pdf Download PDF

Reviewed by
Japanese Capitals in Historical Perspective: Place, Power and Memory in Kyoto, Edo and Tokyo. Edited by Nicolas Fiévé and Paul Waley. RoutledgeCurzon, London, 2003. xiii, 417 pages. $65.00.

Japanese Capitals in Historical Perspective includes nine papers originally presented at the triennial meeting of the European Association of Japanese Studies convened in Budapest in 1997 and five additional essays solicited after that gathering. The editors divide the 14 chapters into three parts. Historical chronology drives the arrangement so that the volume begins with the construction of castles in Kyoto during the Age of Warring States and concludes with contemporary efforts to preserve urban landscapes and historic buildings. In addition, Nicholas Fiévé and Paul Waley jointly have written an introduction that provides a historical overview of Kyoto and Edo-Tokyo, and Waley comments on several of the book's main themes in a brief conclusion.

Despite the book's title and the arrangement of its parts and chapters, the volume is not intended to be a systematic or conventional history of the two cities. As the editors themselves point out, the contributors include five architectural historians, a practicing architect, a geographer, a literary historian, an anthropologist, a historian of planning, a planner, a professor of engineering, and, indeed, even a historian or two. What pulls this assorted body of specialists together, according to the editors, is a shared appreciation "of the spatial composition of cities and the intricate interplay between power as the arbiter of spatial forms, between memory and the representation [End Page 143] of spaces and their designation as place, and between places caught between a past preserved in their form and a future seeking to fix new forms" (p. 2). Appropriately, then, the three subdivisions of the book bear the titles "Power and the Spatial Imprints of Authority," "Memory and the Changing Passage of Space," and "Place Between Future and Past."

Editors of anthologies always face the special, and sometimes daunting, challenge of coaxing from scholars, whose interests and interpretive impulses may run in vastly different directions, essays that will address common themes and then of molding the assemblage of diverse contributions into a book that will amount to something more than the mere sum of its parts. In that regard, well-conceived collections of essays can offer path-breaking interpretations made more powerful by their joint endorsement, present a wider range of perspectives and insights than is normally found in the ordinary monograph, advance a multiplicity of novel modes of analysis and inquiry, and encourage younger scholars to undertake research in areas that might otherwise have escaped their attention. No one book can be everything, and, regrettably, although perhaps inevitably for a volume as complex and large as this one, not every essay rises to the highest standard. Nevertheless, taken in its entirety, Japanese Capitals in Historical Perspective is an admirable success.

While no startling new construal of the historical evolution of Kyoto and Edo-Tokyo emerges from this volume, several authors elaborate upon important lines of interpretation that have emerged in recent years. In his fluent "Metaphors of the Metropolis: Architectural and Artistic Representations of the Identity of Edo," William H. Coaldrake traces shifts in cultural power as the Age of the Samurai gave way to the Age of the Commoner. Edo, Coaldrake writes, was "a state of mind as well as the physical focus of the Tokugawa state" (p. 129). Accordingly, the founders of the shogunate relied on architectural metaphors to buttress their claims to political authority. In this analysis, the great construction projects of the late sixteenth century and early seventeenth-Edo Castle and the "sumptuous palaces" within its walls, the Tokugawa family mausoleums at Shiba, temples such as Kan'eiji, and, indeed, the entire morphology of the city and its built environment-provided both "psychological reinforcement and ritual settings for the enactment of shogunal government" (p. 131). By the middle of the seventeenth century, however, the Tokugawa regime had secured its power base and "the political imperative for grand architectural metaphors to adorn the city had passed" (p. 134), so that the shogunate did not restore the castle's imposing donjon after it was destroyed by fire in 1657.

Concurrently, the merchant and artist statuses began to claim Edo as their own. In particular, in Coaldrake's language, the townspeople employed ukiyo-e as "a vehicle for creating a new metaphor for the city of Edo, replacing the official metaphor of benign and omnipotent rule with a metaphor [End Page 144] of the urban good life in a city devoted to the pursuit of pleasure" (p. 144).As an example of this commoner assertion of cultural dominance, Coaldrake summons to the witness stand Hiroshige's famous print Shichū han'ei Tanabata matsuri (The city flourishing, Tanabata festival), which depicts Edo from the vantage point of a merchant neighborhood and relegates the elite built environment to the far background. "There is no question," Coaldrake concludes, "as to whose city is flourishing in this summertime celebration of the reunited celestial lovers, with the castle inseparable but subsidiary to the celebrations of the townspeople" (p. 144).

Paul Waley's eloquent contribution, "By Ferry to Factory: Crossing Tokyo's Great River into a New World," takes up questions about collective memory, another topic recently in vogue. As Edo became Tokyo, industry spread across the cityscape, and iron bridges replaced wooden ferries as the primary means of crossing the Sumida River, Waley argues, writers such as Nagai Kafū and Akutagawa Ryūnosuke employed ferries as a trope for "a cultural landscape undergoing a wrenching process of change" (p. 208). Plying their way back and forth across the river that occupied an important place in the artistic imagination of old Edo, the ferries evoked for Meiji authors a nostalgic sense of a treasured past that was rapidly disappearing. "Railways take the emotion out of travel for people born in the old era," Kafū lamented, and "bridges deprive you of the gentle emotions of ferries" (p. 228). As Waley insightfully concludes, what was being mourned in Kafū's literary oeuvre was the passing of an entire way of life, symbolized not by changes in government codes or religious beliefs or modes of economic endeavor but, rather, by changes in the cultural landscape.

