Sunday, April 19, 2009

"The Old Marunouchi Building (1922-1999)"

Describing the Marunouchi Building is complicated, because there are basically four of them! First was the original Marunouchi Building, completed in 1923, and then the Shin-Marunouchi Building (New Marunouchi Building), built next to (not in place of) the Marunouchi Building in 1952. Coming out of the Marunouchi side of Tokyo Station, if you walked over to the center of the station (where there is not a general use exit), and faced away from the station towards the Imperial Palace, the Marunouchi Building was ahead to the left, and the Shin-Marunouchi Building was ahead to the right. Fast forward to 2009 and that description stands, except the buildings called the Marunouchi Building and the Shin-Marunouchi Building are completely different new high-rise buildings. The original Marunouchi Building was destroyed in 1999 (or "by" I should say, I think it took some time to first tear down the building, and then to tear out the basement levels and old foundations), and the Shin-Marunouchi Building was destroyed in 2005. The new Marunouchi Building was completed in 2002, and the new Shin-Marunouchi Building (the new New-Marunouchi Building!) was completed in 2007.

This system of naming a new structure that replaces an old structure (at the same location) with the exact same name of the old structure goes way back - thus if you ask how old a particular temple is, for example, you are likely to be told the date of completion of the first one built at that location, while the current structure may well be version number seven (so what sounds like 800 years or so, may be only 70 years for that particular version of the structure, and 800 for the total of several similar structures with the same name, built on the same ground, one after another). With this system, if you visit Tokyo (via time machine) in the year 2817, there may well be a "Marunouchi Building" and a "Shin-Marunouchi Building" that are the 16th versions of the original ones (new, more durable buildings are torn down faster than older, more fragile temples!). This naming custom makes sense I suppose, but in the year 2009, it's a bit of a headache researching (via the Internet) the history of the four buildings with (discounting the "Shin" of Shin-Marunouchi) the same name! This is where a printed book detailing the history of Tokyo Buildings would be far easier to use than the Internet - but I don't have that book, and if it exists, it probably costs a bit more than I would be willing/able to pay. (The library... maybe I should see what they have.)

The thing that has been interesting to me personally regarding 1920-1960 (or so) style buildings in Japan, is that they have reminded me of childhood memories of visiting similar type office buildings that my father worked in. So while I haven't visited the US is over a decade, visiting buildings like the (former) Sanshin Building and (former) Marunouchi Building, has felt a little like going back home in a way. So as they are destroyed, it feels like bridges to the past are being destroyed, and - aside from my personal feelings - I think old structures really are a kind of bridge to the past, and a certain number of them should be preserved.

It's a hard balance to get right in a city. Overly protecting old buildings can fossilize a city, but overly promoting new-new-new like Tokyo does, leads to a feeling of disorientation, where only the under-22 crowd feels at home. Beyond about 20 years, buildings seem to be considered ripe for destruction, so don't fall in love with any structural aspect of Tokyo, for it is only a matter of (sooner rather than later) time before it will be destroyed. It keeps Tokyo from ever becoming boring though. Without even bothering to leave the city, it changes from under your feet! Great stuff I guess... but to avoid getting disoriented, always push forward, forward, forward, and don't try to revisit something from your past - chances are, it will be gone by the time you return to where it once was.

Anyway, if you'd like to come with 1991 me on a quick trip inside the version-1923 Marunouchi Building, have a look at the embedded video near the top of the page.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Availability note: For news organizations, media companies, advertising agencies, etc., that might be interested in using any of this material, the original is of basically DVD-level quality. I can be contacted via my YouTube page.

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