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Reviewed by:
  • Parkscapes: Green Spaces in Modern Japan
  • Timothy S. George (bio)
Parkscapes: Green Spaces in Modern Japan. By Thomas R. H. Havens. University of Hawai‘i Press, Honolulu, 2011. xiii, 272 pages. $47.00.

“We would like to cut down the trees with nature in mind.”1 This 2008 request from a local tourism association chair, regarding trees that were blocking a famous view of Shōsenkyō Gorge in Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park and thereby threatening the incomes of members of his association, is a reminder of the contradictions and unintended consequences of modern Japan’s systems of urban and “natural” parks. For a single book, modern Japan’s parks are a big topic. Parks occupy one-seventh of the nation’s land, and their modern history dates to 1873, when the Grand Council of State issued Directive No. 16 ordering prefectures to establish public parks with the approval of the Ministry of Finance. Thomas Havens has chosen to focus more on the production than the consumption of these public spaces, and mostly on Tokyo. This is a story of Japan’s parks and those who have planned them (or wished to influence that planning) as state building, capitalism, earthquakes, war, and globalization have transformed concepts of public spaces, much more than it is a view of parks through the eyes of their users.

Parkscapes is comprised of five chapters bookended by an introduction and an afterword. The introduction characterizes the creation of parks as “sociospatial engineering” by the government but notes that parks could and did become spaces of resistance, as at Hibiya Park with the 1905 riots, and that in recent times some parks have “transcended a power/resistance binary to become space shared by citizens and their rulers, . . . a middle ground of collaboration, acquiescence, refusal, and renegotiation all at once” (p. 5). The emphasis in the book thus reflects the central purposes of [End Page 245] Japan’s parks, both urban and national: state, society, and human beings are the focus; “nature” is not.

Chapter 1 traces the early development of city parks beginning in 1873. Parks were advocated, often for different reasons, by bureaucrats such as Mori Ōgai and Gotō Shinpei and reformers including Katayama Sen and Abe Isoo. The Meiji emperor opened Ueno Park in 1876 and granted the nation its constitution there in 1889. Its museums and zoo were marks of civilization, and the rallies held there during the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars linked it to Japan’s imperial ambitions. Hibiya Park was a showpiece resulting from frequent pronouncements from the 1890s of the modern city’s need for parks to improve subjects’ health and morals, to serve as fireb opened in 1903 and joined Ueno Park in hosting rallies in support of state goals, but since the Hibiya riot, it has often been the site of popular contestation. Asakusa Park, a thriving entertainment center, covered the bulk of the operating costs for Tokyo’s parks until it was eliminated by the Allied Occupation after World War II because of its association with Sensōji Temple.

The second chapter describes the halting early development of national parks up to the outbreak of full-scale war with China in 1937. Here Havens has fascinating, if brief, discussions of the writings of ecologists and geographers whose ideas helped build support for a national park system: Uchimura Kanzō, Makiguchi Tsunesaburō (both better known as religious leaders), Minakata Kumagusu, and Shiga Shigetaka. Although the national park idea was imported, Havens notes that for many advocates (Anesaki Masaharu was an extreme example) parks had a nationalistic purpose: “to affirm the distinctiveness of the land and its people” (p. 54). Others stressed the need to create parks to attract foreign tourists and their foreign exchange. One obstacle was the fact that much of the land proposed for national parks was privately owned; another was bureaucratic jurisdictional infighting. The National Parks Law was finally passed in 1931, and despite the economic depression and increasing militarization, a dozen national parks were created by 1936, including Fuji-Hakone, Chūbu Sangaku in the Japan Alps, and Daisetsuzan in Hokkaido. A pattern was established that has persisted ever since: “recreational...


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