Now, I would like Professor Yamashita to give his speech titled “The continuousness from Edo to Tokyo and non-continuousness of Asakusa.” Professor, please start when you’re ready.
Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the introduction. It is difficult for me to speak as a native of Japan after Dr. Lockyer and Dr. Schulz, who have kindly shared with us their knowledgeable views on Tokyo and Japan from foreign perspectives.
I was born and raised in Mukojima, and have always lived downtown, just as Professor Itoda has. Based on this background, I would like to present a speech from a very domestic approach, as opposed to those by Dr. Lockyer and Dr. Schulz, whose talks were given from global points of view.
First of all, please note that the phrase “Supported by the Research Institute for Management Quality Science, Meiji University“ is shown in red on this slide. This research institute has been adopted as a Centre of Excellence at Meiji University by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and conducts open research activities. In today’s introduction, I would like to touch on some research results gained at this centre from my position as its research representative.
Though you are probably already well acquainted with the International Asakusa Research Project, I would first like to explain in brief where the project stands.
This is a joint effort between Taito City and Meiji University. It is a project of vital importance in that foreign professors who are well acquainted with Japan take part, such as the two who were kind enough to join this symposium today. At the core of this project is the group described in this slide as the “literary team,” headed by Professor Itoda, who is acting as the moderator today. This team conducts research on areas such as history, culture, performing art, society and literature from a global perspective. On the other hand, I intend to conduct research activities on commerce, transportation, business and management, discreetly and from a domestic perspective.
In today’s speech I would like to present some of the problems we face in revitalizing Asakusa for the future, and ways to counter them.
I will start out by looking back briefly on continuities from Edo to Tokyo, which in itself is continuous with the speeches by Doctors Schulz and Lockyer, and then look into the geographic positioning of Asakusa in terms of transportation and tourism today. Also, from my observations as a resident of Sumida City, I’m sure that some residents of Asakusa must be wondering why the Tokyo Sky Tree will be built in Sumida City. I would like to point out that this might in fact turn out to be the start of a new collaborative relationship between Taito and Sumida, the two cities that share the Sumida River. I will define the potentials of this new tower, which at the same time may bring about discontinuities to the area. Depending on how we approach the Tokyo Sky Tree, the impact on the area may become either synergistic or competitive. Based on these possibilities, I will present my opinions on what may happen in the near future.
First, please allow me to speak briefly about “the continuousness from Edo to Tokyo” in Asakusa.
Many areas in Tokyo, particularly in the uptown area, have developed over the years by breaking off from Edo - by Edo, I mean both the name of the area and the period in time.
Asakusa, on the other hand, has developed gradually over the years around Sensō-ji Temple by keeping alive the Edo traditions and culture, which is described as the “good old culture” on this slide. This is a point of significance. There is also the fact that Asakusa had originally developed as a temple city surrounding Sensō-ji Temple. In this sense, the process from Edo to Tokyo is continuous in Asakusa.
Such are the views on Asakusa by the two researchers, who kindly gave the keynote speeches at the start of the symposium. Asakusa is one of the most representative tourist spots in Tokyo, especially for travellers from overseas, since it is a spot where the atmosphere of Tokyo, or Japan, can be felt most strongly by the average foreign traveller. From the viewpoint of the International Asakusa Research, both Japanese and foreign tourists will discover the appeals of Tokyo in this area, in places such as the Kaminari-mon, Sensō-ji Temple, the Nakamise, Sumida River, and Yoshiwara.
We have studied this issue together with Professor Kaneko, who is one of the panelists for today’s panel discussion, and come up with what we call the catastrophe model on the transition from Edo to Tokyo. The upper part shows Tokyo today, while the lower half shows Edo, and the sharp point in the middle signifies the Meiji Restoration.
The left side signifies the downtown area, centered on Asakusa, and the right-hand side signifies the uptown area.
To be honest, I would have liked to explain this catastrophe model in detail, but as time is limited, let me just emphasize the main issues here. As opposed to Asakusa, which has developed continuously from the Edo period through the Meiji Restoration and the three eras of Taisho (1912 – 1924) Showa (1926- 1989) and Heisei (1990 - ) the uptown area, most specifically Shinjuku, had merely been a posting station during the Edo period. Small farming villages in the Musashi area such as Shibuya and Ikebukuro were modernized much later than the Meiji Restoration, which is this point in the model. This model also shows that it was at this time that most of what had been were destroyed and a non-continuous development took place.
Now, let us look into how Asakusa is positioned today geographically, in terms of transportation and tourism.
