The link between urban regeneration or redevelopment and the introduction of video surveillance has been well documented by many different authors in Britain, in particularly Roy Coleman in Reclaiming the Streets. It seems that the link is strong in Tokyo too. This new CCTV scheme in the front of Nippori railway station in Arakawa-ku is not only clearly part of the social and spatial restructuring of this area, it is an essential part of the new image, with the new entranceway celebrating the security cameras as much as the area’s name. This is the area we were told by Shinjuku officials had only three cameras, whereas in fact it has the princely total of ten! In retrospect the Shinjuku people seemed to be rather condescending towards Arakawa-ku.
Death of the dojunkai apartments
As I mentioned the other day, after the Kanto daishinsai (Great Kanto Earthquake) of 1923, there were many changes to planning and architecture in Tokyo, in particular a series of experiments with introducing western-style elements into the city, including wider streets to accommodate trams (streetcars), and new concrete mass housing influenced by the modern movement.
Dojunkai, a special organisation under the Interior Ministry, was set to provide such things. Between 1924 and 1936, this agency built 16 apartment blocks out of ferroconcrete and wood in Tokyo and Yokohama. The best known were those in Daikanyama (near Shibuya) and on Omotesando Avenue in Aoyama. The latter were controversially demolished in 2003 by the Mori Building Company Ltd to make way for their soulless Omotesando Hills shopping complex.
Much less celebrated however, were the Dojunkai appartments in Nippori (not Minowa as most people seem to think) in Aarakawa-ku, just round the corner from where I am staying. They’ve been empty and crumbling for a while, but now the writing is very literally on the wall, saying that they will be demolished too. It’s a sad moment: another episode in the slow death of the utopian urban ideal of the Twentieth Century. It’s also a reflection of the very high land prices in Tokyo and relative lack of value in what is on the land at any time (see this article for a good summary of the difficulty of any architectural preservation in Tokyo).
Anyway, not only are they valuable historical buildings, they are also degenerating rather stylishly so, at the very least, I thought I should get in and take some pictures before it was too late. So I did – much to the surprise of a crew of local authority workers who were surveying the place as I came out. Here are some of the shots. I didn’t (yet) go into any of the indvidual apartments – all those I tried were locked and some chained too – though I might try to in the early morning this week before anyone is around.