Sunday, May 24, 2009

"'It's Like Disneyland!'"

On Friday, I met some friends in Yurakucho, and after socializing for a bit, we got to talking about old buildings in Tokyo, and how it was a shame there are so few of them. From there, I mentioned an interesting one I know of in Ginza, and it was decided that four of us would walk over to it, with me leading the way.

As we neared the building, I explained a bit about its history, and when we arrived in front of the building, I stopped everyone and pointed out some of the architectural details. (I'm not exactly an expert on Tokyo, but this particular building I've spent some time studying - via direct observation, talking to people who know its history, and reading about it, so I was the most knowledgeable one regarding the building in the group.)

With my pre-arrival tour guide functions fulfilled, I marched across the street, and held the door open for the other three. I introduced the elevator with its manually operated doors, and we went up into the building. As we walked down one of the old hallways, a woman in the group was visibly excited by the building, and looked at me with eyes sparkling and said "It's Like Disneyland!".

I was a bit taken aback, but as I looked into those sparkling eyes, I realized that she wasn't kidding - she really meant that it reminded her of Disneyland (quick note here - Tokyo Disneyland has been phenomenally successful ever since it opened in the early 1980's, and it's rare to find a Tokyo resident who hasn't been there at least once). During the tour of the building, she repeated that "It's like Disneyland!" phrase (well, actually, the Japanese equivalent: ディズニーランド見たい! [Dizunirando mitai!]) a few times, further burning that image into my brain, so I've been thinking of how that can be - how can an old, but honest building produce a strong feeling of being like Disneyland?

The answer is depressingly simple. Tokyo has had almost everything old in the city so successfully destroyed (intentionally; via earthquake; via external-origin bombs in WW-II; and then intentionally again), that the closest "exposure" (if you can call it that) someone in their twenties (or even thirties) has had to that middle ground between pre-technology eras and full-blown modern technological society, is the fake world built at Disneyland.

And that, I think very strongly underlines the importance of having at least some functioning old buildings preserved in a city. You walk into them and they positively radiate with the history of their existence. You can't get that with recreations and theme parks, no matter how well they are designed.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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