I would now like to start the second half of the symposium, which is a panel discussion titled “Asakusa, the town where Edo and Tokyo blend together”.
As Dr. Lockyer and Dr. Schulz have already given us their views, I will now ask Mr. Kaneko, Mr. Tsuji and Mr. Suwa to give us their views for about 5 minutes each, then ask for comments from the audience. We are limited to one hour, but with your cooperation we would like to make this time as meaningful as possible.
I would now like to introduce Mr. Kaneko.
Thank you for the introduction. I live in Yamanashi now, but I am originally from Asakusa, which is why Professor Yamashita introduced me to Professor Itoda so that I could take part in this project. As described in my personal history, I also teach at Meiji University, so I am a half-Yamanashi and half-Asakusa resident.
When I heard the speeches given by these two professors last year, I was surprised to learn for the first time that Asakusa was the target of research, even from foreign countries. As a partial resident of Asakusa, I had never thought to take a look at it from the outside. When I was small, the lively wholesale district spread as far as Hanakawado, which was a busy place even at night. We now see many people walking the streets in Asakusa by night, but my impression is that the area seems to have faded in industrial terms, especially compared to when I was in elementary school.
What strikes me most when I visit rural areas is that even though Asakusa is not as lively as it used to be, it is still visited by a great number of tourists every day. For example, the area probably gets as many tourists in 3 or 4 days as Yamanashi, where I live, does for the entire year. I only saw the negative aspects of Asakusa before, but I’ve come to see it in a new light.
From the three professors, I got the impression that we are now undergoing major changes brought about by the break with continuity they discussed. For example, if I happen to be walking in Nihonbashi, which is an area that embodies the tradition, or the brand of the Edo period, I still feel such changes. But I think we are also seeing a reversal in continuousness, which is evident in the talk by Professor Yamashita and the concept of the slow city in the talk by Dr. Schulz, though a city that stands still may of course have negative aspects. The street in front of Denpō-in, which is close to where I live, is one example; various Edo-style items have been added to the street, so that its atmosphere has gradually changed and giving the sense of returning, bit by bit, to that felt during the Edo and Meiji periods, as well as the Taisho and early Showa periods, during which Asakusa was most prosperous.
Also, as Dr. Lockyer mentioned in terms of self-systematization, the fact that there are no major capital flows into the area shows its low investment efficiency. However, on the positive side, the lack of such investment means the area is free of major changes. Small shops can work together to form their own organizations, and the entire city is jointly made up of networks such as the Tourist Federation and the Joint Association of Shopping Districts headed by Mr. Tsuji and Mr. Suwa. I’m sure this is one positive aspect.
Professor Yamashita also mentioned the construction of the new Tokyo Sky Tree. I hope that we will be able to create harmony between Asakusa and such new tourist spots, and that the town will develop not only for itself but also as a core representation of downtown Tokyo.
Thank you. Next, I would like to introduce Mr. Tsuji.
Hello, my name is Nobuyuki Tsuji, and I am the Director General of the Asakusa Tourism Federation. Thank you for the introduction.
Normally, I would not be in a position to speak to you from the stage. It makes me hesitate to speak, as I can see that the distinguished members of the audience are far more knowledgeable on Asakusa than I. The reason I am speaking to you today is that I happened to attend both workshops held by Professor Yamashita and Professor Kaneko in December and January, so I hope you will bear with me.
What struck me as most impressive in the talks I’ve heard today is the issue of slow city and fast city. That is, we have entered the age of planning compact cities, and that in a compact city, the workplace and residence are within walking distance of each other. When I heard this, I said to myself, isn’t it just like Asakusa, where everything from the workplace to residence is within walking distance? This concept is also closely related with the idea of eco-tourism, which is what the people of Asakusa are trying to attain, and on which the tourist federation is concentrating its efforts. Another point of interest was the list of five conditions required in the Japanese version of a slow city, which consisted of humanism, slow food, culture, interaction with the area, and sustainable development. The only condition that doesn’t apply to Asakusa is slow food, or local production for local consumption, which strengthened my feeling that Asakusa is indeed a compact city.
It was also reassuring to see that Asakusa may in fact have more of a future compared to globalized fast cities such as Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown.
Come to think of it, in the autumn before last, the first symposium on “Asakusa Research” was held here with the cooperation of Meiji University and Taito City. I recall how I agreed with the mention of Asakusa as a place that embodied continuity in the transition from Edo Tokyo; that it is probably the only place in Tokyo that embodies this idea. Also, Professor Itoda mentioned today that Asakusa serves as a significant target in discussing Tokyo from a global perspective, for example when comparing Tokyo with cities that boast a wealth of history such as Munich or London. It was after a statue of Kannon (Deity of Mercy) was hoisted out of the Sumida River in 628 that the sacred grounds of Kannon which came to be known as Asakusa developed, and this same place now serves a vital viewpoint in discussing Tokyo. Asakusa Research has enabled me to see things from this light.
I would like to explore these ideas with you today. Thank you for your attention.
Thank you, Mr. Tsuji. Next, please let me introduce Mr. Suwa.
Hello, my name is Suwa, and I represent the Joint Association of the Asakusa Shopping Districts. I am afraid my words of greetings are not as commendable as those by Mr. Tsuji, but I hope you will bear with me to the end.
I was born and raised in Hanakawado, Asakusa. Until a while ago, I was the third generation owner of a wholesale business of shoes, which was started by my grandfather. When we think of shops in Asakusa, discussions most likely centre on the shops and restaurants for tourists. On the other hand, Hanakawado, which surrounds the centre area of Asakusa, was a district of wholesalers, Senzoku was an area of skilled craftsmen, and Kappabashi is still a district of kitchen utensil shops. When we include such areas, I believe that each has come into existence by developing their own ways of business, thereby constituting the overall identity of Asakusa. In this light, I would like to share some of my ideas with you today. Thank you for your attention.
Thank you, Mr. Suwa. Before we start answering questions from the audience, we have some earnest questions for Dr. Schulz and Dr. Lockyer from the participants of the panel discussion. First, I would like to ask Dr. Schulz on the concepts of the slow city and fast city. I believe you did not exactly mention if they applied to Asakusa, but you did mention Shimokitazawa as an example of success. It is true that small alleys still exist in Shimokitazawa, but I would like to point out that new theatres and spots where young people can gather also started to appear in the area about 15 to 16 years ago, so that people who until then did not visit the area came to walk around its streets. To me, this phenomenon, together with the humanism of the residents, seems to have brought about the conditions necessary for a slow city. I would like to ask Dr. Schulz for her opinion.
In addition to my interest in modern Japanese literature, I’ve recently come to take an avid interest in walking around towns, and I always buy guidebooks for this purpose whenever I visit. Sadly, it is rare to find such guidebooks on Asakusa, which is something of a surprise to me. Maybe Asakusa is not being advertised enough, or maybe it’s not so popular…what I mean to say is that perhaps we need to think of ways to promote its popularity. Some areas popular for walking in, as I mentioned earlier, are Yanesen, Kichijoji and Shimokitazawa.
Asakusa is full of alleys, which means plenty of space to walk, whereas such small streets are not friendly to cars. There are also many sites of literary interest in Asakusa when we think of the history of Tokyo, or continuity with the past. Even so, to the best of my knowledge, there are very few guidebooks for walkers that emphasize such historical interests.
As Professor Yamashita mentioned earlier on the issue of how we see the Sumida River, I personally believe it is of great significance, when seen from a foreign eye and when we think back on the history of Tokyo. The river is mentioned in the Tale of Ise, which is significant from my standpoint as a researcher, and as I love to walk, I think such historical contexts of the area should be emphasized more. We would then need to plan ways to bring into the area the kind of people who are now walking around Shimokitazawa or Yanesen, and not only focus our attention on tourists. I say this because I’m certain that Asakusa has what it takes to be a town of more significance.
It is very interesting that the doctor mentions walking since this is a significant concept in the 20th century literature, or European philosophy today. Translated into Japanese it becomes “town walking”, but originally it is close to “wandering”…
That’s correct. The idea is that land holds inherent memories. Coming up against memories of the past lying dormant in the land is quite a humane theme. This concept is a theme of great significance in European literature and philosophy today, and I suppose it lies as a backdrop to what the doctor has to say. Dr. Schulz is studying the possibility of applying such ideas into practice in Tokyo, so I found the story very interesting. Thank you, doctor.
Next, I would like to ask Dr. Lockyer a question. In Professor Yamashita’s speech, he mentioned possible choices on the position Asakusa may take in response to the construction of the Tokyo Sky Tree, but there is the danger that such positions may be used for the purpose of systematization by upper public institutions. It is possible that different viewpoints, or external forces, may come into play where Asakusa needs to develop itself spontaneously in the course of self-systematization, especially now that the Tokyo Sky Tree will be constructed. How do you feel about that?
I only heard about the Tokyo Sky Tree today, but one thing I can say is that when we think of projects on such a major scale, an element of fear is brought into play. Currently, there are movements around the globe for constructing the tallest, or largest, structures in the world. It is not the scale of the projects that bother me, and I do not object to such movements, though I don’t support them either. The issue lies in what kind of relationship they are able to build with the area surrounding them. This is exactly what Professor Yamashita mentioned. I have no idea if the construction of the Tokyo Sky Tree will have a positive or negative impact on Asakusa, but I believe we must consider the relationship between the two seriously and think ahead.
I would also like to add that my opinion might vary from Professor Yamashita’s on the issue of the contrast between continuousness and non-continuousness. This is because of what I find as a historian in Akasaka, and indeed any city. We are in danger of falling into a trap when we think of now, or “the modern time”. The trap lies in the contrast between the past as opposed with the present, which can be found anywhere around the world. Take the example of Bath, where my parents now live. Since Bath came into being during the 18th century, the town is full of 18th century art and architecture, which I respect. Seen from this light, the town of Bath is almost a museum-like space. In such a situation, there is no way you can compare the past and the present, which is the issue of the contrast in time, the comparison of the past and the present. Concerning the issue of the contrast in space, small shops or alleys serve as good examples for comparison. Does that answer your question?
I think your indication of continuousness and non-continuousness was significant in that both are found in the day-to-day life of Asakusa today. I take it to indicate that we should reconsider the issue from this light.
Now, I’m sure that some of you in the audience have things to say. If you will be so kind as to ask questions freely, I’m sure the speakers will do their best to answer you from their standpoints. We would also appreciate any ideas on how Asakusa should be and comments for the future of Asakusa. Please don’t hesitate to raise your hands.
I heard Dr. Lockyer mention in his speech that he loved London but not Paris.
Please excuse me.
I had never really thought about it, but I agree that there is a great difference between London and Paris. I recall when I first visited Paris, how I was surprised by the view from where I stood, in a high-rise building in Montparnasse (not Montmartre) where there is a huge station. The height of all the buildings was under strict control, and I was amazed to see such a city. I then traveled on to London, where the streets were so confusing that I ended up getting lost. But the common point was that the Thames and the Seine flow through the cities, as does the Sumida River in Tokyo. All the rivers are about the same in width.
When we compare the two cities, we find that there are many differences between the two. In Paris, there are cultural institutions such as museums and galleries on both sides of the Seine, and the area is quiet. In London, on the other hand, there is a giant Ferris wheel by the river, the area is busy with nightlife, and shockingly, there was even a huge battleship floating on it. It seemed to me such an interesting place to visit.
The reason I am going on like this about comparing Tokyo with London, Paris, or any other major capital in the world is because the professors who are attempting to link Sumida River with Asakusa seem to be having difficulty doing so. When I see campaigns such as “Yokoso! Japan!” that attempt to tell tourists about the entire country of Japan, they make me wonder how they may be connected to urban planning in Tokyo as a whole. I’m sure such collaboration would generate tremendous synergy. There was also the issue of striking a balance; how would they relate to continuity? I would like some comments on these issues. Though I realize that time may be too limited for answers, those are the issues I am most interested in. That’s all.
Thank you for your questions. Please excuse me, for I realize that I may have sounded disrespectful in my comments. This is probably because France and England have always been sworn enemies. (Laughter.) After all, the nearest country often turns out to be your worst enemy. This is a joke, but there are also some serious issues on hand.
My presentation focused on complexity, which is actually a very mixed state. When compared to such complexity, the major issue on Paris, in my opinion, lies in the fact that it is a city of the late 19th century, which was a time during which the structure of cities lost their complexity. Complexity may still be found within the structure of a homogenous space; but as the structure itself had been created as a result of the rational style of the 19th century, there are no streets good for walking around in. For me, it is a city of spectacles and sightseeing. It may be easy on the eye, and seem very romantic, but walking in Paris is quite tedious. The city holds no intrigue for me, since all the streets are straight and similar in style, and you do not see much disarray, or complexity, either. I personally believe that London and Tokyo are very similar in that you can find complexity. For me, the cities in which such disarray can be found are the most interesting.
You mentioned earlier that you got lost in London. Getting lost was one of your major topics, wasn’t it, Dr. Schulz?
Being in a state of disarray and getting lost are both key phrases when discussing a city. Take Tokyo, for example, where oddly enough, the town of Asakusa is sometimes synonymous with the Asakusa Rokku, an entertainment district within the town. As you all know, the Meiji government introduced the zoning system based on the modern European philosophy in order to create a large park in Asakusa. This in turn caused the many show tents to move from their previous locations in the Okuyama district behind Sensō-ji Temple to gather in the Asakusa Rokku area. The government planned to control such show-tents and provide entertainment in a sanitary manner; however, the vitality of Asakusa was such that the number of people who gathered was way beyond the level expected by the government. In the end, all those who were pushed out of Asakusa ended up coming back, so that the plan did not serve its purpose and the complexity returned.
Though some take this part of history in a negative light, this was not a situation limited to Asakusa; the same was seen in Ueno. The hilltop of Ueno was a modernized space for museums, whereas the area below the hill had also been a target of a similar plan by the government to push out its residents. This plan failed, however, and people ended up surging back. So I believe that when we discuss Tokyo in terms of the continuity from Edo, the power of its residents in generating such complexities is very important. That is my opinion in connection with what Dr. Lockyer said. Do you have anything to add?
You previously mentioned how Asakusa should handle the difference in jurisdiction. I am not sure if this will be any help, but I think that the only entertainment district among the many of its kind in Tokyo, or rather Japan, that has a river as great as the Sumida River running through it is Asakusa. I’m sure all citizens of Asakusa would join me in this consensus.
This river was once ruined by pollution and had a bad stench. But when you look back on its history, you find that lanterns were floated by the Sensō-ji Temple until 1965, when the tradition was interrupted by the construction of artificial embankments. This is where history was cut short, but with the turnaround in the policy by the Tokyo metropolitan government about four years ago, the Tourism Federation’s policy for improving the attraction of the waterside area has also changed. The water terrace located along a part of Sumida River is now expected to reach this area in a few years. With this change in policy, we had tentatively asked if we might be allowed to revive the floating of lanterns down the river. It would never have been allowed before, for reasons of polluting and endangering the environment, but with the policy change, we were actually given permission to do so.
This leads me to believe that the people of Asakusa may perhaps be good at finding niches and sneaking through them, as Professor Itoda said. Mr.Suwa, what do you think?
The people of Asakusa are really… Professor Yamashita explained this well by using the word “pride,” but they really have the ability to accept, digest, and make use of various things. My choice of words may be inappropriate, but I think this is one of the finer qualities of people living in Asakusa, or more generally, in the downtown area.
I would also like to add my comments on the “memories” of cities, which were mentioned by Professor Itoda and Dr. Schulz. I feel that the charm of Asakusa lies in the fact that fond memories of happy times can still be found in this city. It can be anything from the sentiments of Edo to the cherry blossoms of Sumida Park - the fact that both visitors and residents can reach back into their memories in this city is what makes it attractive. This is why so many visitors come, and why residents do not like to leave the area. I think this proves that the diversity acquired by its continuous transitions can still be found in many parts of this town.
Regrettably, we have yet to offer ways for first-time visitors to enjoy walking around Asakusa to make such discoveries. The Joint Association of the Asakusa Shopping Districts is currently conducting various activities to this end, hoping to create a pathway of migration so that people will walk around, stop and find something that will somehow remain as a pleasant memory, and open their wallets to leave their money. Though this may sound inappropriate in a situation like this symposium today, I must point out that we need to come up with good ideas to link such good memories with the flow of customers. The traffic of people should not be one-way, such as going through Kaminari-mon, visiting the main building of the temple, then turning back; it needs to flow both eastward and westward, and the Tokyo Sky Tree is bound to have a great impact, with the National Museum of Western Art on the hills of Ueno, on its way to being designated a world heritage, located westwards. In this sense, it will be interesting to note how such changes will create new flows of traffic.
All in all, I would say that there is ample possibility for Asakusa to grow into a town people will enjoy walking around in.
When I was little, I was taken to the Asakusa Rokku area every weekend, since my father loved movies. I couldn’t walk much then, so I recall being carried on his shoulders as he walked. At the time, the road leading from the Kaminari-mon to Sensō-ji Temple was not the only center of Asakusa. Everyone enjoyed walking around the area, including the Hanayashiki amusement park, but now I get the feeling that the Shin-Nakamise or Rokku areas lack energy, and that they have changed drastically since then. I would like to know how you all feel about this.
I own an electric appliance shop in the Senzoku-dori shopping avenue in the back of Sensō-ji Temple. When I was little, the shopping avenue led to the Yoshiwara area, so it was very crowded. I recall that shops such as sushi restaurants and fruit outlets were often open until 5AM. Nowadays, there are no such shops, and many premises in the shopping avenue are shuttered. Along the avenue, which is about 500 meters long, more condominiums are being constructed. I don’t mind having the condominiums along the street, but the problem is that these buildings do not have shops on the first floor. As the number of shops in the shopping avenue decrease, so does the number of customers who visit the street.
