Out of Tokyo

100: Redesigning Tokyo
Ozaki Tetsuya
Date: November 11, 2004

RT rececently featured a set of conversations on the theme Redesigning Tokyo, recorded during a series of events of the same title hosted by Kuwasawa Design School. Functioning as the talk sessions' moderator, I had the chance to talk to architect Mark Dytham, architect/editor Baba Masataka, NADiff director Ashino Kimiaki, BBS site "2-channel" webmaster (Nishimura) Hiroyuki, and planning director and "working method researcher" Nishimura Yoshiaki. I'd like to use this occasion to give a brief summary of my five guests' statements, and hope that this will prompt you to visit the respective pages and read all of their interesting comments.


Mark Dytham (vol. 1)
Baba Masataka (vol. 2)
Ashino Kimiaki (vol. 3)
Nishimura Hiroyuki (vol. 4)
Nishimura Yoshiaki (vol. 5)

As a starting point for the discussion, I offered an allegation saying that it’s impulses from outside — foreign cultures, people and products — on the city of Tokyo and the Japanese society in general that urge along reforms. This, however, does not represent my own opinion, but only served as a basis for the conversations, and I didn't exclude the possibilty that, after the five sessions, this suggestion turned out to be true. In the end we didn't really come to a conclusion due to the limited time we had, which is somewhat typical for interesting talk events. Please find below summarizations of each participant’s speech.


The above-mentioned "foreign cultures, people and products", of course, include my talk guests themselves, along with their own contributions to the "redesigning" of Tokyo. British Mark Dytham is one of the "foreign people" here, being an "alien" that causes divergences in the established system. His view of Tokyo and way of dealing with the city’s characteristic mixture of old culture and new technology, the absence of an age- and experience-based hierarchy in his company, and the importance he attaches to humor and fun as fundamental prerequisites for his work show an attitude to work and life that is much different from the predominating approach in contemporary Japan, and most of the rest of the world.


This one can say also about my other four guests. Baba-san has been visiting a number of "converted" buildings on both the American east and west coasts, and based on the examples he studied he is trying to introduce new values and methods that mark a perfect opposite to the squaresville scrap-and-build tradition. Branded by his experiences at bookshop La Hune in Paris when he was young, Ashino-san opened the first considerable store for art books in Japan in the mid 1970s. Hiroyuki single-handedly created the program for his groundbreaking, autonomous/anonymous media when he had "time to spare" during studies in the USA. Finally, Nishimura-san has been picking up sounds at locations scattered around the globe, ranging from natural sounds to city noises, and suggests a unique way of seeing the Internet as an interesting form of "contents" in itself.


Each of the five has been aiming to propose, create and establish something different from existing values and social systems. In many cases hints for these activities can be found in foreign cultures and habits, so one may consider not only Mark Dytham, but all five of them "foreigners" in a way, as they all introduce alternative ideas. Foreign employees that came to Japan after the Meiji Restoration brought with them all kinds of things Western, contributing to the "Europeanization", "civilization" and "prosperity" of Japan. It appears to me that even now, almost 140 years later, this constellation hasn't changed, as it seems as if changes in Tokyo and Japan can only be achieved with the help of pressure from outside. Which would mean that the aforementioned assumption is trye…


During the conversation (vol. 4)

I for one, however, would still like to claim that the above is not correct. During the pre-Meiji period of national isolation — spanning in fact more than 200 years — Japan has cultivated and perfected an original lifestyle. Even those longing for "diversity" had to be content with the "uniformity" of society in a closed country that permitted only a strictly limited amount of people, let alone information from outside. Logically, a community that has been self-contained over a long period necessarily considers everything coming in after an opening "diverse" — an attribute that exists on an equal level with "uniform". In this sense, culture in modern Japan has turned into a culture of "diversity".


In contrast to this, contemporary Japan isn't closed, at least not in a physical way. But there does exist a psychological wall, some kind of superstition in Japan that hinders essential information from outside at getting through. The reason why my five talk guests represent the aspect of "diversity" in this society is that the predominant ideological attitude in this country hasn't changed at all in those 140 years. On the international stage, this "majority" in Japan is actually a minority, as they represent an attitude that is in fact "diverse" from the ideas that nowadays dominate the way of thinking around the world. And since Japan is supposed to be part of this world, this bisection method shouldn't be valid in the first place.


Since 9.11, George W. Bush has proclaimed several times that he would concentrate his efforts on the protection of what he calls "here at home", as opposed to "abroad" or "overseas". This is Mr. Bush’s form of bisection into the "self" and the "other", based on the same kind of narrow-minded thinking. Provided that most Japanese people aren't really happy with the re-election of Mr. Bush, I guess we shouldn't allow his odd view of the world to pervert our own. These days the world outside that of the American president has its own "uniformity" — uniform in that it tolerates different systems of values.

Ozaki Tetsuya / Editor in chief / REALTOKYO