Our last day in Tokyo!

8 June 2013
Author: Catherine Nguyen – City and Regional Planning

For the last full day in Tokyo students were given a free day. There were no lectures to attend, no walking tours scheduled; we had free reign on how to spend (for some of us) our final day in Tokyo.  Many students took this opportunity to catch up on much needed rest, shopped around for souvenirs, or just walked around to soak it all up.  I took a road much less travelled and ventured out to Tama New Town with my new buds Jessica and Lakan.  Jessica spearheaded our voyage, figuring out the best route to a destination we had excitedly anticipated all trip. We left around 11 AM from Shinjuku Station and took the Keio Sagamihara Line, heading west to Odakyutama Center Station. Our commute zipped us out of cosmopolitan Tokyo and into the ‘60s developed suburbs of Tama New Town within 45 min.

We had been to Tama New Town before to tour the suburban developments, to discuss the challenges that come with an aging population with the Urban Renaissance Agency, to witness the successful intervention of community gardening, and to learn about the new redevelopment project by Brillia. We came back to Tama because there was a major destination that had not been covered in our trip and we just had to see it. For some it would be like going to India without going to the Taj Mahal.  For us, our final destination in Japan was Sanrio Puroland. For some people, this might not ring any bells and would warrant utter confusion. For you friends, I’ve got two words: HELLO KITTY.

Hello Kitty and all her friends – Kerrioppi the Frog, Melodie the Rabbit, and the Little Twin Stars – have been with me my whole life.  They are a line of characters that appeared on all my notebooks, pens, pencil cases, backpacks, piggy banks, rings, etc.  Basically my whole universe as a child was comprised of these characters and now as a 29 year old woman, I have come full circle to their motherland in Japan, Sanrio Puroland.

ImageSanrio Puroland. Jessica Baldwin, 8 June 2013.

Sanrio Puroland has not only had an impact on my whole existence, but also on Tama New Town.  The indoor theme park is a destination marketed towards female toddlers, adolescent teens, and grown women. But, really it is an all inclusive kind of place; people even get married here (Japanorama, 2006)!  Emerging from Odakyutama Center Station we ascend to the main promenade flanked with banners welcoming you to Hello Kitty’s Town.  The public maps, provided to help locate where you are and where you are going, are embellished with Hello Kitty and all her friends welcoming you to their town.  The map has a kind of style and character, making you feel like you’re looking at a map that Hello Kitty made herself.   The buildings that we passed followed suit in décor; whole facades replicate that similar feeling that you’re now entering a special place.  Oh, and it was.


ImageImageImages from Sanrio Puroland. Jessica Baldwin, 8 June 2013.

Visiting Sanrio Puroland reinforced some of what Dr. Sasaki Yoh lectured on at Waseda University. She discussed how cities use Yuru-chara, a mascot, as a means of creating local identity and character. Hello Kitty serves as a mascot in the same way as these Yuru-Chara in and around Odakyutama Center Station not to mention a blazing example of Kawaii culture, ubiquitous in Japan. It just leads me to think that Hello Kitty has had a part in community building and gives me hope that she will too be used as a tool in grappling with the challenges of a new generation. In this sense, the circle doesn’t end here, she and I will be walking hand in hand into a future of community based city and regional planning!

Kawaii. (2006, October 12). Japanorama. London: BBC.

Sasaki, Y. (2013, May 4). How Can We Describe the Identity of a Town or                Region?- Visualization of Regional Landscape for Machizakuri. Waseda            University and Pratt Institute Workshop. Waseda University, Tokyo.


