Vertical life

At present the tallest structure in Japan is Tokyo Tower. In Dec. 2011, a new broadcast tower, the Tokyo Sky Tree, will be completed near Oshiage station in Sumida Ward, thus becoming the tallest structure in Japan at 610 meters. Sumida Ward is the heart is “shitamachi,” the old working class residential district of Tokyo. Though much of eastern Tokyo was destroyed by firebombing raids during World War II, this particular area was spared, so it retains the cramped, maze-like character that makes shitamachi unique. Families have lived here for generations in very tight-knit communities, in mostly old wooden structures called “nagaya,” which literally means “long house.” The streets are so narrow in this part of town that they can’t even be called alleys, and if there’s a fire (and there often is), forget it. No fire trucks can get through. These neighborhoods predate anything approaching city planning, but because of the Sky Tree, a lot of people had to be talked into moving or selling their land.

The development project, which will also include one 41-story condominium and one 20-story condominium, will displace 270 persons. Two-thirds of these people will leave. The rest will move into the condominiums. Normally it takes years to talk neighborhoods like this into selling their land, but in this case it didn’t take that long because one of the community leaders supports the Tokyo Sky Tree project and the residents apparently trust him. He, in fact, will be moving to the 41st floor of the taller condominium and seems excited about it. “I’m going from a horizontal nagaya to a vertical nagaya,” the 68-year-old man recently told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. 


Actually, the vertical life is not very conducive to community cohesion. We live in a 38-story public rental apartment building in shitamachi, not far from the Sky Tree, and there is no community whatsoever. Older people, especially, find it difficult to go outside. They have to take an elevator. When they lived on the ground, it was only a matter of opening a door. Now, they just stay inside all the time.

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