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Tokyo City: Architecture and Agriculture

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2730 words Published: 7th Aug 2018

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Tokyo city

The archaic capitals of Japan, such as Fujiwara-Kyô (694-710 AD), Nara (710-784 AD), and Kyoto (AD 794-1868) conformed to Tang’s capital grid-planning. However, grounds of defence, the devisers of Tokyo shunned the grid, preferring instead an irregular network of streets encompassing the Edo Castle grounds. Afterwards, several parts of Tokyo were grid-planned.

The history of Tokyo played a significant role in the present architecture of Tokyo city. Tokyo faced two major destructions in its history; first by Great Kanto earthquake and firebomb during the pacific war. After the pacific war Japanese government was bankrupt could not execute citywide redevelopment to support the economy. Instead it embarked on infrastructural development leaving residential and commercial urban development in the hands o local actors. As a result unplanned cities sprang up despite deliberate efforts by the government to plan the city. The city planning and zoning act of 1968 aimed to create a separation between urban and agricultural lands.

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Despite the government of Japan adopting the city planning and zoning act of 1968 with an intention of separation between urban and agricultural lands, this has not been fully realised.. Since the Meiji restoration Japanese cities have eagerly been trying to apply western planning concepts which set a clear demarcation between urban and rural land use. Despite efforts to pursue this goal, urban periphery landscapes with an apposition of segmented agricultural lands and urban land uses has lived through the history of Japanese cities including Tokyo. Agro-activities take place in Tokyo in more than 900ha of land. Setagaya is one of the most agriculturally active Tokyo wards. Some agro-activities take place at the heart of Tokyo city.

Presence of agricultural land in Tokyo city interferes with grid-planning of the city. Some parts of the city are grid-planned while others are not. Le Corbusier likens grid planning to the way a human being walks. Human beings walk on a straight line since they have a goal and know where he is ending to. Man also turns at right angles when he needs to. [1] Therefore the oftenness of cross streets is his own decision with topography having little to do with it especially if it is a flat site. It is stepping the land with streets at right angles with each other is the opening move in settlement planning.

The grid is the most common pattern of urban planning in history although its use was not uninterrupted through history. The grid is recommended as the standard scheme urban solution for different sites. It is also a means for equitable distribution of land as well as easy allocation of land for trading of real estate. Straight through-streets provide defence. The concentration of buildings into blocks as in grid-planning provides defence too.

One common feature with all grids is their orthogonal street pattern. This does not make grids immutable but on the contrary they can curve around irregularities on the ground without betraying its basic logic. In orthogonal street pattern, long streets are straight with short streets joining the long streets at right angle. Structures in Tokyo are organized along wide road and rail network. This is also repeated in the residential areas though in a smaller scale. In the residential areas houses are organized along long lanes (roji) where small shops and restaurants can be found. These lanes are hardly accessible to vehicles.

Existence of coordinated array of town does not ensure and orderly extension of the town grids into the surrounding territories. Town grids can only be extended to the surrounding territory only if the city authorities had the power to oversee development in the suburban regions. As mentioned earlier, after the devastating calamities of Great Kant earthquake and the bombing in the Second World War left Japan government bankrupt. As a result, the government was concerned with infrastructural development leaving the urban development in the hands of local actors. Tokyo’s shimokitazawa neighbourhood is an example of city’s incremental urban development. It emerged from a combination of local liberty and an infrastructural retrofitting by the Japanese government. It grew from a village with rice fields in the periphery of Edo to become and a modern urban cultural and commercial hub. Today shimokitazawa has a village and ancient Tokyo atmosphere. The typology of Shimokitazawa is characterized by little low-rise constructions along a complex network mainly of pedestrian streets, busy ground market activity, and tight community networks. Shimokitazawa is one of the areas of Tokyo city that presents deformed grid.

Organic city

Some parts of Tokyo city can be referred to as organic city. Organic cities grow spontaneously adhering to no master plan, do not enjoy benefit of designers. Alternatively organic city’s growth is dependent on passage of time, the lay of land and the day to day lives of the citizens. The result of these forces is irregular non-geometric with incidences of crooked and curved streets and randomly defined open spaces. [2] Organic city emerges when development is left in the hands of individuals without a governing body subdividing the land before disposing it off to the people.