In the speeches, I recall that someone talked about how to attract the flow of people to the shopping avenue, but I think Asakusa already has a long history of doing just that. It is the other spots, such as the Yoshiwara area, the Ichiyo Higuchi Memorial Museum, the cemetery of Gennai Hiraga to name a few, that are not frequented enough by tourists, even though they are within walking distance of each other.
So I hope one of you will be kind enough to answer my question on how we should direct ourselves when the Tokyo Sky Tree is constructed.
Does anyone care to answer to this question?
Just as Dr. Schulz talked of walking around cities, I have lived all my life in Asakusa, and pride myself in knowing it quite well. I know some minor details, such as the route you can take directly from inside Matsuya department store into the Tobu station, and of late I have taken to walking around again because I enjoy doing so. In fact, I now take walks with Professor Yamashita for our research project, with the ulterior motive of walking for health reasons - my cholesterol level is too high.
Just the other day, I had found a sign close to the Shiden Dori that explained about an area in Asakusa that had once been a field of rice paddies. It must have been last week, when I learned for the first time that the shopping avenue was created by order of the government, and realized that I do not know as much about Asakusa as I thought.
I have some relatives who run a sweet shop in the area once called Saruwaka-cho, and know for a fact that people do go that far. Since tourists are not the only people who visit Asakusa, what with the increasing concentration of the population in Tokyo and the revival of Asakusa itself, I think we should think of ways to introduce or present landmarks to such people. There is no knowing if people would be willing to walk to such landmarks, but they would help people in making extensive re-discoveries all over Asakusa.
Works by Saisei Muro and Takuboku Ishikawa depict the Senzoku area vividly, and show that the area is an important place in modern Japanese literature, but it is true that these areas are now long forgotten.
In my opinion, it was not only the presence of alleys that led to the success of Shimokitazawa, which was mentioned along with the example of Kichijoji by Dr. Schulz. I touched on this point briefly before, but either the entire area worked together to bring young people into the area, or else someone in the world of theater, possibly a Mr. Honda, constructed the Honda Theater, which drew the young people to gather in the area. Using the literary heritage as an attraction of Senzoku, for example, cannot be expected to bring a large number of tourists. Promotion of tourism is important, but on the other hand, I think the critical issue lies in deciding how to create an environment in Asakusa so that the young people will choose to spend a lot of time in it, rather than occasionally dropping by.
If young people come, they are bound to think up ideas and act voluntarily. Though such movements may not lead directly to an increase in tourism, there was a period of time when they brought about great success to both Shimokitazawa and Kichijoji, so I hope such possibilities will be explored.
Despite the fact that the Tokyo University of Arts is situated in Ueno, Taito City, and that we at Meiji University are currently working together on this project, I feel that the number of academic facilities in Ueno is too small. True, there are a number of educational institutions in the city, but I would like to see as many as 200, 300, or even 400 young people in the college age group roaming around Asakusa at all times with various ideas and schemes. Even though Asakusa is already loved by many, bringing in fresh faces, creating facilities that would allow such people to spend time in the area, and making attempts to come up with new ideas may pave the way for finding some solutions to the issues that are now faced by the town, such as continuity and the effective use of Sumida River. My own dream is to create an academic facility close to the Sumida River where researchers may conduct studies on a global scale while overlooking the river.
It would be wonderful if we can deepen discussions, so that we may come up with ideas that had never been thought of in Taito City; ideas that are productive, and are highly useful for the local residents as well. If we can do this, Dr. Schulz and Dr. Lockyer would have reason to visit us more often. I am dreaming of the day this would become a reality. Please go on to the next question.
I am currently studying Japanese ukiyo-e. What I have to say may be indirectly connected to what you have just been talking about. I once saw a television programme on TV Asahi about how the impressionist painter Van Gogh collected numerous ukiyo-e prints, and how one of such works was connected to a courtesan called Nichigeki of the Yoshiwara red-light district, which is how I originally came to be interested in the Senzoku area. From what you have just said, the Asakusa as seen from within by the Japanese people is not quite the same as the Asakusa as seen from the outside by foreign people.
