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Reviewed by:
  • Urban Reconstruction in Britain and Japan, 1945-1955: Dreams, Plans and Realities, and: Housing in Postwar Japan: A Social History
  • Carola Hein (bio)
Urban Reconstruction in Britain and Japan, 1945-1955: Dreams, Plans and Realities. Edited by Nick Tiratsoo, Junichi Hasegawa, Tony Mason, and Takao Matsumura. University of Luton Press, Luton, 2002. viii, 100 pages. £20.00.
Housing in Postwar Japan: A Social History. By Ann Waswo. Routledge-Curzon, London, 2002. x, 145 pages. $55.00.

Contemporary Japanese cities are characterized by a patchwork appearance with buildings of different styles, scales, and usage in close proximity, which has intrigued Western scholars for many years. Whether the extent and nature of the destruction of World War II and its ensuing reconstruction have contributed to the contemporary, seemingly chaotic appearance of the Japanese city is one issue raised in several new publications.1 Until recently, studies of Japanese reconstruction after 1945 focused on a few selected individual cities and remained inaccessible to those who do not read Japanese, even though the simultaneous rebuilding of European bombed cities has attracted [End Page 481] comparative research since the 1980s.2 Two new books shed light specifically on the postwar development of Japanese cities and plant the seeds for cross-cultural comparative research. Urban Reconstruction in Britain and Japan, 1945-1955: Dreams, Plans and Realities, authored by a group of British and Japanese researchers—the economists Nick Tiratsoo and Junichi Hasegawa, the social historian Tony Mason, and the economist Takao Matsumura—analyzes the reconstruction in Britain and Japan. The social historian Ann Waswo adds another facet to this topic in her examination of housing conditions in Japanese cities since the 1960s entitled Housing in Postwar Japan: A Social History.

After the devastating destruction of cities in World War II, planners and architects in many countries—victorious or defeated—were exultant; to them, rebuilding was a unique opportunity to create modern cities on top of old urban layouts that had become inadequate for twentieth-century needs. Ishikawa Hideaki, then head of the planning department of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, had worked on the city's planning continuously since 1933 and argued: "This unexpected opportunity has been provided by the tragedy of burnt out cities. . . .Future generations, rather than cursing us for the defeat of the war, would instead maintain that 'it was good that everything was burnt'" (Tiratsoo, p. 61). Similarly, the British town-planning consultant Max Lock found "the cleared and cleaned up spaces a relief" (p. 6). Planners in other cities shared this approach. The architect-planner Hans Scharoun, appointed in May 1945 to the council for housing and construction in Berlin, described the bombing of the city as a mechanical plowing of the soil and a chance to correct the chaotic development of the city.

Given this attitude, it is not surprising that planners in British and Japanese cities alike developed large-scale proposals for reconstruction. Britain had a long tradition of urban planning and its proponents attempted in the postwar period to create ideal neighborhoods composed of modernist housing blocks with extensive communal equipment. Because the bombing occurred early in the war, there was plenty of time to plan rebuilding, and in all three British case study cities presented in the Tiratsoo volume, large-scale concepts were devised to point the way to the future. The heavily devastated cities of Coventry and Portsmouth were perceived as perfect targets for experiments, and the Lansbury estate, a London district, was replanned in an exhibition, the so-called Festival of Britain, as a model site, displaying the possibilities of future urban form.

The situation in Japan was different. The country had a comparatively short history of primarily pragmatic urban planning focused on street [End Page 482] straightening and widening aimed at preventing the spread of fires. Its cities were bombed generally late in the war and reconstruction occurred while the defeated nation was under U.S. control. Nonetheless, a handful of visionaries, leading among them Ishikawa Hideaki, tried to redress (as discussed particularly in chapter seven on Tokyo) what Ishikawa characterized as "the undemocratic urban development" of the past (p. 51). Apart from Ishikawa, the architect Tange Kenzō—who gained worldwide recognition in...


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