4/8/19

&: Japanese walls (walls east of Ueno Station / トタン建築 / first attempt)



I don't know much about this area. It used to be called Takecho 竹町 but is now the district of Taito 台東 in the ward of Taito 台東. Satake Shotengai 佐竹商店街 in the center of the district is one of the district is one of the oldest shopping arcades in the country—that depends on how you define a shopping arcade, I guess, because it looked like it was a run-of-the-mill Tokyo merchants' street during its early life, rather than something evoking a Parisian arcade, and it wasn't covered until the 1970s when it was finally rebuilt after being leveled in the Second World War. Satake and the rest of the district feels distinct from the rest of the ward, nothing like Ueno and its park and arcades, or the rest of Shitaya: self-contained, with no gangs of tourists yet, and not many hotels, and not many office buildings around, either. The shopping arcade still has a pulse but doesn't look like it's drawn the interest of developers. I don't have much of a sense of the place, to be honest. But, yes, developers have not really been through to carve up the smaller lots, so there are still plenty of tin-sided buildings, most of them workshops or small factories, some restaurants. And I could have gone anywhere in the city to collect pictures of this corrugated metal siding, but this is where I've been walking, the past week or so.



This wall belongs to, if I recall correctly, what might have once been a workshop with an apartment over top but is now a garage with an apartment over top. These walls are everywhere in Taito Ward, especially in neighborhoods like this. Nothing is very old in Tokyo, and this whole area would have been a scorched wasteland seventysomething years ago, and most of the oldest buildings around here are from the '60s, put up to replace whatever went up temporarily in the late-'40s or '50s, and those shacks were definitely made of corrugated tin, too, and concrete bricks and scavenged lumber and war surplus building materials... It's hard to tell how old buildings in Tokyo are, usually nothing to give them away, unless they're incredibly old (and by that I mean, say, usually early-20th century) or incredibly new, but with these tin-sided buildings, you can usually take a guess, based on corrosion and rust and how much they've been patched over the years.



You can see the contrast. Off-white, brown, beige stucco vs. corrugated metal.

This is further to the north, between Iriya Station and Inaricho Station (I know this describes a huge area). The building that once stood in this empty lot was close enough to the tin-clad building to hide it. The street was formerly home to a number of small workshops, and older homes. The only business still operating on the street is a tofu factory. A new apartment block is going in here, now. Throughout the area, new asphalt has been laid down the alleys, new buildings sit alongside old ones. Most of the apartment blocks went up about a decade ago. The tin cladding marks this building out as belonging to the a former generation. The tin and its corrosion and rust and imperfections and asymmetry look out of place, suddenly, as newer buildings go up all around. I've talked about this before, the grey and beige local skylines of Tokyo, get up on a rooftop and you're in a forest of off-white lowrise apartment blocks, as far as the eye can see—maybe a bundle of office towers in there, maybe the Skytree in the distance. This is what it looks like at eye-level, all the off-whites rising around you...



Look at this: corrugated metal, exposed wiring, campaign posters (this one for a Matsuo Akihiro 松尾あきひろ of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan 立憲民主党). Like a concrete wall with stenciled and stickered xiaoguanggao 小广告 represents the Chinese city, this has to be the Tokyo version of that. This is the Tokyo version of, like, an old dormitory building in Chaoyang spraypainted with banzheng 办证 ads.

Because this is Japan, a land of obsessives, there are coffee table books, blogs and Instagram devoted to this totan architectureトタン建築, and I'm a latecomer to this, just like I am to everything else in this country. The Japanese are nostalgic for the Showa like Americans in the '70s were nostalgic for the '50s and maybe it's like me getting drunk, putting on a Pavement album and watching promotional videos for defunct malls on Youtube—just the innocence of the time (rather than Showa militarism and destruction, more the postwar boom times), the relative wealth and comfort of life under the string of Jiminto 自民党 Prime Ministers, building booms, bubbles... But so, nobody is going to save these buildings, which represent that time, since they're not pretty enough to save and probably not built well to survive a major disaster—these ones are still around because of a three decade economic slump, once the bubble burst.