Foreigners tend to view Kaminari-mon or Asakusa as symbols of Japan, but the fact that French impressionist painters actually collected ukiyo-e prints may match the artistic aspect of Asakusa quite well. Some people may find this idea a bit lofty, but I think that Taito City is in a position to convey messages in the field of art, such as Van Gogh and ukiyo-e or Oiran courtesans, just as Sumida City plans to construct the Hokusai Museum to promote interest in his works. I am not sure how much response it may receive from within Japan, but since there are a great number of foreigners who are keen on ukiyo-e, a museum or an educational facility on ukiyo-e may induce such people to visit Asakusa, so that such programmes may be feasible.
I have been contemplating such ideas, but as I see no exhibitions of ukiyo-e prints or shops adorned with kabuki-e anywhere in Asakusa, I just wanted to come to today’s symposium and ask what the reason may be.
Thank you for your valuable insights.
Thank you for your comment. I agree that constructing such museums is important, since many foreigners are interested in the traditional images of Japan such as those seen in ukiyo-e prints and works by Hokusai. I am not sure this would apply to the University of Munich, but I would like to point out an interesting phenomenon that I come across in London University, where I work. Back when I had started my studies on Japan, I had to choose ukiyo-e, literature, or other traditional fields in order to study about Japan, since it was deemed a traditional country. On the other hand, the students I teach now are interested in Japan not because of its tradition, but because of its manga, or animation. Foreigners today are interested in various aspects of Japan; they respect your past, present, and future. This means that we should consider the complexity of Japan itself. Of course, we must respect the world-heritage techniques of Hokusai, but we should also aim to create a new Asakusa by linking the past, present, and the future.
I know just what you mean. For Taito City, having the Tokyo University of Art situated on the hills of Ueno is a definite advantage. I’m not sure it’s because Asakusa does not ask, but the university has moved some of its facilities recently to Senju and Chiba. Why couldn’t they have moved to Asakusa instead? The University of Art has been changing somewhat of late, and they are into more than classical music these days. They are trying out innovative music, and in regard to pictorial art, they are actively trying their hands at animation. Since they are already situated in Taito City, why not work together with Asakusa? Since Asakusa has a wealth of history in terms of ukiyo-e, collaborating would fuse the old and the new.
As Dr. Lockyer mentioned, modern Japanese culture, or “cool Japan”, is now highly esteemed abroad, in the University of Vienna and probably at the University of Munich as well.
I recently heard Former Minister of State for Financial Services Heizo Takenaka speak in a programme on BS television. Though he receives mixed reviews, he hit the nail on the head by stating that culture is of crucial importance in the strategy of Japan. Culture may not seem to have an immediate impact on the economy, but he believes otherwise. We at Meiji University are also starting a School of Global Japanese Studies, and I hope that bold new inspirations that have never been seen in the traditional concepts of Taito City will come to light.
On the issue of utilizing the Sumida River, I personally ask that the river be released to the world of academics. We academics would like to create a large-scale international academy for Taito City by making full use of our intelligence and human relationships. Asakusa holds a vast array of possibilities. In a sense, it is the only space within Tokyo where you can feel the history as you discuss it. As Professor Yamashita mentioned, areas such as Shinjuku and Ikebukuro developed only after the war; they did exist before the war, but they developed rapidly as entertainment districts afterwards. So Asakusa is the only available place in Tokyo when you want to speak of it in a historical context. We should start out by talking about Asakusa, then go on to talk about Shinjuku or Ikebukuro; simply discussing Shinjuku or Ikebukuro alone is not interesting. I always make a point of outwardly stating such an opinion. I would like to ask that an international hub for research on Tokyo be created in Asakusa.
Professor, may I interrupt you for a moment on the issue of the University of the Arts in Taito City? We had some volunteers from Asakusa working with the students of this university in putting on a musical performance for five days at the Millennium Hall of the Lifelong Learning Center. This fact is not well known, probably due to our lack of promotional activities, but the students of the Department of Traditional Japanese Music performed the musical, and handmade all sets and props. The musical used traditional Japanese music and was titled “Reverberation in Pink” based on the popular Noh play of Dōjōji. With the help of the Cultural Promotion Department of Taito City, one of the organizers for today’s symposium, we are also planning to put on another performance by the students of the University of Arts for two days this December. It will be a musical or an opera-style performance using traditional Japanese music on the theme “Asakusa”, so it would probably be based on some symbol of Asakusa, such as the Ryōunkaku, which was called The Asakusa Jūnikai (lit. Asakusa Twelve-stories). The writing of the script is now underway.
I just wanted to report that we have such projects underway. Thank you.
We still have time, so please feel free to ask questions.
I came here today expecting something a bit different from the project. This may not be a suitable issue here, but I wanted to talk about New Year in Asakusa, when a long line of people come to pay tribute to the Kannon deity. After visiting the Kannon, these people would usually end up eating snacks on the streets in front of the temple, and seeing them squatting on the ground because there is no place to sit makes me wonder if this is how I want Asakusa to be. In summer, after the fireworks are displayed, we would find the flowerbeds in Sumida Park all trampled and all the morning glory sprouts destroyed. When the mikoshi (portable shrine) comes to a stop during the Sanjya festival, the flowerpots on the breakwater would be overturned and the flowerbeds of apartment buildings crushed, so that restoring them to their original state takes time. These kinds of things keep happening.
I have nothing against working for a prosperous Asakusa, but these things made me wonder if Asakusa really needs events such as festivals, fireworks, and “New Year” throughout the year; after all, Asakusa does have its tolerance level. I’m not sure that the visitors who come for a one-time event would be able to leave with the feeling that they were in touch with the cultural aspect of Asakusa. We as local residents would prefer to have people visit during the remaining 360 days of the year, take time to relish Asakusa, and to visit us again and again.
What, then, is the tolerance level of Asakusa? A splendid new Tower is bound to induce visitors, both to itself and to Asakusa. I have nothing against the idea that Asakusa will be bustling with people, but I do worry about what may happen in the future, since the area may disintegrate. I think we should have a firm vision of where we want to go from here.
I agree that six-car and ten-car trains will bring more people, but we should consider the actual number of people to expect; what would happen if ten-car trains came every fifteen minutes, or every ten minutes? We would also need to consider the flow of people coming in from other routes. As there are a number of professors taking part in the project, I think you should conduct all kinds of simulations on this matter.
I also want to point out that the number of visitors to Asakusa decreased with the disappearance of Yoshiwara; this I can say with certainty. Of course the presence of Yoshiwara is not desirable for women, but for adult males, in my opinion, it was something comparable to Disneyland. (Laughter) At least that is how I see it, since they are both clearly artificial. Depending upon the circumstances, I think we should make a virtue of necessity and restore Yoshiwara; it must have been hell for the women, so perhaps we can make it more cheery, in Disneyland-style, and call for visitors. We can also offer a venue where the visitors can go afterwards to learn about its history, so that they will feel the wrongness of such red-light districts. That is all.
Thank you for your bold approach. I want to emphasize that the International Asakusa Research is against an Asakusa that focuses only on tourism. When I talked earlier about being open to the international environment, I did not mean to say that academic meetings were to be held to attract foreign tourists. As I have been saying repeatedly, I believe that it is desirable to have more young people walking around in Asakusa on a daily basis, and that we should consider ways to create systems that allow such a situation, among other issues. My only concern with the large number of incoming tourists is the issue of environmental destruction. How should we stand as an environmentally-advanced country?
This question holds some important implications. My speech centered around the issue of bringing in as many people from the outside as possible, but this does not mean that we should rely on events held at specific points in time. As mentioned in the two keynote speeches, the diversity and day-to-dayness of Asakusa will enable visitors to come to the area as an extension of their daily lives, so it would be better to plan its revitalization in a way that does not rely on events such as festivals, the hoozuki market and fireworks. Such events are efficient for attracting guests, and are easy to rely on, but we should stick to aiming for having many people visit Asakusa on a daily basis. In this sense, what you just said was helpful.
Please let me just mention my idea regarding the direction this project should take. As in the previous question, I see the Thames as a symbol of London, the Seine as a symbol of Paris, and the Hudson as a symbol of New York, but I don’t see Sumida River as a symbol of Tokyo. For me, it is a symbol of the downtown area.
I think this leads to the comment by Professor Itoda that you cannot talk about Tokyo without talking talking about Sumida River, or Asakusa. I would especially like to ask Dr. Schulz and Dr. Lockyer if they see Sumida River as a symbol of Tokyo. Perhaps they feel differently about my opinion that the Thames is a symbol of London and the Seine is a symbol of Paris, so I would like to ask about that, too.
I am interested in modern Japanese literature, or Edo literature, and Sumida River often comes up in such literature. From the perspective of Japanese literature, Sumida River serves as an important symbol. For me, the river is a symbol of Tokyo, but in reality that symbolic role seems to be on the brink of disappearance. It depends on how you look at it; for example, Professor Hidenobu Jinnai, who studies the waterways of Tokyo and is interested in Edo as a city of water, would feel that it is symbolic. I feel that it is not, for the general public.
