When I lived in Tokyo I went to this place a few times. I liked it a lot, it seemed to be like a bohemian village in this giant sea of conformity. I understand the economic incentives and the complaints of the baba and oyagi, however it seems that they could find a better way to do things.
I think this is cultural though. I am 100% sure that most older Japanese see little value in this area. I can easily see them thinking this is just a place for strange young people to act badly (similar to how any young urban enclave is viewed by an older more consevative generation)…but especially so in Japan due to its confucianist ideas of the beauty of conformity.
Also as my wife has told me many times in indirect ways, Japanese people tend not to value old things…well at least not old things in Japan. They might fly half way around the world to Italy or France on vacaction to see old Churchs for the archeteture but there are very few old buildings in Tokyo, because they constantly tear them down (well yeah and during WWII they were burned down). My wife said that old things have ghost associated with them and it is better to start fresh. :-O
October 2, 2006
Tokyo Journal Splitting a Hip Neighborhood, in More Ways Than One
TOKYO, Oct. 1 — With its vintage clothing stores, live music clubs and cheap noodle shops, Shimokitazawa is Tokyo’s answer to Greenwich Village, an epicenter of youth culture in one of Asia’s trendiest metropolises.
The neighborhood is popular for its cozy residential feel, drawing hordes of students and young office workers, who regularly throng its maze of narrow lanes and alleys.
Its tiny shops, many in converted houses or low-rise apartments, often bear names that recall a counterculture across the Pacific: the Village Vanguard Diner, Haight Ashbury, Mojo Rising.
But a shadow has fallen straight across the heart of this pulsing neighborhood. In four years, city officials plan to start building an 81-foot-wide thoroughfare that will slice Shimokitazawa in two.
The road has set off a rare battle for preservation in a country where big construction projects have long been welcomed as progress and used to grease the wheels of politics.
The fight pits boutique and bar owners, among them the first bearers of hippie culture to the neighborhood three decades ago, against city hall and older residents who resent the relative newcomers.
In cities from New York to Bucharest, the practice of plowing large roads through urban communities has been widely discredited. But Tokyo is only just beginning to consider the social costs, after decades of covering its medieval moats and rivers with highways, and replacing tile-roofed dwellings with featureless concrete buildings.
“Until now, nobody cared if we destroyed the culture and environment of Tokyo,” said Mikiko Ishikawa, a professor at Keio University here who specializes in urban planning. “People are gradually coming to understand that these things matter, too.”
For many Tokyoites, the charm of Shimokitazawa (pronounced SHEE-mo-kee-tah-zah-wah) lay in the fact that it had escaped such redevelopment. A sleepy residential community on the city’s outskirts, it escaped American wartime bombings. After Japan’s defeat, it sprang to life as a bustling market for United States military surplus foods and clothing.
Another transformation occurred in the 1970’s, when its wooden homes and twisting prewar alleyways attracted musicians, actors and anti-Vietnam War students.
So three years ago, when city officials gathered 1,500 residents and shop owners to announce the $140 million planned road, along with lifting building height restrictions, they were greeted with dismay and anger.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Kenzo Kaneko, 41, an architect who lives here. “They just announced the death of the neighborhood, without asking us what we thought.”
Mr. Kaneko and friends organized Save the Shimokitazawa, one of a handful of opposition groups that quickly appeared and have continued to protest.
On a recent Saturday night, more than 300 protesters — older ones with shoulder-length graying hair tied back in ponytails, younger ones wearing paisley dresses or high-top sneakers and combat fatigues — marched through the neighborhood holding candles.
The marchers gathered in front of a Catholic church, a small underground theater and a strip of closet-size cocktail bars, among the hundreds of buildings the road is set to destroy.
“We came to this neighborhood because it was different and unique,” said Yutaka Oki, 61, who owns a live jazz club he opened here in 1975. “If this road gets built, this atmosphere will be completely destroyed.”
But the project also has many supporters, among them the Shimokitazawa shop owners’ unions, which were founded right after World War II. They hope a broad boulevard will provide an escape route in an earthquake, and make it easier for buses and taxis to run through the neighborhood.
Kuniyoshi Yoshida, a 71-year-old landowner who leads one of the unions, said that as the neighborhood, like the rest of Japan, grows older, residents place a higher priority on safety and convenience. He also said the newcomers had no right to complain, since most have refused to join his union and participate in neighborhood cleanups.
That is not to mention the host of troubles that they have brought, he says: the crowds, graffiti, loud music, drunken revelers urinating on homes.
“They say this road will destroy the neighborhood,” he said. “But we original residents see it as progress.”
Supporters and opponents alike agree the project is the work of the so-called road tribe. These are politicians who use public works to win votes, and lard their campaign chests with construction-related donations.
The government spends $130 billion per year on building roads, said Takayoshi Igarashi, a professor of urban policy at Hosei University in Tokyo. “Roads are still the king of kings in Japanese politics,” he said.
In Shimokitazawa, the road’s leading backer is Noriyuki Kumamoto, the boss of Setagaya Ward, which houses the neighborhood. He has refused to be interviewed by reporters because of the road debate. But at a news conference in June, he said he wanted the road to ensure Shimokitazawa’s vibrancy for years to come.
Urban planning experts say such comments reflect a widely held belief in Japan that new roads and highways only benefit communities.
“We’re not just splitting Shimokitazawa,” said Masahiko Toyama of the ward’s roads department. “We’re adding good things.”
Road opponents are pessimistic about their chances of stopping the project. The highest hurdle, they say, is the reluctance of most residents to speak out.
Of the neighborhood’s 1,500 shops, about 500 have joined a new alternative shop owners’ union that opposes the road. But many other shop owners privately say they are afraid to oppose the road because of longstanding ties to the traditional shop owners’ unions.
Moreover, many say privately that they are conflicted about a project that will also make them rich. Landowners along the road’s path, who have subsisted for years on their tiny shops, now face the prospect of instant wealth as the city is expected to pay top yen for land.
“Many are sitting by silently as the neighborhood dies,” said Masami Kobayashi, a professor of architecture at Meiji University here who has tried to persuade the city to accept less disruptive alternative road plans with no success. “In 10 years, we will regret having done this.”