East Asian cities, both in China, Japan or South Korea, have followed their own urban models, aesthetical patterns and architectonic typologies throughout centuries in order to develop their territorials expansion. However, the different procedures of globalization and industrialization experienced during the 19th century led to the sometimes “forced” embracement of Western innovations, that transformed a variety of social, institutional and cultural realities among East Asian countries in order to reach a national modernization.
Analyzing the traditional aesthetic values of these countries one could think that the adoption of Western architectonic styles and models of construction could produce a harsh distortion and result regarding their urban and city landscape. However, nothing more further from reality: if we take a look at the urban landscapes of cities as Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai or Yokohama, we can identify how their image and functioning have integrated the latest trends from postmodern architecture, communicative innovations and skyscrapers, becoming some of the most advanced and technological “global cities” (borrowing the concept coined by Saskia Sassen [2002,2005]) in the world. In fact, this aesthetic conception, based on their high-technological appeal but also combined with the economic and influential global status of these cities, can be covered by what has been labelled as techno-orientalism.
Techno-orientalism is a term first introduced by David Morley and Kevin Robins (1995) that supposes a redefinition of Edward Said’s (1979) orientalism critique, in the sense that techno-orientalism conceives the image and conceptual construction of Asian cultures (starting the discourse regarding Japan’s case but later on being “translated” in Taiwan, China, South Korea and Singapore cases) as a high-technological ones, being the new avant gardes of the global technologic sector and having machine-man societies that have enabled the ascension of mega corporations that rule wicked densified cities (an idea that in real terms could seem quite similar to the concept of the Central Bank District (CBD) coined by Sassen [2002, 2005] in relation to the rising global role of some cities in terms of high power). In this sense, the main argument of the techno-orientalism discourse lies on how Asian cultures have adapted and redefined Western technologic innovations to such an extent that they have “stolen” the Wester the role of being the global paradigm of technologic development. According to Lozano (2009, 2012, p. 186-7), this techno-orientalist vision focused in the Asian technologic and electronic industries as postmodern avant gardes has been understood as a negative ethnocentric one, in the sense that this new paradigm of Asia will corrupt the Western countries as an “illegitimate other”, following previous tendencies regarding a “Yellow peril ideology” (according to the ancient patterns of orientalism) towards Asian civilizations. For this reason the techno-orientalist imaginary, with its depictions of hyper-technologic and densified oriental cities, became one of the recurrent conventions and stereotypes in Western science fiction works through different media such as cinema or literature, especially during the 1980s in cyberpunk works as the film Blade Runner (1982) or William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer (1984). As Yu (p. 47-8, 62) has pointed out, the Asian cities became the conceptual construct, the denationalized and hyper-technologic cyberspace, in where localize the cores of global capitalism (allegorically represented as international mega-corporations) and the paradigms of postmodernism in a transnational conception.
The following paper will analyze and define the techno-orientalist condition of contemporary “Asian megacities” through their urbanism and architecture, if it really exist such a condition, mainly expressed through an aesthetic appeal, and how has been obtained. To carry out such a research, we are going to focus on Yokohama’s case, capital of Kanagawa prefecture and the second biggest city of Japan (with more than 3 million citizens by 1985 and producing the 40% of Japan’s internal GDP) whose exponential growth, development and modernization since the Meiji Restoration have shaped the “Westernized” nature of Yokohama’s urbanism. Being perceived as a global trans-pacific city and a regional economic hub, in a similar status to other “East Asian Tigers” as Singapore, Hong Kong or Taipei, the case of Yokohama will serve us to denote how a “self techno-orientalist” attitude is shaped in East Asian cities through urbanism and to probably deconstruct different stereotyped conceptions regarding the city, its urbanism and global image.
- YOKOHAMA’S URBAN HISTORY: A BRIEF RETROSPECTIVE
Yokohama’s origins are strongly tied with its “open door” identity, a quite unique factor among Japanese cities that was offered by the condition of Yokohama as a port city. Being founded in 1859 after the arrival of the North American commodore Matthew Perry to Kanagawa bay, the port of Yokohama has been an icon of the city’s identity and urban development, receiving a wave of foreigners from all over the world and taking a crucial role in Japan’s modernization due to becoming a core of commercial connections and finances (Edgington, 1991, p. 62). According to Iwamura (2016), before these succesments Yokohama was a small fisher’s village, but from 1859 to onwards, the city experienced a remarkable urban development focused on the genesis of new towns and suburbs as the foreigners district (that covers the left side of the urban plan) while the Japanese towns were divided in different suburbs along the right side of the geography, being these two hubs separated by the Nihon Odori Avenue (Fig. 1). This “new” Yokohama-chou, as was named by the shogun Tokugawa, was framed by what Edginton (1991, p. 62) coined as kokusaika, the value of internationalization, cosmopolitan society and global contacts as a pattern to urban development, embodying a range of Western neo-classic style architectures whose preservation will become a crucial matter in Yokohama’s contemporary urban plans.
