Downtown Tokyo

Downtown Tokyo

The sense and scale of space in Tokyo are strikingly unique when compared to other metropolitan capitals in the world.  The jumble of low-rise, dense post-war wooden houses, rebuilt temples and shrines and modern high rise steel structures creates an array of intermediate volumes and streets.  It is surprising to find in such a gigantic city, such a variety of intimate spaces.  Particularly, in the downtown areas (下町) many dense single space, social establishments provide a nostalgic, intimate and atmospheric service. [1]  Criticised by architects of the 1960s as the “world’s largest village[2], Tokyo appears as a disarrayed jumble of mismatching houses and towers juxtaposed in a variety of styles and materials.  Numerous districts in the eastern part of Tokyo are renown for old wooden houses that are scattered across the streets.

In contrast to absence of historic architecture in modern day Nihonbashi, one of the strongest presences of the ‘shitamachi’ atmosphere remains in the northern end of the Tokyo.   One of the primary drivers for areas like Yanaka retaining the name of ‘shitamachi’ is that it came through remarkable untouched by the 1923 earthquake and the 1945 bombings.
Toward the end of the Meiji period, Toyko residents would have regarded ‘Asakusa and Shitaya wards, the latter incorporating Ueno’ as the northern limit of Low City.[3]  Tokyo has greatly grown southward and westward from the 1950s onward.  This has created a belief that the northern and eastern reaches belong to the Low City.  On the contrary in the Meiji period it was of the High City.  As the temple lands were reduced, the surrounded areas became favoured by intellectuals.
Among  the old districts of Taito-ku, Yanesan is home to one of the best preserved and most historic areas dating back to the Edo period.  The preservation of this historic atmosphere can be accredited to the luck that it survived the fire bombing of the second world war fully intact.  It is a collective of three neighbourhoods, including Yanaka, Sendagi and Nezu.




[1]  Waswo, Ann. Housing in Postwar Japan: A Social History. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002. Print.
[2] Lin, Zhongjie. Kenzo Tange and the Metabolist movement: urban utopias of modern Japan.
[3]  Seidensticker, E. G. (1991).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *