than walls, religion, and authority; more to manipulation than culture, resources, and power; and more to monuments than legitimacy, elitism or populism, or cultural conceptions of space. When one stops walking and sits down...

    (pp. 181-208)

    Paris and Tokyo not only look different; not only are they regarded differently by inside and outside observers; they also get along differently with the world around them. My initial impression is that all of Paris’s relationships—with the French nation, the state, and its own suburbs—are more problematic than is the case in Tokyo. For Paris, these relationships have historically been frequently negative and occasionally intensely hostile, and both they and their less fraught Japanese analogues have arguably had implications for how the shapes of the two cities have evolved.

    One might propose political, economic/demographic, and psychological reasons...

    (pp. 209-230)

    A city mirrors its past. Sometimes—especially in the enduring center of Paris—it looks more like its crystallization. The center of Tokyo looks more kaleidoscopic. Both impressions are misleading. The past is fluid —the French Revolution and the Meiji Restoration, for example, are shape-shifters—and even if the bricks and mortar do not change, their meaning—and hence the essence of the city—does. But neither the past nor the present is entirely up for grabs. The city’s past matters, and it can be seen systematically in the form and functioning of today’s city, both in what is there...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 231-258)
    (pp. 259-274)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 275-286)