Harajuku-The Cat’s Meow

7 June 2013
Author: Kat Joseph – City and Regional Planning

We are now winding down to the last few days of our trip. It has been an amazing experience so far. Fortunately, we were able to dodge the rainy season and enjoy the beautiful weather while engaging in informative walking tours and educational seminars. Unfortunately, my umbrella took up an entire three inches in length and an inch of width in my bag! On a better note, today was a bit different from most of our days in Japan. Previously we visited a lot of local towns, rojis, neighborhood plazas, public spaces (ranging from small to large), and various shrines. This time around we visited what we Americans know to be the Newbury Street, Rodeo Drive or the 5th Avenue of Japan. Led by Gensler Tokyo architect Nakamura Akira, we visited Harajuku, Omotesando, and later in the day Hillside Terrace. Out of these three places my favorite was Harajuku, there we experienced another side of Japan. First we entered Harajuku through Takeshita Street. Once you enter you are immediately intrigued by the vibrant street, eccentric boutiques, and liveliness. Where color and characters become alive and the Japanese truly unveil fashion in a way like no other country.  

Once we made it through the mass crowd the true character of the streets became more visible. I began to notice a lot of the remarkable edge conditions, formation, and paths on Cat Street (one of the more popular streets that Takeshita eventually merges to). When I first stepped down onto Cat Street the first thing I noticed were the various street elevations. We started off going down a ramp that was about 4 meters in length – this placed us right at the beginning of Cat Street. Once you arrive at the middle portion of Cat Street the sidewalks began to form. Compared to some of the other prominent architectural sights we visited (i.e. Omotosando Hills and Tokyo Midtown Mall) Cat Street had a different environment. Most of the structures were at a human scale; the road, sidewalks, and store entrances were for the most part all at street level. Storefronts were very welcoming; at times I did not even realize how close I was to the entrance of a store until I would actually pass it. The concept of private versus public and how these two forces work with and against each other was a reoccurring discussion amongst the group throughout the trip. In this instance the boundaries between public and private were kept to a bare minimum.  However, due to the low-leveled sidewalks bollards and planters were used to create boundaries to differentiate the street from the sidewalk (Cat Street does not permit motored vehicles).

The further along we went down the street the more the walking paths and streets of this public space began to transform. At one point we arrived to a street median, which was raised and supported a shopping store. Although this store was not aligned with the others on the street it seemed to be organic in its placement because it resembled a tree house.


Tree house, Harajuku. Kat Joseph, 7 June 2013.

There were also instances in which the street was raised and bordered by sidewalk curbs while, the sidewalk was on a lower platform.


Sidewalk view, Harajuku. Kat Joseph – 7 June 2013.

Towards the end of Cat Street we arrived at an elevated open space going down the middle of the road. I was a bit confused at first because this open space had a very old-fashion jungle gym that I wouldn’t want to play on if I was a child, no seating, and hardly any shade. Shortly after a group of school children between the ages of 3-6 years entered and began disaster preparation drills.

Along this side of Cat Street there was an interesting diversity of built infrastructure mostly commercial. They varied in height, width, and building material. This to me reflected the various building materials, slopes, and elevations used for the pedestrian paths and roads throughout Cat Street.


Annotated street front, Harajuku. Kat Joseph, 7 June 2013.

In addition to the many phenomenal Tadao Ando buildings we visited today, Harajuku has definitely left a lasting impression on me.

Wright and Tange in Tokyo

6 June 2013
Author: Mariana Rich

Today we visited Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan, an important piece of historic preservation in Japan, as it is one of two projects by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright that have not been dramatically changed. Built in 1921, Jiyu Gakuen was started as a high school for girls by Yoshikazu and Motoko Hani. Myonichikan “The house of tomorrow” is comprised of two parts, the first one made by Frank Lloyd Wright and the second by his apprentice Arata Endo, who introduced the Hanis to Wright who at the time was working in Tokyo on the design of the Imperial Hotel.

Given that in 1934 the main campus was relocated to Higashikurume City, Myonichikan has since been used by school alumni for various activities. The buildings survived the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 as well as the Pacific War [WWII]. From 1948-1973 the complex was used as a campus for Jiyu Gakuen Seikatsu Gakko.

