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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

History and Innovation

Culture is constantly shifting; there is a dynamic exchange happening. Kyoto is a cultural repository of culture in Japan. With a panoptic stance, Kyoto can be seen as an implicating and contaminating culture within Japan. The modern mixed with the traditional, displays the deep-rooted sense of history held within the city as well as how the city is dealing with the introduction of new wave of architecture into their building fabric. Shrines still stand in their original site, authentic and genuine, reverend by the locals. The notion of time reflects looking back into history allowing the culture to grow and become more of a form of knowledge as it becomes engrained into the locals. The involvement of innovation, where the gained knowledge is become instilled, detaches itself from a myth-based society due to the notion of the culture seizing to be factual but rather temporal and changeable. Looking forward becomes the base principle of that permanence within society. Once we become part of history, today we live in the present while tomorrow has its historical meaning, it has past so immediately we would not consider it in the past but eventually it becomes ancient. Culture can only be there as part of history if in fact we accept that culture is involved in the innovation process. The culture is constantly at a loss because it is caught between the searches for the reconciliation within our minds of our presumptions of Japan. As we settled into Shinagawa, our brief home stay, we were fully immersing ourselves into the everyday lifestyle in Japan. We each developed a daily routine and acknowledged our surroundings that became something familiar to us rather than foreign and unknown. We get into the idea of the “everyday”; we take the same path and every aspect of the city now has an embodiment of the thought of non-thought.

With technology, a detachment from traditionalism, a society is perceived as conformist yet it operates entirely on the other spectrum. The necessity is that we as participants need to transcend to embrace the contraction and the complexity which will offer more in holding onto the myth based agenda where we can observe and analyze. A city like Paris is encapsulated in a historical sense where the people are completely content with their city yet frustrated that there is no push forward; it is historically relevant to the people. As culture moves forward in time through the idea of modernization, it is simultaneously becoming less unique. It is rendered to become homogeneous where essentially once the discipline becomes monotonous or specialized, exposure to anything else becomes very slim. As we move towards society of spectacle, we must question whether a culture is being used in the process of creating the spectacle. We must ask ourselves why is each neighborhood made to be highlighting a certain aspect. Culture is a commodity of how society came to be a spectacle, and now that we have this knowledge, it is difficult for society to work outside of this notion.

09/18/2013 Paula M Narvaez

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Conformity of the Urban

Upon first observation, the citizens living in Tokyo seem self-disciplined to a strict adherence to order and structure. The robust Tokyo transportation system is highly efficient, accurate, and punctual. In an almost ritualistic manner, Tokyo train commuters silently form a line, allow passengers to exit the train, and board the cars with the utmost fluidity. This blasé attitude described by Author Georg Simmel is clearly evident in their behavior. Most train passengers spend their commute staring at the train’s floor or focused on a book. Social interaction between commuters that do not know each other is rare, or even non-existent. After observing the first layer of the psychology of Tokyo’s society it seems that individuals act together as one to create a better society.

Simmel extensively theorizes how the psyche of the modern man has changed with intensification of city life. Simmel describes how the metropolitan man develops a blasé attitude to cope with the amount of stimuli in a city. Furthermore, Simmel argues that as a city grows, calculability as well as the market economy grows in power. These developments are evident in many cities around the world. However, Tokyo seems to incorporate all these elements to create a level of mechanization unique to its urban fabric. In many ways the existence of the complexity found in Tokyo seems only possible through the emergence of mechanization, and the suppression of individuality.

However, as the layers of Tokyo’s society are peeled away to expose the deeper psyche, the yearning for individualism begins to show through. In subtle glimpses and hints, expressions of individuality begin to emerge from a sea of homogeneity. For the most part the society seems to stick to strict social stereotypes, but tucked into the many alleys of the city, vibrant sub-cultures thrive. Many of these subcultures act as an escape, reaction, or even a defiant notion against, the aggressive stereotypes of Japanese society. Some of these subcultures such as pachinko and anime are clearly recognizable around the city, while others stay hidden within the shadows of general Japanese society. Nonetheless, all of these subcultures pale in comparison to the driving force of cultural uniformity.

The emergence of mechanization within the Japanese Society has enabled the creation of the Tokyo metropolis, but sacrifices go hand in hand with the suppression of individuality. In his description of a generic metropolitan man, Simmel writes, “the individual has become a mere cog in an enormous organization of things and powers which tear from his hands all progress, spirituality, and value in order to transform them from their subjective form into the form of a purely objective life” (Simmel 422). The reduction of the individual to their specific duty within society seems very pronounced in Tokyo. However, the worshiping of individual freedom and power in America carries its own weaknesses and sacrifices. The cleanliness and precision of Tokyo unmistakably contrasts with the sprawl, grime, and inefficiencies of Los Angeles. Nonetheless, people around the world strive to make their way to America. Due to the influx of immigrants, the United States boasts one of the highest population growth rates among industrialized nations. In contrast Japan scrambles to find solutions to accommodate a rapidly diminishing population. Furthermore, the empowerment of the American individual may be one of the reasons why America is known for creative and technological innovation. In contrast Japan ranks last among twenty-four industrialized nations for entrepreneurial activity. The urban sprawl of America is unequivocally unsustainable. Many elements of urban development evident in Tokyo could have significant impacts if applied in the US. However, the suppression of individuality in Japan may hamper the ability to innovate creative solutions to human problems. Perhaps both societies can learn from one another in order to reach a greater future potential.

Sam R

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The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.

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PHOTOS FROM THE TRIP

AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Director:
Andrew Liang
Instructors:
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Students:
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu