Thursday, March 16, 2006


That old buildings often have character is an obvious thing in most cities, but in Tokyo, things are torn down and rebuilt so rapidly that there isn't much of anything very old here.  Never mind the devastation of WW-II, vast numbers of buildings put up since then have been taken down already.  There are old buildings of course, including per-war buildings that managed to get through the war years undamaged, but the number seems to be less than in most other cities in the world.

What prompts me to write this is the demise of a string of concrete apartment buildings in Jingu-mae (between Harajuku and Omotesando stations), that were put up with international financial assistance right after the 1923 earthquake that destroyed most of Tokyo and Yokohama.  By the time I came to Tokyo in 1984, the buildings were comfortably sitting among large old trees and some of the apartments had been converted into art galleries.  The area felt quite relaxed and comfortable to walk through, and I thought how nice it would be to live there....  That was then, and before I even realized it was going to happen, they were all torn down and an ultra-modern complex of shops and very expensive apartments (on the upper floors above the commercial space) was built on the land where the old apartments and trees had been.  While the main street still has its row of large trees along the road, the other plants were cut down to make way for the long & large structure that is now Tokyo's newest "trendy spot".

Hearing that the complex was open, I went over for a look and to take some pictures - feeling a very deep sense of a lost opportunity regarding not having extensively photographed the old buildings while they were still there!  The new complex, called "Omotesando Hills", is pretty much what I imagined it would be - modern, with nice shops, cafes and restaurants, and with many strolling young couples.  The inside will be better with age, but is a little weird now, as it smells like new-construction-chemicals, so as you walk about inside listening to the recorded bird sounds, the contrast between the slightly toxic air and the sounds of a forest - where the air would be so radically different - is a little bizarre.  Once the chemical smell is gone, the atmosphere will improve no doubt - by this summer?

If you're interested in how it looks, I posted some photos of it here:

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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