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Tokyo Vernacular

Common Spaces, Local Histories, Found Objects

Jordan Sand

Publication Year: 2013

Preserved buildings and historic districts, museums and reconstructions have become an important part of the landscape of cities around the world. Beginning in the 1970s, Tokyo participated in this trend. However, repeated destruction and rapid redevelopment left the city with little building stock of recognized historical value. Late twentieth-century Tokyo thus presents an illuminating case of the emergence of a new sense of history in the city’s physical environment, since it required both a shift in perceptions of value and a search for history in the margins and interstices of a rapidly modernizing cityscape. Scholarship to date has tended to view historicism in the postindustrial context as either a genuine response to loss, or as a cynical commodification of the past. The historical process of Tokyo’s historicization suggests other interpretations. Moving from the politics of the public square to the invention of neighborhood community, to oddities found and appropriated in the streets, to the consecration of everyday scenes and artifacts as heritage in museums, Tokyo Vernacular traces the rediscovery of the past—sometimes in unlikely forms—in a city with few traditional landmarks. Tokyo's rediscovered past was mobilized as part of a new politics of the everyday after the failure of mass politics in the 1960s. Rather than conceiving the city as national center and claiming public space as national citizens, the post-1960s generation came to value the local places and things that embodied the vernacular language of the city, and to seek what could be claimed as common property outside the spaces of corporate capitalism and the state.

Published by: University of California Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii-vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xii-xiii

This short book took a long time to write. Along the way, it changed from autobiography to anthropology to history. While I was studying architecture history at Tokyo University in the mid-1980s, I rented a house in Yanaka, not far from the Hongo campus, and became involved in a local preservation movement that ...

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Introduction: Rediscovering Tokyo’s Vernacular

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pp. 1-24

The last decades of the twentieth century saw a worldwide effl orescence of public history and preservation. In what Andreas Huyssen has called a “voracious museal culture,” vast numbers of new sites and objects came to be identifi ed as historically signifi cant and were set apart for commemoration.1 The range of meanings sought in the vestiges of the

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1. Hiroba: The Public Square and the Boundaries of the Commons

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pp. 25-53

In 1939, as the war in Asia escalated and Japanese authorities increasingly repressed dissent at home, Marxist historian Hani Gorō- published a small paperback about Michelangelo. The book opened with a photo and description of Michelangelo’s “David.” Hani portrayed the artist himself as an underdog fi ghter for justice like the subject of his ...

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2. Yanesen: Writing Local Community

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pp. 54-87

Perhaps no large city in the twentieth century was rebuilt as frequently and on as sweeping a scale as Tokyo. Yet piecemeal development changed the cityscape as profoundly as the catastrophic effects of the Great Kanto Earthquake in September 1923 and the firebombing in March 1945. It took the form seen in many other market-dominated ...

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3. Deviant Properties: Street Observation Studies

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pp. 88-109

Another trajectory away from the politics of the public square and into the everyday city lay through personal appropriations of vestiges of the past found in the streets. Despite the inherent fragmentation of the masses that such a move implied, people could be mobilized into active publics around the personal and the intimate as well as the ...

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4. Museums, Heritage, and Everyday Life

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pp. 110-141

Starting in the 1980s, museums in Tokyo began to collect everyday objects and reconstruct everyday scenes of the past. This was a new kind of public investment. It also established a new public commemorative language for Tokyo, built around the everyday and the ordinary. This new public history drew from a longer intellectual tradition of the study of everyday life, ...

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Conclusion: History and Memory in a City without Monuments

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pp. 142-166

John Ruskin states the ethos of historical preservation in the epigraph above in stark terms. Presented in this categorical fashion, the imperative to preserve would bring history to a stop, leaving us with an untenable accumulation of detritus. We would have to become nomads to escape it.1 Of course, Ruskin was arguing primarily for preservation of ...


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pp. 167-199


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pp. 201-208

E-ISBN-13: 9780520956988
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520275669

Page Count: 222
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 851695245
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Tokyo Vernacular

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Tokyo (Japan) -- History -- 1945-.
  • Historic preservation -- Japan -- Tokyo -- History -- 20th century.
  • Historic buildings -- Conservation and restoration -- Japan -- Tokyo -- History -- 20th century.
  • Architecture -- Government policy -- Japan -- Tokyo -- History -- 20th century.
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