Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
Anticipating the upcoming unveiling of the completed renovations of Tokyo Station and its re-opening slated for October is exciting (“Return to Glory” photograph, May 28). However, not for a minute do I expect the completion of this project to be the end of unsightly scaffolding at the iconic station. Great architecture, like great art, comes and goes. But scaffolding lasts forever. For the 25 years I have lived in Tokyo the central station has never once been free of some kind of construction or renovation - even before the current renovation project started - so why should the completion of the work change that? If it’s not one thing it’s another: the Tokyo Station City underground shopping concourse; expanded subway stations; expanded underground access to surrounding buildings; the enduring necessity of repairs; cleaning of smog-damaged external facades; re-development of land in front of the station, etc. It will never end and it will never be “finished.”
Cities great and modest are evolving organisms and it is vaguely disappointing that we can never see them in a final, complete form. Of course, that would defy the very nature of the urban organism, but it highlights the conceit behind eulogizing great projects like the Tokyo Station renovation, or the construction of the Sky Tree. I welcome recognition of our conceits first, because it shows that we can still make fun of ourselves and, second, because it is a nod to reality.
Published on Sunday, June 3, 2012 as “Eternal tweaking of Tokyo Station.”
To date I have only lived in Tokyo for 23 years, not 25 as I wrote. But 25 sounds better. I thought the paper might print this letter because the line “Great architecture, like great art, comes and goes. But scaffolding lasts forever” is such a great line. I admit that it’s not an original line. I read that somewhere a long time ago and have liked to repeat it periodically over the years. Now I am happy to have it in print, with my name, no less!
Boasting about the splendor of the renovated Tokyo Station or the greatness of the new Tokyo Sky Tree reflects the same kind of conceit that paraded before the world’s eyes a century ago, with the HMS Titanic disaster. Humans are overly confident in and proud of spectacularly large constructions. Maybe it’s because we mesmerize ourselves with the spectacle of them. Marveling too much at our accomplishments distracts us from the fact that there is nothing at all that human beings can possibly build that Nature, in time, cannot destroy. Tokyo Station has been great while it has lasted, but it is practically a miracle that it has lasted this long given the destruction of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and wartime American bombing.
Maybe it’s a male thing, this distraction with spectacle and, above all, SIZE!
Incidentally, there is something about Tokyo Station that really bothers me. The building is not symmetrical. One end - the west end, I think - has a wing added on at an angle to the main building block that is missing form the opposite end. I’m surprised I haven’t read any commentary on it. Maybe I will have to write about it in a future letter.