Asakusa is one of the first areas in Tokyo to have been urbanized. Moreover, more than half the residents of Edo resided in this area during the Edo period. The fact that Japan’s first subway was laid between Asakusa and Ueno illustrates how urbanized this area was.
Major private railways in Tokyo today basically use stations along the Yamanote Line as their terminals, but the Tobu-Isezaki Line, otherwise known as the Nikko Line, uses Asakusa as its terminal, even though it is not connected to the Yamanote Line. This made me think that perhaps the first subway was laid between Asakusa to Ueno not simply due to Asakusa’s significance but as a means of connecting the Nikko line via Asakusa to the Yamanote Line. In any case, the fact that Asakusa serves as the terminal station for the Tobu Line will prove to be crucial in understanding the present and the future of Asakusa from the perspective of our research, especially in the following three contexts.
The first point of significance is that Asakusa serves as the terminal point for tourist sites such as Nikko and Kinugawa. In fact, a special expressway called Spacia departs from Asakusa for visitors to these areas. It is significant because Nikko is one of the most popular sites for foreign tourists, along with Asakusa. The fact that the train for such a popular site leaves from Asakusa is of great importance, and in a sense, it is the combination of Asakusa and Nikko that is attracting tourists from overseas.
As I had often taken the train from Asakusa to Hikifune or Kanegafuchi ever since I was small, I know that foreign tourists on their way to Nikko can usually be found in the station. As such, I believe that the combination of Nikko and Asakusa are contributing to the increased awareness on Asakusa overseas, while at the same time creating an international atmosphere in the area.
Secondly, Asakusa serves as both the terminal for entering the heart of Tokyo and the main shopping area for the residents of Taito City and Sumida City, the latter of which I myself am a resident. Asakusa station is located within the Matsuya department store, and in addition to serving as a terminal station, it also provides a sense of safety, or even of “home,” and the feeling that it is a part of the lives of the people who pass through it. In other words, people can relax in Asakusa, rather than feel that they need to overextend themselves.
Thirdly, Asakusa also serves as the entrance to visitors coming into Tokyo on the Tobu Line, from eastern Saitama north of Soka, Gunma, and Tochigi. In fact, many such visitors shop in Asakusa when coming to Tokyo.
When considering the revitalization of communities and businesses in today’s Asakusa, these three points are crucial. I’m sure that these ideas will be a source of support for Asakusa, along with the presence of the renowned Sensō-ji Temple.
The Tokyo Sky Tree, which will be constructed in the midst of Asakusa’s historically hospitable and friendly atmosphere, is sure to have a major impact on the area. The plan calls for a tower that will be the world’s tallest, hence the name.
The construction site is located in the Oshiage and Narihirabashi area of Sumida City, just across the Sumida River from Asakusa. What I want to impress upon the people of Asakusa is that this area was not chosen because it was deemed particularly attractive. I am not being ingratiating when I say that it was chosen simply because of its proximity to Asakusa, its good transportation access, and the availability of a large area. True, the location is convenient for unloading a vast amount of cement, but this fact was not significant in any way. In my opinion, the important point is that it was located quite close to Asakusa.
Also, the nearest station from the Sumida City Office is Asakusa, which is visible just across the Sumida River. All of what I just mentioned goes to show that expectations are high for the revitalization of the downtown areas, such as Taito, Sumida, Koto, and Arakawa cities.
But the completion of the Tokyo Sky Tree also introduces discontinuity into an area that has always developed continuously until now. The basis for Asakusa’s retention of its traditional culture, even while developing, lies in the aforementioned characteristics such as a sense of comfort, hospitality, friendliness, home, tradition and so on. The Tokyo Sky Tree, on the other hand, will bring state-of-the-art advanced technology. I must emphasize that the real issue here is this advanced technology, even though the new tower aims to blend in with the traditional downtown characteristics.
This drawing of the catastrophe model describes how discontinuity is brought to the downtown area by the introduction of leading edge technology. The construction of a large-scale structure that is closer to today’s uptown concept than to the downtown concept, will create a new urban space.
In this case, “synergistic effect” and “competitiveness” would be the two main issues in discussing how Asakusa should deal with the construction of the Tokyo Sky Tree. The former is a positive aspect, whereas the latter is negative.
