Now we’ll move on to the keynote speeches. We have invited two researchers from Germany and Austria for the keynote speeches, as befits the international nature of this symposium. We will be answering questions after the speeches if there is time.
The first keynote speech is by Dr. Evelyn Shulz, who is a professor at the Japan Centre in the LM University of Munich. The title of the speech is “Asakusa – a town with a historical waterfront and new sites.”
Dr. Shulz specializes on modern Japanese literature and culture. Dr. Shulz, please begin.
In today’s symposium, I would like to discuss the topic of “Asakusa – a town with a historical waterfront and new sites”, particularly in comparison to some of the typical waterfront environments in Europe.
I will be touching on the following six issues:
Since ancient times water has always been deemed the essence of life; it is also where civilization starts out as cities. Long ago, people started forming settlements around water, and such small settlements have grown over the centuries to develop into what are now major cities.
The waterfront environment consisting of rivers and the seaside are indispensable to the formation and development of cities, for such environments form the basis for logistics and the foundation for cities. Throughout history, urbanisation and the waterfront environment are closely linked together; in other words, there are almost no major cities that have no waterfront environment.
Edo/Tokyo is characterized as a city of water, but Japanese cities are not the only ones in which the waterfront space plays a major role in the formation and structure of urban landscape; in fact, the same applies to countries all over the world. It is commonly said that, in many cases, the major element that adds charm to urban landscapes is the integration of historical townscapes and the waterfront environment, which works to make the landscape more interesting and beautiful by creating a variety of perspectives. There are a number of water cities with historic and natural sites, Amsterdam and Venice are two typical examples.
The richness of the waterfront environment serves as the lifeline that preserves the functions of urban life and at the same time brands these cities as their "landmark" and expands awareness of them on a global scale, so that many tourists now come from overseas to visit their sites. The Seine in Paris and the River Thames in London are also good examples of waterfront development where the waterfront environment and the regional natural environment, history and culture have been brought together.
In Berlin, there is an island called the Museum Island located in the middle of the Spree. Four museums and a gallery are located on this island, as well as various historical sites. Since the reunification of Germany restoration projects have been underway and the island has also been registered as a World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, and is now highly acclaimed as a new tourist spot in Berlin.
In addition, a unique beach-type open café is set up on the island in the spring and summer, and is busy with visitors. In Munich, where I live, there is also a highly acclaimed waterfront environment. The Isar flows through the city of Munich, and traditional high-end residences line both sides of the river. Parks full of greenery and forests spread out around the Isar so that they look like a wide green belt that connects the city with the suburbs.
Just as with other rivers, the Isar had undergone periodic improvements in the last century, and had once been turned into a canal. In order to restore the nature of the Isar, however, policies on the renaturalisation of rivers have been put into action in the last ten years. Embankments have been set back and flood control basins installed in order to secure flooding areas, and traditional floodplains have been regenerated in order to reproduce a more natural waterfront scenery.
In all of the aforementioned examples, walkways surrounding the waterfront have been improved through regeneration projects of the waterfront environment, which means that the process of creating an environment suitable for people is now underway. Included in such environments are residential areas that help to preserve a comfortable lifestyle and commercial areas for shopping and entertainment.
There are also many cities in Asia with rivers flowing through. Among such cities, there are several that have succeeded in implementing projects on water quality improvement and waterfront environment regeneration, in order to tackle the issue of environmental deterioration surrounding rivers. One such project of particular interest is the renewal of the Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul. Various water purification measures have been taken in this project, and recreational water facilities have been installed. As a result, the riverside region was successfully transformed into a recreational space within the city that is much loved by the people.
Similar renewal projects on the waterfront environment are seen in Japan, too. For example, in Osaka, where a number of channels have been running through the city for centuries, a boardwalk called the Tombori River Walk, which is set up in the heart of the city, plays an important role in regenerating the City of Water.
The redevelopment project in Nihombashi, which is now underway, also shares some prominent features with the regeneration of the Cheonggyecheon in Seoul. The waterfront area along the Kamo River in Kyoto has always been popular as a peaceful haven. But in the case of Kamo River, in contrast to the previously mentioned examples of Osaka and Nihombashi, there is almost no artificial space for consumerism, since it is left with nature as it is.
The examples I have mentioned so far include waterfront environments that have been created both over the course of history and anew. Waterfront development projects, which have created the latter, have mostly been conducted within a limited period in time, and one reason for this is the fact that since the 1980s, the concept of urban regeneration was mainly applied to the waterfront environment. The multiple functions of rivers had once again come to be treasured as the key to urban regeneration, due to the high value placed on the waterfront scenery and the openness of the waterfront space. The waterfront environment with its rivers are an asset that cities can be proud to have, as well as an ideal space for implementing new types of urban regeneration.
Serving as the backdrop is criticism of the serious damage and pollution to rivers and the waterfront environment which was caused by the modernisation and industrialisation that continued from the latter half of the 19th century to the end of the 20th century.
In industrialised countries, rivers and the waterfront environment had been used as sewage systems, serving as the garbage dumps of urban civilisations, then as sites for constructing highways, then as facilities to prevent flooding, and it is only recently that they are receiving renewed attention.In Japan, also, improvement policies are now underway for the waterfront environment. In 1988, several cities, including Tokyo have been designated for the My Town, My River Improvement Project, and now have regeneration projects underway for the waterfront environment.
Since then, numerous renovations have been made in order to make full use of the urban waterfront environment and to add appeal to people’s lives, and waterfront environment regeneration projects are now underway in a number of areas. Such projects are also related to various theories such as sustainable cities, urban development, and the preservation of history and amenity regeneration in urban districts.
It seems that the 21st century may turn out to be a turning point for Japan in terms of urban planning and urban development. A variety of important issues, such as Japan’s transformation from a growth-oriented society to a mature society, the aging society and low birthrate problems, the end of the oil-oriented era, climatic changes, and the heat-island phenomenon, all lie behind this major transformation. Since cities of today face global competition, efforts should be made to create an environment that is attractive, not only for the residents in general but also for domestic and foreign industries.
With these ideas in mind, a number of redevelopment and regeneration projects have been started in the last several years in Tokyo, the global city. Large-scale redevelopment projects that symbolise the globalisation of Tokyo, such as those that took place in Shiodome, Shinagawa and Roppongi Hills, are the most prominent: at the same time, there is also the need to create comfortable living environments that provide relaxation and peace. To construct high-quality living environments throughout Tokyo, the most important issue that needs to be addressed is to make better use of the waterfront environment.
Sumida River is often called the “mother of rivers” in Tokyo. How is it positioned within the framework we have been discussing, in terms of its waterfront environment? In the old days, the area surrounding the Sumida River was full of both nature and culture, especially the waterfront space around Asakusa and Mukōjima. Since the Edo era, Sumida River and its surrounding areas established their position as a favourite sightseeing spot for the citizens of Edo.
Until the 19th century, or rather until the start of the industrial revolution, the quality of water running in the waterways of Edo/Tokyo was better than it is now, and residents who made their living on fishery used to live in the waterfront areas. However, with the coming of the 20th century, Japan entered an era of serious environmental pollution. The regeneration project for Sumida River is many-sided, and covers a wide array of targets. One of the most important aims of this project is to return Sumida River to what it had been in the old days, when ice fish lived in its streams and children could wade and play in it. Judging from the popularity of the Sumida River Fireworks Festival, this project has been a success so far.
In regard to the regeneration of the waterfront environment, it is not only practicality and usefulness that are at issue; finding and making connections with the history of the river, the surrounding areas, and the country, or with the legends that live on in the area are important, too. The development of a waterfront that builds on the nature, history and culture of the region can be taken further by taking in the various legends that have lived on in the area and weaving them into a story that would serve as the brand of the area.