I think that for historians, the symbol of a city changes with the times. In my opinion, this issue is not unique to Tokyo, but is the same for any major city with waterways around the world. It is interesting to see the differences among various periods in time, and there are a variety of opinions. Take the Thames of London as an example; it is now a symbol of the city, but during the 19th century when London was in a state of dilapidation, it was a foul-smelling swamp. I would feel sorry for London if the Thames was its symbol during the latter half of the 19th century. But we now see movements across the globe of major cities returning to a lifestyle in harmony with water. Calling Sumida River a symbol of Tokyo may be an overstatement, but if the connection between Sumida River and Tokyo is strengthened again, so that occasions for lifestyles and transportation in harmony with water are increased, it would make me happy.
That was an important indication. True, Sumida River may no longer be a symbol of Tokyo, but it served a critical role during the time when waterway traffic was dominant. The movement of returning to living with water seems to be an important one that is not a passing trend.
Are there any more questions from the audience? Please, go ahead.
This question may be out of line with the discussion, but I wanted to call attention to a different perspective. I was born and raised in Asakusa, and now work for a major company, so I probably fall under the category of living in a fast city. As you all know too well, this once-in-a-century economic downturn has hit us hard. I’m sure Asakusa will come to feel this too, and perhaps the construction of the Tokyo Sky Tree will even be delayed for a few years; that is how bad I think the situation is.
Though we can’t say for certain, my image of Asakusa is that of a slow city. It doesn’t seem to be affected too much by the economic crisis going on around the world, and actually this is an advantage that maybe we can make use of. Perhaps we can turn the situation into an opportunity rather than a crisis. It just dawned on me that maybe we can find a hint in how the Tori-no-ichi festivals become more crowded during times of recession. I agree with the previous comment that simply increasing the number of visitors is not enough, but isn’t there some way Asakusa can bring about the resurgence of Tokyo, or serve as the driving force for overcoming the recession? I think that in this sense, it might be smart to change the festivals in Asakusa so that they would be more dynamic and invigorating than usual. I agree that simply increasing the number of visitors is not enough, but at the same time, I think we should consider such aspects as well.
Thank you for your comment. I think the idea of Asakusa sending out messages of encouragement to Tokyo, or all of Japan, is a possibility, so Asakusa will have to do its best. Are there any more questions? Please, go ahead.
I was the one to ask the first question. I didn’t get a clear reply, which is fine since I understand we don’t have much time, but I just wanted to ask if you have an independent item in the International Asakusa Research for studying cooperation with upper public institutions, like the “Yokoso! Japan” campaign or the urban planning schemes being promoted by the governor of Tokyo. I’m sure there are plans like those for constructing buildings for the Olympics, but what I would like to know is if there is continuity between the urban planning schemes by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and similar schemes that link Asakusa and the Tokyo Sky Tree.
Since Meiji is a multi-department university, we have professors in the fields of archaeology and urban planning, and our Faculty of Law, which is quite well known, includes the study of urban law. This is the advantage of being a university, so of course we will do our best if the International Asakusa Research develops in such holistic directions in the future. For now, we would like to make full use of the advantage of its variety of faculties.
Does this answer your question? As our time is about 10 minutes past schedule, I would like to wrap up this second symposium.
I would just like to mention that the International Asakusa Research will focus on publication in the future. As our name indicates our desire to expand internationally, we will aim for publications in both English and Japanese. If possible, we would like to find an overseas publisher that can handle Japanese print.
There are various guide materials on Asakusa as a space for tourists, but we don’t see much that explores Asakusa in depth, or the relationship between the future of Asakusa and the tourist strategy of the entire country, as mentioned in the previous question. We would therefore like to create some media that send out such information overseas.
In addition to the printed format, Meiji University has an excellent system provided by its library that allows the research results gained at the university to be posted online. We hope to create a system where if, for example, Dr. Schulz writes on Asakusa in English or German, and Dr. Lockyer does the same in English, it can be published on Meiji University’s website and literally send out messages to the world that Meiji University serves as a base of Asakusa Research.
In this sense, I believe that next year will be a major turning point for us, since it will be the third year of the project. Projects like this are meaningless if they only take place once or twice in a spasmodic fashion. The third year is crucially important because once a project shows signs of failure during this period, it usually doesn’t last. The important thing is to continue with the research, so organizing a proper publication system is very important. As I just mentioned, publication would include information in print, as well as making it available online at all times. We are hoping to create a system where all materials written in Japanese are translated into English, so I would like to ask for your continued support.
Finally, I will ask Professor Sakamoto, the vice-president of Meiji University, to present the closing address.