Strategic bombing, the military strategy employed in total war with the goal of defeating the enemy by destroying its morale or its economic ability to produce and transport materiel, was used with a vengeance in the Pacific War. Sixty-six major cities in Japan had been bombed, “destroying 40 percent of these urban areas overall and rendering around 30 percent of their populations homeless,” writes John Dower in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Embracing Defeat. “In Tokyo, the largest metropolis, 65 percent of all residences were destroyed . . . The first American contingents to arrive in Japan . . . were invariably impressed, if not shocked, by the mile after mile of urban devastation . . . Russell Brines, the first foreign journalist to enter Tokyo, recorded that ‘everything had been flattened . . . Only thumbs stood up from the flatlands—chimneys of bathhouses, heavy house safes and an occasional stout building with heavy iron shutters.’” (Dower: 1999, pp. 45-46.)
Having known of the extensive damage to Tokyo, it always perplexed me that certain buildings like those pictured here managed to remain, ostensibly unscathed by the bombings. Check out a satellite view of Tōkyō on GoogleMap and you’ll find many of these houses hidden like Fabergé Easter eggs in the urban sprawl of the metropolis.
As I was re-reading Dower’s masterpiece on Japan in the wake of WWII, I learned that it was no coincidence that these mansions were spared:
“Even amid such extensive vistas of destruction, however, the conquerors found strange evidence of the selectiveness of their bombing policies. Vast areas of poor people’s residences, small shops, and factories in the capital were gutted, for instance, but a good number of the homes of the wealthy in fashionable neighborhoods survived to house the occupation’s officer corps. Tokyo’s financial district, largely undamaged would soon become “little America,” home to MacArhur’s General Headquarters (GHC). Undamaged also was the building that housed much of the imperial military bureaucracy at war’s end. With a nice sense of irony, the victors subsequently appropriated this for their war crimes trials of top leaders.” (Dower: 1999, pp. 46-47.)
I have more photos of these buildings and houses which I will upload later.
This painting of 45 of Tatsuno Kingō’s works, including The Bank of Japan (center) and Tōkyō Station (background) gives an idea what the Marunouchi area used to look like before the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923, WWII, and the Great Wrecking Ball of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. For more on Marunouchi, go here.
According to Wiki, “Following the Meiji Restoration, Marunouchi came under control of the national government, which erected barracks and parade grounds for the army.
“Those moved in 1890, and Iwasaki Yanosuke, brother of the founder (and later the second leader) of Mitsubishi, purchased the land for 1.5 million yen. As the company developed the land, it came to be known as Mitsubishi-ga-hara (the "Mitsubishi Fields").
“Much of the land remains under the control of Mitsubishi Estate, and the headquarters of many companies in the Mitsubishi Group are in Marunouchi.
“The government of Tokyo constructed its headquarters on the site of the former Kōchi han in 1894. They moved it to the present Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku in 1991, and the new Tokyo International Forum and Toyota Tsuho Corporation now stands on the site. Nearly a quarter of Japan's GDP is generated in this area.
“Tokyo Station opened in 1914, and the Marunouchi Building in 1923. Tokyo Station is reopened on 1 October 2012 after a 5 year refurbishment.”
Went running around Fukuoka Castle to check on the cherry blossoms—not yet—and noticed that parts of the castle have been given a fresh coat of paint recently. Seems the city is finally putting some money into park maintenance. The arched bridge just below this yagura (turret) is also being rebuilt as is the iris garden.
I don’t think the city would have bothered if inbound tourism hadn’t exploded as it has these past few years.
One of my favorite areas of Tōkyō is Marunouchi, the commercial district located between Tōkyō Station and the Imperial Palace. I love the architecture, both old and new, the wide, uncluttered tree-lined streets, the proximity to the Imperial Palace, and, well, I could go on and on.
The land where Marunouchi stands today was originally an inlet of Edo (Tōkyō) Bay. It was reclaimed in the late 1600s and during the Edo Period (1603-1868) feudal lords close to the Tokugawa Shogunate, known as fudai daimyō, maintained homes in the area. Following the Meiji Restoration, the land was used as a barracks and parade ground for the Imperial Army. And around 1890, the land was bought by the Mitsubishi company which began to develop it as a center for business. Mitsubishi still owns much of that prime real estate today.
The first "Mitsubishi Ichi-gō Kan" (Building No.1) was completed in 1894 (Meiji 27). It was followed by the construction of a large number of similar brick buildings, and by the early 1900s the area was nicknamed Icchō Rondon (一丁 ロンドン One-Mile London) because of its resemblance to the British capital.
As is sadly all too common in Japan, very little of Icchō Rondon remains today. Except for Kingo Tatsuno's Tōkyō Station, and the Ministry of Justice building near Hibiya Park, I don't think any buildings from the era have survived. If you ask your Japanese friends why, they'll probably shrug. Push them a little and they might venture a guess that the area had been destroyed in the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923.
