The Sainsbury Institute Abroad

The Tokyo Futures Project

Tokyo Futures’ participants visit Meiji Shrine ahead of the conference
Tokyo Futures’ participants visit Meiji Shrine ahead of the conference

Tokyo’s successful application to host the 2020 Olympics gave us an opportunity to reassess the city of Tokyo itself and what it is going to be like in 2020 and beyond. Thus the Tokyo Futures project was born. For its Stage I (2015) four institutions came together to collaborate: Meiji Jingu Intercultural Research Institute (MIRI), Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures (SISJAC), the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and the Research Centre for Transnational Art, Identity and Nations (TrAIN), University of the Arts London, which led the project. For Stage I six lectures took place in Japan and the UK and explored Tokyo under three different themes: nature, city and art.

Stage I (2015-2016)

Lectures number 1 and 2: Nature
Date: 24 April 2015 (Hostry, Norwich Cathedral, UK)
‘Japan’s True Love of Nature: Ecology of Hope’
Lecturer: Professor Julia Adeney Thomas (University of Notre Dame, USA)

Date: 30 May 2015 (Sanshuden at Meiji Jingu Naien, Tokyo, Japan)
‘Utsushimi and Itsukushimi’
Lecturer: Professor Inaga Shigemi (International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Japan)

Lectures number 3 and 4: City
Date: 14 October 2015 (SOAS, London, UK)
‘Between Imperial Capital and World City: The Tourist’s Tokyo a Century Ago’
Lecturer: Professor Jordan Sand (Georgetown University, USA)

Date: 31 October 2015 (JNA Hall, Tokyo, Japan)
‘Shibuya: City of the 21st Century’
Lecturer: Professor Kuroishi Izumi (Aoyama Gakuin University, Japan)

Lectures number 5 and 6: Arts

Date: 12 February 2016 (The British Museum, London, UK)
‘The Art of Transformation: Design and Industry in Tokyo, Now and Then’
Lecturer: Dr Sarah Teasley (Royal College of Art, UK)

Date: 19 March 2016 (Gaien Campus in Tokyo, Kyoto University of Art and Design, Tokyo, Japan)
‘Musashino as Utopia’
Lecturer: Professor Watanabe Toshio (Research Centre for Transnational Art, Identity and Nation, University of the Arts London and Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures, University of East Anglia)

State II (2016)

Date: 22 October 2016 (Meiji Jingu Sanshuden)
‘City of Symbiosis?’

Keynote Lecutre 1
‘The Adaptable City: Designing for Uncertainty’
Professor Jeremy Till, Head of Central Saint Martins and Pro-Vice-Chancellor of University of the Arts London

Keynote Lecture 2
‘Tokyo Futures: Symbiosis between Low and High’
Professor Ken Tadashi Oshima, University of Washington

Panel Discussion
‘City of Festivity: Tokyo 2020’
Professor Kuroishi Izumi, Aoyama Gakuin University
Nawa Kōhei, Artist and Associate Professor, Kyoto University of the Arts and Design

Professor Watanabe Toshio, TrAIN, University of the Arts London and Sainsbury Institute, University of East Anglia
Dr Imaizumi Yoshiko, Senior Research Fellow, Meiji Jingu Intercultural Research Institute

For Stage II (2016) a symposium was organised under the title Tokyo Futures, 1868-2020: City of Symbiosis?, which took place at MIRI in Tokyo. Here the collaborators were, Aoyama Gakuin University, MIRI, SISJAC and TrAIN. This symposium debated whether Tokyo could become a city of symbiosis mainly by examining its architecture and environment. Both stages were generously funded by Toshiba International Foundation. In a previous SISJAC e-magazine, the SISJAC Executive Director, Mizutori Mami, gave a behind the scenes report on Tokyo Futures, and in this piece here, I should like to concentrate on some of the issues which became clearer after our intensive considerations and discussions.

Jeremy Till’s keynote lecture studied Tokyo as a space where meanings
and conceptual relationships are in constant negotiation

Jeremy Till’s keynote lecture studied Tokyo as a space where meanings and conceptual relationships are in constant negotiation
Jeremy Till’s keynote lecture studied Tokyo as a space where meanings
and conceptual relationships are in constant negotiation

The first surprise for me was that an unusual amount of consensus emerged. This I have not expected. Jeremy Till’s Stage II keynote epitomized this and gave us a kind of leitmotif. He presented several pairs of concepts such as foreground/background, certainty/uncertainty and hard/soft. For him the villains were foreground, certainty and hard. As a successful architect himself, he argued that the future of designing any city, not just Tokyo, would reside in background, uncertainly and soft. He chose as a prime bad example of foreground/certainty/hard the eventually rejected plan for the Tokyo National Stadium by Zaha Hadid. This design is very much a foreground design, brimming with confident certainty and is a hard design, which could be placed in any Olympic city. It is very dynamic and impressive, but there is nothing specifically Tokyo about this design. I found it fascinating that Hadid’s presentation image has the Shinjuku skyscrapers in the background, but Kuma Kengo’s final winning design and also the runners-up design by Ito Toyo both have the forests of Yoyogi Park/Meiji Shrine in the background, emphasizing the element of Tokyo’s nature and how their building is in harmony with their immediate environment.

Julia Adeney Thomas mentioned in her lecture that Japan’s relationship with nature was transformed during and after the Meiji period. Inaga Shigemi then suggested how nature has been used during the last century and a half—not only in Japan—as a way of hiding the ambivalence we have towards the past. Watanabe Toshio through the examination of the notion of Musashino presented how Tokyo’s relationship with nature fluctuated throughout its history, but more recently efforts are made to bring back Musashino nature into the city itself. The combination of nature and building seen in Kuma and Ito’s stadium design could be situated exactly within this larger context of nature softening the hardness of the architecture. Indeed Ken Tadashi Oshima in his keynote argued that we should look to urban developments as opportunities to restore the underlying ecological underpinnings of the capital and that natural elements such as water, air and sun are critical for human life.

Jordan Sand pointed out in his lecture how the prewar tourists visiting Tokyo (from the countryside, from the colonies, and from the West) didn’t always look at what they were meant to as intended by the Japanese authorities. This is exactly the kind of uncertainty/soft reaction to the city Till mentioned. Sarah Teasley argued that Tokyo is a site for making policy and Tokyo decisions shape other parts of Japan. This is the hard side of Tokyo, but she also said that Tokyo consists of different local communities, thus the centre is also a locality. People, ideas and objects move around making the city uncertain and soft. This was also emphasized by Oshima when he discussed the ‘low’ and ‘high’ areas within Tokyo. Teasley also said that there is often a disjuncture between Tokyo and the region, but as Kuroishi Izumi pointed out that Tokyo cannot survive without the regions and that we need to consider what Tokyo could contribute to the regions. Indeed the artist Nawa Kōhei explained that one of the key points of his Inujima/Roppongi Art Night Project was to make a direct connection between Inujima, a depopulated area, and Tokyo.

Tokyo Future’s lecture at Meiji Shrine’s Sanshuden lecture theatre

Tokyo Future’s lecture at Meiji Shrine’s Sanshuden lecture theatre
Tokyo Future’s lecture at Meiji Shrine’s Sanshuden lecture theatre

Another consensus was to acknowledge the importance of everyday life for the consideration of the future of Tokyo. Everyday is Till’s background not foreground. Hadid’s spectacular stadium design has no place for the everyday. Whereas Aoki Jun’s modest roof garden for a public gymnasium as a reintroduction of Musashino nature, mentioned by Watanabe, is a soft design to bring it closer to urban everyday life. Teasley also insisted that ‘art’ is not separate from, but intrinsic to everyday life in the modern city.

We are now planning for Stage III of the Tokyo Futures Project with the same four Stage II collaborators to take place in Autumn 2017. We are sticking our neck out and trying to predict what the future of Tokyo would look like and we should like to investigate the future of Tokyo beyond the issues of city infrastructure by examining who would become the likely bearers of Tokyo’s cultural future. We predict that people with transnational identities and activities would become major contributors of Tokyo’s future worth and hopes. This would be one of the greatest differences between 1964 and 2020. According to the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (2006), one in ten marriages in the city of Tokyo are between a Japanese and a non-Japanese and one in thirty children born in Japan as a whole has at least one parent who are not a Japanese national. Many are not aware of these statistics, which will have enormous implications for Tokyo’s future, as is already happening in the field of sport. Now across the world xenophobic populism seems to have the upper hand, but we should like to examine positively the transnational contributions of past, present and future. Indeed, Tokyo’s future may depend on them. We will try to find out with this planned symposium

Toshio Watanabe
Professor for Japanese Art and Cultural Heritage

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