From Dameisho to Meisho

University essay from KTH/Arkitektur


Seen from abroad, Tokyo appears as a huge, vibrant metropolis where 21st-century Japan meets the traditional side of the country. Tokyo´s skyline is a diverse jumble of traditional houses and shrines, and modern architecture from skyscrapers of glass to 1970´s living capsules.

Since the beginning, Tokyo has had great prerequisites for creating a city with amazing urban environment. Water was the first reason for people to settle down in Tokyo Bay. During Edo period (1603 – 1867), Tokyo was always described as a picturesque city with well-planned hydrology and a harmonic relationship with nature. With its canals full of water, it was a city comparable to Venice. The distribution and exchange relied almost entirely on water transport.

With the expansion of the city, the water system had to be upgraded, which led to creating a complex network of waterways. Unlike in Western countries, where the economic, social and cultural life of the city developed around rather formal places as plazas and squares, in Japan, the lifeblood of the city developed in close connection with the water and nature. These places, also known as “meisho” (名所, lit. “famous places”) used to be linear open structures such as streets, river shores and bridges. During the transformation of Tokyo into a modern capital, the city cut many ties with the past. The unused canals suddenly became redundant and started belonging to the “wrong” side of the city. By the 1980s, many of the waterways were so polluted that the government began filling them up or covering them with elevated highways in preparation for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The modernization and its transformation also meant that most of the network of “meisho” and greenery have disappeared.

“From dameisho to meisho” is inspired by series of woodblock prints “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo” (名所江戸百景, Meisho Edo Hyakkei) completed by the Japanese artist Hiroshige Ando (1797–1858), depicting a matrix of famous public spaces in Tokyo. My project examines the possibilities of recasting “meisho”, a spatial representation in Japanese culture, into a new, modern context via editing different layers of the city and its fabric. It explores linear, thread-like spaces such as Edo waterways, its transformations roads, as well as recently built elevated highways in order to search for contaminations and new collaborations, unexpected conditions and create new, green urban stitches. As one of the tackling tools, the project also looks at demographic trends shaping Japan and benefits from aging society and shrinking Japanese population. Last but not least I investigate ways of graphical reinterpretation of the series of woodblock prints using Tokyo and its new “meisho” spaces as a rolemodel.

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