There is some truth in that. The massive quake, which killed an estimated 140,000 people in the fires alone, destroyed much of the city, including parts of Marunouchi.
The earthquake, however, explains only part of the story: many of Marunouchi's brick and stone buildings, though damaged, continued to be used long after the Great Kantō earthquake.
The aerial bombings of Tōkyō during the Pacific War also took their toll. B-29 raids from the Marianas began on 17 November 1944 and continued right up until the day Japan capitulated on 15 August 1945. The Operation Meetinghouse air raid of 9–10 March 1945 is estimated to be the single most destructive bombing raid in history, wiping out more than 50% of the city.
I have no idea when these photos were taken. Many of the modern-looking buildings were built in the 30s. The Dai-ichi Seimeikan which housed the GHQ of the occupational forces was built in 1938. The Tōkyō Chūō Post Office (the white building just left of Tōkyō Station) was built in 1933. The outer portion of the post office remains today and was incorporated into the design of the new Kitte Building that was finished in 2012.
This photo was probably taken in the sixties, judging by the extent of development. It amazes me that the Japanese will build something, tear it down, build something else, tear that down, then build yet another building. There doesn't seem to be a sense of permanence in the designs, something that is not new to Japan. The Dai-ichi Seimeikan replaced a beautiful brick building. (You can see it in the second photo from the top. It is the building on the left side of the street with the street car in front of it.) The exhibit at Seimeikan says that it was a bold move by the architects to do away with the original building. Bold? I'd say it was egotistical and rash. They took a a real gem of a building and replaced it with something you see in pretty much any city today. But, hey, that’s progress!
Mitsubishi's Ichigōkan today. Completed in 2009, it is an exact replica of the original Ichigōkan which had stood on that corner from 1894 until 1968. Wouldn't it have been better, and certainly cheaper, to just keep the original Ichigōkan? Apparently there was a movement to try to protect the building, but they failed to keep it from being torn down. Sigh.
Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel, Tōkyō suffered a similar fate. Although it managed to come through both the Great Kantō earthquake and World War II unscathed, it was no match for the wrecking ball. Fortunately, the central lobby and reflecting pool were disassembled and rebuilt at The Museum Meiji Mura in Nagoya.
Donald Richie in one of his collections of essays wrote about how the "narrowness" of the Japanese home forced people to seek places to relax elsewhere--a favorite snack or kissaten (coffee shop). These, he wrote, were extensions of their home.
I'm sure I have misparaphrased that, but I couldn't help thinking about what the Japanologist had written while I was wandering the streets of Hong Kong. Streets were like dry riverbeds between deep ravines, the walls of which were formed by impossibly tall, impossibly slim apartment buildings.
Google "small Hong Kong apartment" and you'll find photos of insane living conditions; apartments no bigger a four-mat room in a Japanese home.
Decades ago, a girlfriend of mine went to Hong Kong to help her friend with her flower buisness. "They slept on the kitchen floor!" she told me when she returned. I couldn't quite picture people living in conditions so cramped, but now that I've been to the city, I can.
Richie wrote of the uncomfortably cramped living conditions of modern Japanese, but in reality it isn't all that bad. My 90-square-meter, 4LD here in Fukuoka would probably house three to four middle class families in Hong Kong. Perhaps more.
Another thing, you can see further than fifty meters here in Fukuoka. Visitors to Japan from HK must feel liberated being able to just breathe the air while they're here.
I stood in front of the Hotel Granvia for about a half an hour, and as I waited for you I couldn’t help wondering what on earth “Granvia” was supposed to mean.
Was it a reference to Madrid’s Gran Via, literally “Great Way”, the so-called “Broadway of Spain”, the street that never sleeps? And if so, what did that have to do with muted Kyōto, a city where many restaurants close as early as nine in the evening? Or was it in some way an allusion to the “Great Vehicle” of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Probably not. Most likely, the owners just liked the “sound” of it.
These silly, often meaningless names that architects and planners insisted on slapping on buildings, even here in Kyōto, the very heart of Japan, often made me wonder if the Japanese hated their own culture and language.
Unfortunately, the folly wasn’t limited to naming. Infinitely worse, it expressed itself in monstruments like the awful Kyōto Tower that stood across the street from me like a massive cocktail pick. A fitting design, because the people who had the bright idea of creating it must have been drunk.
The bombings of WWII, which reduced most Japanese cities to ashes, spared Kyōto for the most part, meaning the ancient capital is one of the few cities in Japan with a large number of buildings predating the war. Or shall I say, was. Because that which managed to survive the war proved no match for wrecking balls, hydraulic excavators, and bulldozers.
The first chapter of Tears can be found here.
This and other works are, or will be, available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.