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  • Beyond the Metropolis: Second Cities and Modern Life in Interwar Japan by Louise Young
  • Miriam Kingsberg
Beyond the Metropolis: Second Cities and Modern Life in Interwar Japan. By Louise Young. University of California Press, 2013. 326 pages. Hardcover $85.00/£62.95.

Beyond the Metropolis understands the city not simply as a concentration of individuals, institutions, and infrastructure, but also as a sociocultural network and ideological entity. From a vantage point beyond Tokyo, it examines what author Louise Young refers to as Tokyo-centrism: a cultural geography originating in the interwar context of rapid urban growth that privileged the capital while marginalizing the rest of national space. Young takes pains to emphasize that Tokyo in the Japanese imagination was hardly consistent with actual assemblages or experiences of the metropolis. As historiography has shown, Tokyo was an expanding, dizzying sprawl of suburbs and slums with no clear “center.” Yet deprivation, danger, and disease failed to tarnish its allure; rather, Tokyo-centrism operated through synecdoches both geographic (the glitzy commercial district of Ginza, for example) and human—including the moga (modern girl) and narikin (self-made millionaire).

As a result of its overwhelming sociospatial hegemony, Tokyo has tended to dominate the literature on Japanese urban history. Breaking with this pattern, Beyond the Metropolis adopts the novel perspective of Japan’s “second cities,” a heterogeneous constellation in political, economic, cultural, and ideological thrall to the capital. The second cities of Young’s study are not the five major interwar conurbations—Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe—that simultaneously deferred to and defied (elements of) Tokyo-centrism. Rather, they are Japan’s prefectural and regional capitals, caught between a universalist view of urban modernity and a particularist concern for local relevance. Just as Tokyo framed itself against an uninterrogated rural space (as the rest of Japan was imagined to be), the capital itself offered an Other to second cities in creating unique urban identities. During the interwar period, each of these cities exhibited a specific developmental trajectory, profile, and relationship to surrounding regions. Through her analysis of the center from the perspective of the periphery, Young convincingly challenges our understanding of modernity as a passive diffusion resulting in convergence and homogenization. Her narrative instead highlights diversification and the agency of individuals, institutions, and ideas.

As case studies, the author selects the cities of Kanazawa, Niigata, Okayama, and Sapporo. Sources including gazetteers, chamber of commerce records, company histories, social surveys and reports, tourist guides, travel diaries, local magazines and newspapers, city plans, memoirs, media productions, and fiction spotlight intriguing commonalities as well as differences. Niigata and Kanazawa originated as castle towns on Japan’s historically neglected Sea of Japan coast. Niigata, however, was one of the first Japanese ports opened to foreign trade in the nineteenth century; as such, it became a [End Page 241] gateway for Western imports, and, during the 1930s, for trade with Japan’s empire on the Asian mainland. Okayama, a castle town on the Pacific shore, and Sapporo, a frontier city amid the coalfields of Hokkaido, were situated relatively fortuitously, yet their development was as much or more the result of human actions as geography. During World War II, Okayama alone was devastated by Allied firebombing, but after 1945 all four cities forged new paths, influenced by but not dependent upon their prewar contours.

Rather than organizing the book by city, Young provides an integrated, thematic, and loosely chronological treatment of all four locations. The first chapter, “World War One and the City Idea,” explores the association of urbanism and modernity in the early twentieth century. After Japan rejected the legal social order of the Tokugawa period, cities emerged as both symbols and instruments of progress and enlightenment. During the so-called Great War, they took on additional roles as epicenters and engines of the burgeoning industrial economy. The populations and infrastructure of cities, including second cities, expanded at a dizzying rate to accommodate growth. The imagination of the urban evolved in tandem with its function, producing a new “social consciousness of the modern” (p. 32) that distinguished city spaces from the putatively backward countryside.

Young’s next chapter analyzes Tokyo-centrism from the perspective of culture. Convergence...


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pp. 241-244
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