Myonichikan has some particular characteristics that give the signature of the architect such as low-pitched roofs to emphasize the horizontal line, a geometrical arrangement of window frames, no direct path at the center but two paths located at the sides, and the use of Ohya stones, which is one of Wright’s features in his projects in Japan. The complex was designated as a cultural property in 1997.

Our second visit was to Tokiwadai, one of the most desirables places to live in Tokyo, as it has a public plaza as a welcoming space when coming out of the subway station and a planned grid for single-family houses. Some of the streets of this area are different from the streets found in other Tokyo residential areas as these are bigger and have a median that separates vehicle lanes. These streets have 1m of sidewalk on both sides, 6m of roadway and 1m of median.

The third stop was at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, built in 1991 by the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange. With its rigorous composition, the building represents Japan’s monumentality and power, has one of the best view of Tokyo, and houses the mayor’s office. After its construction, this area became the new downtown resulting in the construction of several new buildings in its surroundings.

Finally we met Rasmus and Jeanette Frisk from arki-lab, urban consultants in Copenhagen, DK, at Shinjuku Station East Plaza, for another diagramming exercise on how to gather the necessary information for our research report. Through an axonometric we gather information on function and activity, in a plan movement and connectivity, and in a section the proportion and the edge conditions present in this particular site.


Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan by Frank Lloyd Wright. Mariana Rich, 6 June 2013.


Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building by Kenzo Tange. Mariana Rich, 6 June 2013.


5 June 2013
Author: Kelly Smolenski – Architecture


It is alive
It is ready
To die and be reborn,
To adjust.
It does not fear time.
It does not attempt to defy the forces of nature, But rather it succumbs to them.
It does not deny the inevitable
But embraces it.
For it is known before it exists
That its physical being will be temporary.
It exists beyond its walls,
For it exists in time.
It is ready to fall and be built again,
And therefore it is ageless.
It is something intangible.
It acts not as a city but as an organism.
It is not a design aesthetic but a mentality,
And this mentality cannot be disturbed.
The splitting of the earths crust
Wrath of the sea and flames of chaos
Cause what has been built to fall,
And cause what has fallen to be built up stronger. But the shadows remain undisturbed
No matter what form the physical matter takes. The physical forces that thrust upon
The people, their land, and their home
Are a part of them.
They exist as one.

It is natural to them. As if it is a mechanism, programmed to operate. Once triggered, it is set into motion, the pen in the hand, the senses alert. Ready. Ready to observe, to document, to absorb.
It is automatic, a way of being. Each their own system, style, approach, but nonetheless effective. I am here as an observer. What I did not realize was who and what exactly I would be learning from.

Adjusting Transforming Patchwork Temporality

All words used to describe Tokyo. All words read before our arrival, used to describe the realm we would find ourselves lost within. But only here in Japan were these words able to become real, and tangible, within my grasp. The city itself is a decentralized flexible composition of parts stitched together with a transportation network that we find ourselves weaving through. Attempting to understand the chaos we find ourselves adding to confusion but we are adjusting. We are learning what we can as quickly as we can in order to adapt to the urban setting we now exist within.

Adjusting Transforming Patchwork Temporality

All words used to describe Tokyo. All words read before our arrival, used to describe the realm we would find ourselves lost within. But as I list them now, they not only describe the city I find myself

in, but also the research team that I am a part of. Stitched together from different parts of the world, different points in our lives, different points in our education, different skills we have acquired. Branching out in all directions our team is comprised of an immense amount of talent and skill. Yet the only means by which any of this is even possible, is because of the guidance provided. The guides whose capable hands we find ourselves in lead us. A mentor and guide translates the language which leaves us illiterate and teaches us the culture which is embedded in what we research and experience. Alexa has done even more than what has been asked of her. She continually creates a link between this country and our team, a link that no amount of research and preparation could provide. Martin-Sensei translates the language of urban planning, the language of cities, so that we are prepared and able to engage the city as best we can. He attempts to teach us all that he can. He has led a group of researchers, through a pitch black forest until the break of dawn. Only through his guidance were we able to realize that the forest was not dark, but rather it was us who did not yet know how to see. We absorb as much as we can for our stay is temporary, just as the architecture is temporary. Constantly in motion the only moments we stop are to focus the lens of our camera, but sometimes even this is not possible. The shutter must be quick because the city does not wait for us to be ready. We remain disconnected from what we know so that the lens we view through is untainted. Like the Japanese realm of public space, we too are dynamic, transient and unattached.