The Coaldrake and Waley chapters, together with other contributions on collective memory by Fiévé ("Kyoto's Famous Places: Collective Memory and 'Monuments' in the Tokugawa Period"), Jilly Traganou ("Representing Mobility in Tokugawa and Meiji Japan"), and Mikako Iwatake ("From a Shogunal City to a Life City: Tokyo between Two Fin-de-siècles") inspire the reader to ponder anew a historical question of considerable import: how should we interpret as well as imagine the linkages between past and present? The literary grieving for the past described by Waley suggests that for many Japanese of the time, as well as for more contemporary proponents of modernization theory, a "premodern" Edo was transformed from the outside by Westernization and industrialization in a manner that relentlessly destroyed much of the past. The celebration of commoner culture portrayed by Coaldrake, however, is more attuned to the contrasting view, proclaimed in the writings of historians such as Ogi Shinzō and Takeuchi Makoto and seen on prominent display in the Edo Tokyo Museum, that stresses continuities and maintains that developments that took place indigenously before 1868 prepared the way for Edo's evolution into Tokyo.

If some authors compel a reconsideration of longstanding issues, others [End Page 145] feature modes of analysis and inquiry not customarily found in English-language coverage of Japanese cities. Collectively, the chapters by Murielle Hladik ("Time Perception, or the Ineluctable Aging of Material in Architecture"), Carola Hein ("Visionary Plans and Planners: Japanese Traditions and Western Influences"), Yamasaki Masafumi ("Kyoto and the Preservation of Urban Landscapes"), and Kinoshita Ryōichi ("Preservation and Revitalization of Machiya in Kyoto") offer a wealth of information about urban planning and advance thoughtful explanations about why a country that had not done so traditionally began to preserve its memories in architectural monuments. Many readers will share my surprise that the Meiji government issued the first legislation designed to preserve Japan's architectural heritage as early as 1871. Four later codes, implemented between 1897 and 1975, intensified the state's oversight and control of "cultural property" and expanded the definition of what constituted the nation's heritage to include not just buildings but also places of memory as well as picturesque, historical, and natural sites. In addition, local officials in Kyoto, Kanazawa, and several other cities have passed strict zoning ordinances and established special preservation districts to protect traditional cityscapes.

A tough regulatory framework and good intentions, however, did not prove effective in stemming the rapid modification of old urban landscapes and the destruction of traditional architecture at the end of the twentieth century. As Yamasaki and Kinoshita explain in the final two chapters, land speculation, steep inheritance taxes, the substitution of nondegradable building materials for wood, an anticonservation ethos on the part of ambitious planners and developers, and a host of other factors took a toll on the architectural rhythms of Japan's cities and transformed their physical appearance. "The process of conservation," Yamasaki concludes, "is beset with obstacles because the basic premise of social activity still rests on development-oriented schemes" (p. 366). Kinoshita is more blunt, and even more pessimistic: while conceding that "modernization is both important and undeniable" (p. 383), he also argues that the postwar economic boom and unchecked development have brought Kyoto to "the verge of extinction as a historic city" (p. 367). The thoughts expressed in the concluding chapters, which in places read more like a call to arms than dispassionate scholarly analysis, echo the laments of Nagai Kafū and Akutagawa Ryūnosuke and suggest that each generation must negotiate anew the release of the past and acceptance of the future.

Fiévé and Waley deserve high marks for crisp editing; very few typos or other infidelities mar the text, and the translated chapters read smoothly, as if they originally had been written in English. Readers will appreciate the volume's extensive glossary and the references, in essence suggestions for further reading, that are appended to each chapter. More than 70 illustrations and maps enrich the text and help drive home the points being made [End Page 146] by the individual authors (although missing macrons and the frequent use of circumflexes instead of macrons in the maps can be disconcerting).

The editors earn a final tip of the hat for assembling a set of essays that crosses the Great Divide of 1868. Hopefully, this innovative approach will stimulate budding scholars to undertake more research on Japanese cities in the early modern and Meiji periods. It is not merely that "few historians have been ambitious enough to attempt to tell a story that straddles the change of regime," as Fiévé and Waley note (p. 1), but outside of Japan, embarrassingly little work on either the Tokugawa or Meiji period has appeared in recent years. One encouraging sign is that several contributors to this volume are in the early stages of their careers, and we can anticipate learning more from them in the years ahead. [End Page 147]

James L. McClain
Brown University
James L. McClain

James L. McClain is a professor of history and East Asian studies at Brown University. He is author of Japan: A Modern History (W. W. Norton, 2002) and is doing research on the Gion festival.