Jordan Sand on Urban Nostalgia
by Maeri Megumi
Posted: April 1, 2008
Sand presented the changing landscape of Tokyo, particularly in relation to the idea of preserving memory, from the 1960s to the end of the 20th century. As he explained, because Tokyo experienced several major destructions in the 20th century such as the Kantô earthquake in 1923, the massive air raid during World War II, as well as the redevelopment in preparation for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games, actual historical remembrances of the past must have been quite diminished. Despite the loss, however, what is often called the Edo-boom began in the mid-1980s, and there has been growing enthusiasm in the rediscovery and preservation of the history of Tokyo, not only of the time period called Edo but also of the pre-industrial modern period.
Categorizing property rights into five types – public, commons, community, appropriation, and heritage, Sand effectively provided examples of each type with illuminating pictures and explanations. For instance, the adaptation of the concept of "public space" (which was absent in pre World War II Japan) induced the neologism of hiroba (public space) and the creation of public spaces such as Shinjuku Nishiguchi Hiroba in 1965 in Tokyo. Also, several leading architects' attempts to develop Tokyo in different ways with different aims showed the changing landscape of Tokyo from the city of politics to the city of commerce, and of imagination. The period from the bubble economy in the late 1980s to the early 1990s produced numerous high-rise buildings and triggered a marked increase in the use of steel instead of wood in construction. At the same time, however, Sand pointed out that grassroots activities were begun by intellectuals as well as ordinary city-dwellers to preserve the history of futsû no (ordinary) Tokyo, employing various means, such as local magazines, preservation movements, and the development of new kinds of museums.
Sand emphasized that the notion of "nostalgia" should not be treated merely as a subordinate factor when talking about reinvention/rediscovery of history, particularly in recent times. As he showed clearly, the nostalgic longing for the past is a powerful motivation and a driving force in the current (post-modern) movement of historicizing of the past.
In relation to the importance of "nostalgia," Sand also touched upon the issue of the changing function of museums. The didactic role of museums to exhibit hard, unchanging "past," "truth," or "authenticity" is changing to include a more interactive space. The museums today strive to offer new environments where people can re-live, or imagine the past, which is indicative of a paradigm shift in the meaning of what exactly a museum is.
Sand's talk was fascinating and refreshing as he spotlighted a softer side of reinvention and appropriation of history in comparison with the more capitalistic approach to the use of "history" as grand narratives of nationalism, myth-making, or commercialism. While he focused on the particular examples of Tokyo, the changing roles and meanings of "memory" are definitely applicable to much wider contexts outside of Japan as well.