The relevance of the port to the urban development of the city as one of its main landscape icons become even sharper since the the end of the Seconda World War in order to emphasize even more its role as a cosmopolitan global city. In this sense, Edgington (1991, p. 71-3) has analyzed how Yokohama entered in a competition with Tokyo, the other rising city of the Kanto region in terms of economy, population and urbanism, adopting its models of urban development based on new policies regarding the flux of information, electronic technologies and telecommunications in order to counterbalance Tokyo’s economic and industrial relevance in the region. This aspect becomes greater during the 1980s, when Yokohama experienced the migration of both Japanese and Western technologic industries to the city, planning the Hakusan High Park (1987), the Media Community Programme (1984) and the IRIS (1988). Due to this urban and industrial transformations, in 1987 Yokohama entered in a grid of core cities (already traced before the Second World War as Sorensen [2004, p. 169] pointed out) in order to share different services and commercial sources of the whole Kanto region (Edginton, p. 68-69), offering an urban network that in pragmatic terms of commercial partnerships and human resource fluxus was quite similar to the idea of “mega-city” theorized by Manuel Castells (1996 ).
- MINATO MIRAI 21: YOKOHAMA’S NEW URBAN LANDSCAPE
According to Olds (1995, p. 1713-4), the case of Yokohama’s urban development is one of the different Urban Mega Projects (UMP) carried out in the Pacific Rim during the last decades, regional and geographical restructurements that have been particularly framed by global factors and procedures. In the case of Yokohama the urban, architectonic and aesthetic reflection of these procedures were materialized by the location of new technologies, communications and services in the seaport area, that will become its new office district (Olds, 1995, p. 1720). Taking a look to the recent Yokohama Urban reports (2012), we can see how this relocation participated in a plan of recentralization of the city centre in an aim to, as Olds (1995, p. 1727) pointed out, revitalize the domestic industrial sector towards technologies and telecommunications through an oblicual waterfront axis that clearly served as a redefinition of the city landscape based on the conceptual icon of the port.
This new city landscape is the one built by the Minato Mirai 21 (translated as “the port of the future”, understanding this “future” as the 21th Century), a restructuring of Yokohama’s port that serves as a node between Kannai district and the Yokohama station defining the new financial, commercial and cultural centre of the city. Starting as a national project supported by the prefecture government and being planned under the code of the “Yokohama Minato Mirai 21 corporation” in 1984, the goals of the enterprise were to re-define the city centre as an “international landscape” to Yokohama, materializing a physical location to a range of new markets, services and infrastructures in a global digital network of large financial corporations and software firms (Edgington, 1991, p. 74-75; Olds, 1995, p. 1727-9). Setting this premises, the Minato Mirai 21 has been defined by scholars as Edgington (1991, p. 74-5) and Olds (1995, p. 1727-9) as “a city within the city” that influxes a huge demand of working population to Yokohama and consolidates the “modern” image of the city as a technological and commercial avantgarde among other “global cities”, being surrounded by natural environments (as is reflected in the value of the port as node with the sea) and defending the “modern ideals” of the 21th century.
Analyzing the infraestructures and components of the Minato Mirai 21 project, its urbanism can be divided in two main areas: the Central district, that contains some of the most emblematic buildings of Yokohama as the Landmark Tower (1990-93), the Nissan Global Headquarters, the exhibition Pacifico Yokohama (1991 [Fig. 2]) and the Cosmo World amusement Park, while the Shinko district is known by the location of some historical buildings, as the red brick warehouse, from its “cosmopolitan” past (Urban Design Division, 2012). Focusing on the Central district area, we can identify how it congregates the majority of infrastructures and buildings that shape the financial and commercial dimension of the city combined with a clear aesthetic and “landscape” appeal as an identitarian image of Yokohama.
In fact, the development of Minato Mirai 21 and some of its infraestructures was based on the intervention of different large corporations as Nissan motors, JGC Corporation, Chiyoda corporations and other enterprises that located their headquarters in Minato Mirai 21 (Yokohama Minato Mirai.com). This aspect can be exemplified with the case of the Landmark Tower, currently the fourth tallest infrastructure of Japan and the main pillar of Yokohama’s urban landscape that was built by the Mitsubishi Estate company between 1990 and 1993 (The Skycraper Center, 2013), while Pacifico Yokohama, a network of infraestructures built with exhibition purposes, embraces also the Nissan headquarters and its private gallery (Yokohama Minato Mirai 21.com).