̈The city is a discourse and this discourse is truly a language ̈ – Rolande Barthes

The edge condition, how is it defined, dissolved, suggested? These questions consume me. They are the focus of my research. This transition space is composed of layers. Some soften the edge, blurring the boundary. Meanwhile others act as a barrier, drawing a line between one space and another. Whether building a wall or tearing one down, Japanese public space plays with the edge condition. As Toyo Ito said ̈If we compare the architecture of western civilization to a museum, Japanese architecture can be likened to a theatre. ̈ Japanese architecture exists in time, not bound by walls or enclosure. The cities are designed the same way. They are defined by the activity and the people who occupy it. The edge is composed of layers, layers of time and of material. The edge is what we attempt to understand, because the edge condition provides an immense amount of information about the people, the culture and the space.

Today we were given the opportunity to become a part of another research team. We were able to participate in Sasaki-Sensei ́s research process through a workshop held between Pratt Institute and Waseda University. Through engaging the area of Okubo, we were not only able to provide the Waseda students with American impressions of the town, but we were given a glimpse of what Okubo looked like through their eyes. Shohei is an enthusiastic Urban Planning Masters student at Waseda University who eagerly waited for our arrival. He had participated in the workshop last year as an undergraduate and was impressed with what the workshop contributed to their research. Sasaki-Sensei explained to us that in regards to urban/regional landscape design, a shift from appearance to background, from scene to a way of seeing and from control to management was desired. She conveyed to us the importance of facing problems behind towns and landscapes. Research and discussion are vital to the discovery of potential solutions to resolve these issues. The predicament that the American students came to discover was that the older areas where positive characteristics were found, were the areas which faced the greatest threat by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. These areas are extremely susceptible to outbreaks of fire if an earthquake were to occur and because of this the Tokyo Metropolitan Government wants these areas to be developed so that they abide by proper safety regulations. On the other front, many negative elements were found in the newer developments. The predicament at hand is how can the neighborhood retain its identity and the positive elements which create a sense of pride within the community while becoming a safe area to live? Or rather, how can the neighborhood be developed so that it no longer jeopardizes the safety of its inhabitants but also retains its identity? These issues were discussed and possible solutions proposed. The collaboration offered a unique opportunity to the students of both Pratt Institute and Waseda University. I hope our research was as helpful for them as I believe their insight was for us.

I present this to you in a fragmented stream of consciousness, perhaps analogous to my experience here. For all of this is happening simultaneously, and because of this, it is difficult to capture all at once. 


Prof. Jonathan Martin instructing Pratt students. Kelly Smolenski, 5 June 2013.



Prof. Sasaki Yoh instructing Pratt and Waseda students. Kelly Smolenski, 5 June 2013.


Pratt and Waseda students working together. Kelly Smolenski, 5 June 2013.


The red notebooks

4 June 2013
Author: Isabel Miesner – City and Regional Planning

Since we’ve arrived here in Japan, we’ve been recording our days–the sights, our thoughts, impressions, analysis–in a notebook that Jonathan provided for us at the beginning of class back in New York.  I´m unsure of how familiar the blog readers are with this little red notebook, but I would like to formally introduce it.  The notebook goes with us wherever we go and most of what we write in it will be be used to complete our analysis of Japanese public space once we return home.  But we don´t just write.  We also sketch.  On most of our site visits, we are encouraged to sketch and record what we are seeing and how we are experiencing it.

For many of us, particularly the planners (myself included), we don´t immediately think to record information in a visual way, such as a drawing or a diagram.  Early on in the trip, our natural inclination was to take notes on what we were seeing and only when Jonathan suggested we draw, would we add a small sketch to our notes.  And though the amount of drawing has increased in most everyone´s notebooks, Monday marked a more distinctive turning point in how and what we will be sketching.

We began the day by meeting with Rasmus and Jeanette Frisk of arki_lab.  Both are masters of the diagram and are able to communicate their urban designs and analysis through simple, beautiful and quick sketches.  Their lecture, along with our various site visits, was meant to introduce us to three basic ways of recording data visually: the isometric diagram, the plan diagram and the section diagram.  These diagrams lend themselves to easily show vital aspects of analysis like circulation, activity, movement, connectivity and proportion of a space.   The idea is that each diagram would be able to tell a complex, informative story of a space with only a small drawing and a little use of color–like a visual version of the “30 second elevator speech”.

We had our first attempt at diagraming later in the day in the Arts Triangle area of Tokyo Mid-Town. After visiting the National Arts Center (from the outside) and the architecture- and design-oriented Toto Gallery, we were told that the park we had stopped to eat lunch in was the site of our first diagramming exercise.  I think it is fair to say that, for most of us, it was a rough start.  With only 15 minutes to communicate everything that was happening at the intersection of a busy road, construction site, a park, subway entrance, small scale residential homes and large scale commercial development, turning out three well-formed diagrams in rapid succession was a challenge.  But Rasumus and Jeanette assured us that for now, it´s not about how pretty they look–it´s a great quick and dirty way to record what we were seeing so that once we return home, we will be able to remember the feel of a space and the patterns of movement and activity we experienced when we were there.  Refining and beautifying our sketches comes later.

Our little red notebooks, with their soft faux leather jackets, look so great from the outside.  Who wants to mess up the inside with failed attempts at rough sketches?  But I think hearing a couple of pros tell you that it´s okay for your notes to be full of a messy explosion of ideas allows us to really relax and actually record whats happening here around us rather than spend too much time on getting our sketches just right.  Having these three three basic diagram forms in our tool belts now give us a platform to work more frequently on our own, rather than arriving at a site and waiting around for Jonathan to suggest what and when we sketch.  The more we do it, the more we become comfortable communicating a space visually which will surely contribute to a more colorful and interesting back half in our great little red notebooks.


Red notebook. Isabel Miesner, 4 June 2013.


Catherine Nguyen sketching. Isabel Miesner, 4 June 2013.


Isometric sketch. Isabel Mieser, 4 June 2013.

Tama New Town: Suburban Planning

3 June 2013
Author: Lingyao Lai – City and Regional Planning

Having just woken up after our weekend of geisha in Kyoto and the imperial palace in Nara, we went to Machida today– a suburb of Tokyo. In Kanji, the characters are “町田”, which mean an agricultural area that is full of plants and crops.

As a stranger here, I would like to compare the situations of Tokyo with New York City. Just like northeastern New Jersey contains many ‘bedroom communities’, so the Tama area just outside Tokyo is also a primarily residential area whose residents commute into Tokyo on a daily basis. Right now, Tokyo draws more and more people who are pursuing their careers, since the highly efficient public train systems connect suburban people with employment opportunities.

There are pros and cons to living in modern mega cities like Tokyo, NYC, Shanghai, etc., which always provide more and better opportunities, better facilities/services, and higher salaries. The main con is the unaffordable housing. It becomes a trend–people works in the center of mega cities but choose the adjacent places to raise their families. To me, the suburbs of New Jersey seem just like the Tama area of Tokyo. An interesting idea called “one hour urban circle” came out several years ago. In modern cities, people can make a living within this urban circle by using fast and highly efficient transportation (train, auto, bus). It is reasonable that people could enjoy shopping or do business within the one-hour distance. They will be happy and enjoy their lives even in such busy and high pressure cities. From Machida city to Shinjuku takes 42 minutes by train for a distance of 33 km (20.5 miles). People commute everyday between Tokyo and the Tama area.


