January 21, 2011

Genius Loci

Last night I was absentmindedly watching a popular TV show called Bura Tamori (bura means something like...walking around unpurposefully, and Tamori is a famous Japanese comedian in his 60s or almost 70 years old).  The show is widely accredited for the depth of its contents, although the host is a comedian.  He, and a NHK (national TV channel) reporter, and a historian walk around parts of Tokyo with ancient maps, and they come up with theories of how the area had been developed over the centuries.
A boyfriend of my colleague, who is French, loves this show despite his language barrier (according to my colleague). He said that they should make the show in Paris, too.
So, last night, I was watching the show when they were walking around the area where we now have Haneda (Tokyo) Airport.  Right beside the airport site, there is a red historic-looking bridge that we usually have near temples and shrines, a bridge leading to nowhere.  As it turned out, there used to be a major shrine and lively tourist destination on the site.  The bridge used to be connected to a path leading towards the shrine, similar to what we have in Omotesando (leading to Meiji Shrine).
On the shore, there used to be a waterfront resort and a fishery village, too.
Everyone and everything was evacuated by the US Army, being given just 48 hours notice.
I don't mean to embarrase American people here (those people are long dead by now).  But it's just so unthinkable for a Japanese to take down such a big shrine and pour cement over it.  How do you feel if we go to Vatican and destroy it to build a shopping center?
I wonder if that is because people are often insensitive about other people's religion and gods.  Or whether insensitive people are always insensitive, and that perhaps they even build a shopping mall over Vatican.  Or, perhaps it was the War that made them do it.
Nevertheless, I must admit that, without that incident, we would never have a convenient airport right there.  Tokyo's water front area would never have become so ugly, either.  But I use the airport all the time, so I cannot complain.

I also wonder, how much preservation is good, and how much is too much? 

People have reclaimed lands and have made enormous amount of changes to our landscape, historically.  The changes are part of the life and death of cities.  It's not fair to say those Edo-era reclamation works were good but current construction works are not. 
These lands in green (near Tokyo) used to be all water surface until a few centuries back... Image courtesy of: http://suido-ishizue.jp/kokuei/kanto/chiba/ohtone/0102.html

I think it's important for us to build up consensus or a kind of judging standard regarding what are essential to the culture of our cities and what can be changed.  It requires long-term public debates, not so much more academic papers.


Anonymous said...

I think when it comes to war, everyone is blind to the consequences.

It makes me very sad to think of a holy place being taken by the US Government, but it doesn't really surprise me. I'm part American Indian and the US Government took thousands of acres of land from the Indians at one point in our history - killing many on both sides before it was all done.

Of course, the government eventually gave some of that land back and now we have Indian Gaming on those lands. I'm not sure that's much of an improvement, but many would say it is.

Very thoughtful post Meri - thanks for sharing!

Meri said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Kelly. I agree that war skews our perspectives and damage our principles...

We have native people in the north and the south parts of Japan, and we have not treated them well.

It's true that the same things happened uncountable times in the past history all over the world. We just assume and hope that we have learned a great deal from our history and have become a lot better. Seeing that we haven't become any wiser is a little saddening.