I would now like to introduce one such example in Europe, which is the Rhine flowing through Germany. One of the most famous legends related to the Rhine and Germany that describe the close relationship between the river and Germany and its history is “The Song of the Nibelungs”. One of the most important stages in this legend is the city of Worms, which lies along the Rhine. The city of Worms today is medium-sized, with a population of approximately 80,000, and is in many ways a typical city. At the same time, it boasts one of the oldest histories in Germany, and is linked closely with “The Song of the Nibelungs”. Since most of the characters that appear in “The Song of the Nibelungs” are related to the city of Worms in some way, this song plays an important role both in the history and present of the city, which is called “The City of the Nibelungs”.
The tourism industry of Worms has developed in various areas based on this legend. For example, the city has made use of the fact that it is an existing home of the characters that appear in “The Song of the Nibelungs”, and builds on this point as one of its important marketing strategies in the tourism industry. In 2002, the first “Nibelungs Drama Festival” was held to commemorate the 800th anniversary of “The Song of the Nibelungs”, and drama festivals have been held every summer ever since. The city has also created a network connecting over 50 towns and cities called the “Cities of the Nibelungs”, whose member towns and cities hold events related to the legend. Needless to say, there are many sites in Worms related to “The Song of the Nibelungs”.
The area surrounding the Sumida River is well known for being a waterfront environment that has a wealth of legends and history, which developed from its rich cultural resources. A number of natural and historical sites fill the riverside area between Asakusa and Mukōjima to this day, since the area has undergone numerous transformations and is rich in history. Numerous legends related to the area continue to live on, too.
There are a great many works of literature and ukiyo-e that deal with the area surrounding Sumida River. One good example is the internationally renowned “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo” by Hiroshige Utagawa. The shichifukujin-meguri (a trip visiting the seven gods of fortune) around Sumida River also boasts a tradition of over 200 years. The latest works of literature have staged their stories around Sumida River and its surroundings over the years, resonating with previous works. For example, modern writers such as Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Kafū Nagai, and Kyōka Izumi chose to use Sumida River as an important symbol of Edo culture in their dinstictive styles, while also describing it as a symbol of the sense of loss created by modernisation, back when modern Japan pushed ahead and disorganised the space in Edo in the name of “cultural enlightenment".
There are also many other examples to illustrate that Sumida River is more than just a river; it is a space filled with culture and history that inspires imagination. What I would like to point out is the dual nature of the area: the waterfront environment in the city has its own historical and practical context, while also being a space that has an ambiguous aspect that can not be fully grasped through reason alone. It is in such a unique area that the the Sky Tree, a massive new tourist site, is being constructed.
One of the characteristics in the development of Tokyo after the burst of the bubble economy is that construction projects that symbolize the globalised city of Tokyo were conducted mainly in the western and southern areas of the city. In the meanwhile, almost no urban buildings have been constructed on the eastern side of Tokyo, and an air of being left behind the times lingers in the area.
The Tokyo Sky Tree, which is a unique construction on a global scale, would therefore serve as an attraction that makes the area surrounding Sumida River stand out, and can be expected to act as a stimulant that adds new attractiveness to Asakusa, which had remained isolated from the overall development of Tokyo. As shown by examples of success in Berlin and Munich, Asakusa, which is located adjacent to the Sumida River, has a good potential for developing into a new environment centred on walkways that connect traditional culture with modernity. Alhough Asakusa has always been located removed from the centre of Edo/Tokyo, it has also served an important role by providing a network of waterways throughout Edo/Tokyo. In the fast-paced metropolis of today, there is a definite need for such small suburbs within Tokyo.
Needless to say, major construction projects such as the Tokyo Sky Tree are bound to induce confusion and discomfort as well as joy and curiosity, by forcing various changes upon the lives of the local residents. However, it is the way of the world that all changes have negative as well as positive effects, and in the case of this project, I believe that the overall effect is bound to be positive.
For example, in creating a new tourist spot around Asakusa, renovation projects in infrastructure and transportation systems are necessary, and it is expected that funds from corporations and commercial entities will be pumped into the eastern area of Tokyo. Such changes will surely profit the residents of Asakusa, though they may not be easy to see. Large construction projects such as the Tokyo Sky Tree may initially give the impression of having a foreign object that brings only "non-continuousness" foisted on to the area, but I’m sure that with time, the Sky Tree will come to be recognised as a part of the region.
That’s all, thank you for your time.