Context map – Machida City. Lingyao Lai, 3 June 2013.

Today, our field research included a 40-year old community named Kisoyamazaki, a new redevelopment community, and an agricultural district (Onoji) that belongs to an urbanization control zone.


Urban planning structure of Japan and case study. Lingyao Lai, 3 June 2013.

Kisoyamazaki is an old town that developed in the 1960s. At that time, it was built for the working class; 40 years later, it became has become an elderly-dominated ‘sleeping town’ (bedroom community). The situation is that people prefer to choose a town that has better public services, better schools for children and better disaster shelter facilities. Some old towns face aging population issues: young people moved away; there are fewer job opportunities for young people; there are poor housing conditions that lack disaster protection and elderly-friendly facilities. If the population continues to decrease, the situation may worsen in the future.


Trend of Aging in Tokyo. Lingyao Lai, 3 June 2013.

The ‘dependency ratio’ is an age-population ratio of those typically not in the labor force (the dependent part) and those typically in the labor force (the productive part). This ratio is used to measure the pressure on the productive population. A higher age-dependency ratio means that the government needs more money for the residents’ welfare. Currently, the aging population issue cannot be ignored.

As a planning approach to try and solve these issues, redevelopment might be a good idea. For instance, the redevelopment of Tama New Town by Brillia is now a model redevelopment in the Tama area. While Tama New Town was also built in 1960s, today it faces the same issues as Kisoyamazaki. The Brillia redevelopment project was designed for about 1200 units which is double the number of units in the previous design. High quality housing units, convenient facilities, sturdy structures for disaster protection and spacious and comfortable apartments were designed for the existing residents and intended to attract young people. 95% of existing residents agreed to move into the new buildings, the project also attracted 65% new and young residents.

Regarding community and redevelopment: Kisoyamazaki has a stable social network as residents have emotional attachment there. They have social activities — community garden planting, the harvest festival, outdoor exercises and community-care service. This is a welcoming community that encourages people to enjoy life. A community organization takes part in the management of the community which demonstrates the depth of public participation here. The issues here are just like the general situation in Japan—the issue of the aging population.


Residents volunteering to maintain the community green space. Lingyao Lai, 3 June 2013.


Residential building condition in Kisoyamazaki. Lingyao Lai, 3 June 2013.


Community garden run by residents. Lingyao Lai, 3 June 2013.

Brillia’s Tama New Town project is an interesting example of redevelopment as a tool for revitalization. The new designed buildings  keep some architectural language from the previous design and also provide new apartments, new facilities, and a good physical environment to satisfy residents. The redevelopment also draws more young and working class people here, and gives the community a vibrant atmosphere. In my view, however, while redevelopment may improve the physical environment, it may also cause gentrification.


Tama new town project model. Lingyao Lai, 3 June 2013.


The urbanization control area in Tama is called ‘Onoji’ (which means ‘wild road’ in Japanese); it is a unique way to protect agricultural land use and how people use agriculture land. Here, regulations do not allow people to construct buildings – instead, it is a kind of open space for both local residents and also those from beyond the Tama area. It is also an agricultural school where people can be trained as farmers.


Red line depicting boundary between Urbanization zone and Urbanization control zone. Lingyao Lai, 3 June 2013.

While temples and shrines are unique open spaces in Japan, this Onoji area also has an open space function — residents from remote places come here to enjoy nature, have picnics in the wild field, and experience the fun of cultivation. The only concern is environmental protection since more and more people are coming here but there is no waste management in this area. The abandoned trash and garbage pollute the environment.


The environment of Onoji urbanization control zone district. Lingyao Lai, 3 June 2013.