On one hand, the New Tower could become a new tourist spot that works in combination with Asakusa. On the other hand, customers who had previously shopped and taken their meals in Asakusa may choose to do so at the Tokyo Sky Tree instead. It is of critical importance for the future of Asakusa what option the flow of tourists chooses. I’m not saying that we should simply follow whichever way the flow moves, as I will explain later. Rather, we should make an effort to turn this situation into an opportunity rather than into a threat. I would like to present some issues, or different perspectives, in order to accomplish this process.
On the positive side, the change will bring about new tourists and opportunities for shops and restaurants. People who had previously not thought to visit Asakusa may change their minds and come. In particular, domestic tourists can be expected to visit because it is close to the Tokyo Sky Tree. On the other hand, there is the possibility that many such visitors come to Asakusa without a good understanding of its virtues. How, then, can Asakusa welcome such people as its new clientele? If we comply too much with their tastes, the area’s continuity with the past will be destroyed, a point I have been emphasizing in my talk today. New visitors can actually become intruders capable of destroying Asakusa’s traditions, and as such, the situation is fraught with danger.
We need to consider this issue carefully, especially since the entire area centered around Taito City needs to form a consensus on this point. If we take the positive view that such new visitors are potential customers, Asakusa as it stands now is probably incapable of attracting such people into the area, so we need to create a system that will bring them in; in other words, we much inject discontinuity. I would like to emphasize, however, that I am not saying we should destroy the old traditions and culture to do so. I am simply stating that it will be difficult to strike a good balance between the two extremes. The history, or pride, which Asakusa boasts, may turn to a negative direction when attempting to strike such a balance.
On the negative side, as I stated earlier, there is the risk of losing customers to competition with the Tokyo Sky Tree. In other words, visitors may come to sightsee in Asakusa, but choose to shop and eat at the Tokyo Sky Tree complex. Another factor, which perhaps I should not mention in a formal setting such as this, is that Sumida City needs to put its own revitalization before any other priorities. This means that, at least as far as its public position goes, Sumida City needs to promote the enforcement of measures that attract visitors to Ryogoku and Kinshicho, even though the nearest large town is Asakusa, with Sumida River and the Sumida City Office standing between Asakusa and the Tokyo Sky Tree. I would therefore like to state that collaboration between the cities of Taito and Sumida is crucial. After all, the fact that Ryogoku and Kinshicho belong to the same city as the Tokyo Sky Tree is a benefit that is not available to Asakusa.
As for the multilayered characteristic of the visitors to the Tokyo Sky Tree as mentioned by Dr. Lockyer, those who belong to one particular layer may head for Ginza and Nihonbashi. The most typical of the new customers might head for the Odaiba area and Disneyland, while those whose lifestyles are similar to those found in Asakusa for Shibamata along the Keisei Line. The idea that Shibamata may actually compete with Asakusa may not seem realistic for the residents of Asakusa, but there are such possibilities.
In order to acquire a competitive edge against such competition, especially in comparison to Ginza, Nihonbashi, Odaiba, and Disneyland, it is crucial to create harmony and a good balance between continuity and discontinuity, or the ordinary and the extraordinary. So cooperation between Sumida City and the Tobu Railways is critical.
I would like to stress that whether we think of Sumida River as a border that divides Taito City and Sumida City, or an asset / tourist resource of significance shared by the two cities, is the key that will define how Asakusa should cope with the Tokyo Sky Tree.
Bearing such ideas in mind, and regardless of their feasibility, I would now like to recommend some ideas that arose from my position as a local resident. Firstly, we need modes of transportation methods that allow access in order to revitalize the area. For visitors from abroad, Narita and Haneda airports are connected by the Keisei Line, Toei Subway Line, and the Keihin Express Line. My idea is to come up with a name like the “Edo SkyLiner” for the SkyLiner trains that actually run on these lines, and have them stop at Asakusa. As most foreign tourists enter Tokyo via Narita or Haneda airports, they will be able to come directly to Asakusa, and the Tokyo Sky Tree would be located in nearby Oshiage anyway.
Though we are not sure if this idea is technically feasible, I’m sure that having such special trains running on subway lines is not impossible, since Odakyu already has its Romance Cars running on the Chiyoda Line. In addition, the Airport Limited Express trains are already running on the Toei Asakusa Line, so that the only actual problem would be changing the vehicles themselves. This is one concrete proposal.
Secondly, I would like to point out that the distance between the Tokyo Sky Tree and Asakusa is neither long nor short, since it is a 15-minute walk; at my pace, it takes about 10 minutes. As previously mentioned on the issue of the slow city, even if we create a means of transportation that allows access in, say two minutes, it cannot be expected to match the downtown atmosphere. I realize that the issue of introducing rickshaws is still under debate in Asakusa, but my plan is to connect the Tokyo Sky Tree to Asakusa with rickshaws. This may in fact become a model example of the kind of harmony we seek.