Spiro agrees with the fact that people have different opinions about organic cities. Some people might chose to find fault with organic city or celebrate its action-packed topography, forthcoming and flexible development of its form, and its culture characterized by communal living. He does not seem to oppose organic cities. He asserts that even planned cities present features characteristic of organic cities. The extent of life in terms of the building’s mass and varying height of buildings marshalled like troops along a city grid can result to picturesque characteristic of unplanned city. Spiro also argues that even the geometrical irregularity of unplanned city is a matter of grade. The streets curve frequently but not canonical. What looks like in orderly arrangement is often a matter of straight streets sections intersecting at random angles, and their linear elements broken with frequent angulated bends. [3] 

According to Spiro planned and organic cities exist side by side e.g. Tokyo and Shimokitazawa most historic towns, mainly those of metropolitan size are puzzles of premeditated and self-generated segments, diversely juxtaposed or interlocked. [4] Organic cities may start as shantytowns on unoccupied land at the remote edges of town, or in centrally located areas that are difficult to build up such as steep slopes, canyons, or garbage dumps.

Shimokitazawa has many narrow passages that are inaccessible to vehicles which give a true sense of adventure as one explores the town on foot. Second hand clothes shops selling miscellaneous items from the 70s and old animated themed toys are popular. Various cultural festivals are held in Shimokitazawa which showcase the cultural wealth of the town. In the month of February, the town of Shimokitazawa if full of festivity. Various plays are performed in eight small theatres during the month long Shimokitazawa theatre festival. The Tengu-Matsuri festival held at the end of January or early February gives a serene and friendly appeal of Shimokitazawa. The lively Mikoshi-Matsuri festival otherwise called the portable shrine festival is held early September.

Organic cities lay both conceptually physically and in the middle of slums and contemporary planned cities. They are a budding environment that increased gradually and spontaneously evolved over generations. Often organic cities are culturally vibrant and creative dependent on local skills and cultural capital. They can provide solutions to challenges facing modern cities such as population density. Organic city are able to support high population density in an environmentally and socially sustainable way. With increase in number of poor people living in degraded urban environments organic cities have potential to shift the paradigm of urbanism. Therefore organic cities should be recognized as a legitimate urban form and developing it from within.

The grand manner

The tree planted streets of Tokyo city as well as its parks contribute to the city’s plan grand manner. Side walks and parkways in the streets of Tokyo city are amazing. The tree- planted sidewalks and parkways give the city a sense of serenity. Some avenues have double rows of trees depending on the width of the sidewalks. For example, on Grand Avenue in South Park where an average 24 inch sidewalk are required, a double row of trees are planted.

Road tree in Japan is thought to date back as the middle of the eighth century when trees were planted along the roads for the welfare of travellers. However, only after Japan opened its frontiers that it started to overhaul and thus turning trees to be part of urban landscapes. Black pine, cherry, maple and other species were planted in Tokyo on Ginza Street in 1873. Exotic trees were first used to line the city streets in 1875 when a ‘black locust’ tree was planted in Tokyo.

However because of poor care most of them dried up. In 1907 the government of Japan embarked on a big project of planting trees along city streets of Tokyo. Ten fast growing trees were selected which included among others Trident maple, Plane tree and Ginkgos. Ginkgos was planted in front of Tokyo’s city hall thus was marked as a street tree in Japan. However this project suffered two major setbacks; the Great Kanto Earthquake that resulted into fires that destroyed more than half the street trees, and bombing of Japan during the Second World War. Tree planting in city streets was part of Tokyo’s reconstruction process. Even to date Ginkgos remains the preferred street tree in Tokyo. Large number of evergreen trees are planted in wide and high-speed expressways to reduce traffic noise in the surrounding residential areas. Trees creating harmony are preferred for expressways passing through undeveloped areas like mountain foothills. Ginkgo tree has been utilized mainly in designs that comprise western landscape characteristics.

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Tokyo National Showa Memorial Park was created in 1983, and sits on a 450-acre parcel of land and Ginkgos forms its allee. The park was created to mark the fifteenth anniversary ascension of Emperor Showa. The place having been occupied by United States Tachikawa military base, the buildings were demolished and hills rebuilt, tree planted and grasses sown to make forests and fields.

The relationship of city to its natural environment

Urbanization process has led to reduction in green spaces and loss of public spaces. He present urban regeneration projects in Tokyo are aimed at converting ex-industry land and shifting land to high rise building areas. These areas relate weakly with the encompassing city areas. Currently nature scarcely exists in Tokyo.

During the Edo Period, samurai residential areas were situated on the high land of the Musashi plateau, while abodes of low caste samurai and tradesmen were situated in the valleys below, making a life space for a variety of living and working areas according to the contour of the land. The Tokyo Bay was visible at a distant from the roads going down from the high land. There were also many places where people could relish the sight of Mount Fuji. Protecting view points of various centres of attraction such as Mt. Fuji is not an important factor in Tokyo city planning. On the contrary emphasis has inclined towards universality rather than the features of the place, and the result is stereotype city space.

Like many historical cities, Tokyo is developed close to the rivers and canals.

Presently, the rivers are separated from the town by perpendicular embankments, with the buildings having their backs to the polluted rivers. Originally the ideal sites for city architecture were river banks with straight access to the water transportation system.

Relationship of the man-made to the natural context

The relationship between manmade and the natural in Tokyo can be described as chaotic. The city plan does not give emphasis to visibility of natural features such as Mt. Fuji. Unlike London, where protecting the perspective of Saint Paul’s Cathedral from several main points across the city is a key guideline for the city planning, Tokyo does not give much consideration to the view of its esteemed feature in the city.

Save for a few parks at the centre of Tokyo, parks and open spaces have reduced compared to those of ancient Edo (Tokyo). Even some of the parks cannot provide the relaxation they were intended because of noise pollution. For example, Uchibori-dori Avenue cuts across the Outer Garden of the Imperial Palace which is next to Hibiya Park. The car noise creates a restless atmosphere within the park. Putting Uchibori-dori Avenue underground, and planting of Japanese black pines would create a large open space area about thirty hectares conducive for events, outdoor stage or sporting events. This would in turn revive the business area in the core of the city which has since lost popularity on holidays.

Urban fabric and monuments

Tokyo city is a unique in that western or modern and ancient city planning is intertwined in the development of the city. Agricultural land is seen in the city as it is historic of Asian cities. Some people view this kind of coexistence as chaotic mainly because Japan government adopted the western style of city planning that makes a clear demarcation between urban and rural areas which Japan has not been able accomplished. However when looked from historic and cultural perspective, it can be understood as serving an important role in the Japanese cities and specifically in Tokyo. The agricultural land sustains their surrounding population.

The urban fabric of Tokyo is often made of a ‘soft’ residential core, qualified by low-rise and thickly built houses, encircled by a ‘hard’ shell of taller and larger buildings along

broad roads or railways. A new generation of needs has led to changes in building types. For example, apartments are seen to be small and their narrow staircase not providing adequate access. This has made people to migrate form apartments for better housing. The originally neat, modern parks and greenways of the apartments have now become jungles of vegetation. Now efforts are directed towards redeveloping the apartments to attract new residents.

Tokyo city has several ancient and modern monuments. In some cases modern and ancient monuments are juxtaposed depicting western and ancient architecture evident in Tokyo city. They also depict the co-existence of western and ancient cultures. An example is Zojoji Temple located next to the Tokyo Tower.

In summary Tokyo city can be described as combining grid and organic city in its urban fabric. The city planning and zoning act of 1968 intended to create a separation between urban and agricultural lands. However this attempt has failed to produce the desired results as agricultural lands are still evident in Tokyo city. This makes Asian cities which have borrowed the European way of urban planning, including Tokyo look disorderly. As a result of combining western and ancient styles of city planning, some parts of Tokyo city are grid planned whereas others not. Although the city may look chaotic it has still been able to maintain a grand manner in its streets and open space. Tree planting along the sidewalks and parkways as well as parks such as Ueno contribute to the city’s grand manner. Also contributing to the uniqueness of Tokyo city is its monuments some of which are juxtaposed both modern and ancient e.g. Zojoji Temple and Tokyo Tower.


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