Thirdly, an idea of running a small shuttle boat on the Kitajukken River, which stems from Sumida River, was mentioned in the previous workshop. However, it seems that there is a difference in water levels between the two rivers that prevents direct access to and from Sumida River. If this were indeed the case, I would propose falling back on the old tradition of pulling the boat by a rope over the hill above Kitajukken River. History tells us that people actually pulled loaded boats on the Hikifune River, which has now become the area called Hikifune, so this may be a possibility.
Fourthly, I propose the introduction of a nostalgic retro-style bus that makes a tadpole-shaped tour of the major tourist spots between the Tokyo Sky Tree and Asakusa, and then circles back to the Tower. We may expect some squabbles over the order in which the spots are visited, but this system can prevent the Sky Tree from becoming an isolated tourist spot. Asakusa, on the other hand, would act as the area forming the head of the tadpole shape. This would allow visitors to the Sky Tree to come directly to Asakusa’s major sites.
In addition, recall that Asakusa serves as the gateway for Nikko. These days, the Tobu express trains depart from Shinjuku as well. Foreign tourists are important customers for Asakusa, because they tend to find it more attractive than the average Japanese, as do those who are with us today. To retain such tourists, the Spacia train destined for Nikko must continue to depart from Asakusa. But the current situation is that the train must enter the station situated in Matsuya at a sharp angle after crossing the Sumida River; moreover, it would not fit if it arrives at platform one, even when it is only a six-car train. So my fifth proposal is to reconstruct Asakusa station with straight platforms across the Sumida River, long enough to accommodate as many as ten-car trains.
In terms of commuting, the Tobu Line merges into the Hibiya Line at Kita-Senju, and into the Hanzomon Line at Hikifune. On a personal level, I usually leave from Kanegafuchi, change trains at Hikifune and take the Hanzomon Line to Jimbocho when I commute to university, so I don’t go through Asakusa anymore.
My final proposals is to come up with measures to prevent Tobu from having fewer trains stop at Asakusa or removing Asakusa from its position as the station where express trains leave for the Nikko area. That is all I have to say today. Thank you for bearing with me to the end. (Applause)
Thank you, Professor Yamashita. As Professor Yamashita won’t be joining us for the panel discussion, we will take some time now to answer a couple of questions, if you have any.
I would like to thank you for your insightful ideas. I think your ideas about the Tobu Railways are quite correct. Constructing a station across the Sumida River is bound to have a positive impact on both cities, but do you think that this idea is actually feasible, especially when considering the case of Sakura-bashi, and when thinking of running a ten-car train on the tracks? Would it be possible to use the bridge now used to construct this new station? I would appreciate your thoughts on these points.
I am only an amateur when it comes to such points, but I am not saying that the entire station should be built over the river, so long as it is constructed somewhere on the straight stretch from the bank of the Sumida River on the Taito City side, across the river, and into Narihirabashi. The only thing is, the station cannot be moved any more to the side of Sumida City, so it should be brought as close to Asakusa as possible, and its straight platforms should be able to accommodate up to twelve-car trains, since such trains may run in the future. I’m positive that such a structure is technically possible. However, since it was mentioned in past workshops that the iron rail bridge in use today is a very important structure in terms of the scenery of Sumida River, we must consider the feasibility of this idea from this aspect. Also, there is the issue of cost, which was not included in considering my private plans in any way, so I’m not sure they would be economically feasible. I am simply stating that Asakusa will need to consider such issues and make efforts to retain its current position.
Thank you, Professor Yamashita. As the professor mentioned earlier, I agree that the issue of how we view Sumida River is a very important topic, not simply in terms of the Tokyo Sky Tree and its impact, but for Asakusa as a whole. In particular, in terms of continuousness, the Sumida River had served as a means of transportation during the Edo period. In other words, Edo was similar to Venice. When transportation was mainly via water, Sumida River was important, but gradually lost this significance during modernization. In calling forth the continuousness of the area once again, then, what position should we take on the Sumida River? This question is connected to the issue of the slow city as mentioned by Dr. Schulz, and both are major themes that we would like to discuss with you in the future.
Are there any more questions? If not, we will take a brief break for ten minutes, then begin the panel discussion at half past the hour. Let’s take a break then. Thank you for your attention. (Applause.)