- MINATO MIRAI 21 AS THE “SELF TECHNO-ORIENTALIST” FACE AND IDENTITY OF YOKOHAMA TOWARDS THE WORLD
This projects and infrastructures, built most of them between the 1980s and the beginning of the 21th century, influx the urban landscape and image of Yokohama with a technologic and avantgarde appeal in its infraestructures that could suit the techno-orientalist aesthetics that are often associated with some rising East Asian cities. Moreover, in the case of Yokohama and its Minato Mirai 21 we can argue that we are in front of an example of what Lozano (2012) coined as “self techno-orientalism”. According to Lozano (2012, p. 191-3), self techno-orientalism is a contemporary state of the techno-orientalist discourse in which the Asian manufactured and cultural productions aim to explode this kind of techno-orientalist visions and aesthetics in order to reshape their cultural identities and its international perception. In the case of Japan, Lozano (2009, 2012) argues how such a phenomena can be easily identified in their popular culture productions, some of them as manga-anime series as Akira (1988), Ghost in the Shell (1995) or Gunnm: Battle Angel Alita (1990) among others, basing their “Cool Japan” appeal on cyberpunk dystopian imaginaries set on hyper technologic and densified urban landscapes, that in some sense, correspond to the techno-orientalist constructs from Western science fiction works as Blade Runner.
However, we can also suggest that such a “self techno-orientalist” appeal has been materialized through other dimensions and languages more based, in sum, on the different new urban and infrastructure plans carried out during the last decades of the 20th century. These projects, the majority of them developed in the 1980s and 1990s, decades in which both Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore started to be perceived as economic threats to the global US hegemony, aimed to modernize this rising East Asian cities according to the last trends in contemporary architecture, technological avantgarde and electronic tele-communications that, in some sense, adopted the techno-orientalist constructs present in both Western and Asian fictions as synonym of avant garde, modernity and future.
Such a self techno-orientalist attitude behind the Minato Mirai 21 urban planning can be identified in the analysis of two factors: First, as we have recorded, the Minato Mirai 21 project was funded by different institutional and private (based on large international corporations) partnerships that aimed to improve the industrial and commercial development of Yokohama tackling with the huge influx of labour population. However, the development of the Minato Mirai 21 plan as a new city landscape also participated of Yokohama’s public sphere and population interests regarding their city landscape. As Iwamura (2016) pointed out, the central government of Japan enacted the “national landscape act” in 2004, an initiative that aimed to support the development of urban landscape plans carried out by cities and their local governments. In the case of Yokohama, this initiative encouraged a better design and definition of the city landscape based on the Minato Mirai 21 skyscrapers and infrastructures.
In this sense, in 1986 also appeared a touristic policy regarding Yokohama’s town scape at night known as Light up Yokohama (Fig. 3), applied to the Minato Mirai 21 area but also to different historical buildings and patrimony with Western neo-classic style (Iwamura, 2016). This exponential interests on the light in the night landscape of Yokohama emphasized the electronic, digital and technological aspects already present in the new built avantgarde infrastructures of the Minato Mirai 21 project as the Landmark Tower or Cosmo Clock 21. This aesthetic dimension, combined with the commercial, financial and corporative ideas associated to the Minato Mirai 21 and its imaginary, denotes the self techno-orientalist appeal that Yokohama has adopted as its new cultural identity towards the world and the international community.
The second factor that supports our point is the territorial and geographical location of this new financial center of Yokohama, framed by the historical value that the port has been carrying out in the urban development and identity of Yokohama since its origins. In this sense, the Minato Mirai 21 as a waterfront axis takes the role of an hiper-technologic and modern facade that did not match the urban policies and aesthetics carried out along the green axis, the other urban core that participated in the procedures of re-centralization of Yokohama’s urbanism (Fig. 4).
The green axis, a perpendicular vector towards the inner city area, was defined by the rehabilitation and re-design of different iconic streets and squares, as could be the Nihon Odori Avenue, in order to make them pedestrian zones with wider roads and sidewalks. This aspect is combined with a development of the city green zones and especially with a vocation to preserve the historical buildings, based on Western neo-classical styles, as a historical heritage that also defines the identity of the city in historical and cultural terms. Moreover, an emphasis on pedestrian-friendly plans are quite interesting in a densified city as Yokohama, that counts with near 4 million citizens. Instead of developing housing models based on high and densified skycrapers, the population of Yokohama lives in house estate towns while can freely enjoy the streets and avenues that trace the city center and its suburbs.
However, the relevance of the green axis to Yokohama’s city landscape results to be quite collateral, due to be a serie of urban plans and mechanisms focused on improving the welfare of the pedestrians and the preservation of green areas. Moreover, the urban policies regarding the green axis seem to emphasize the role of the Minato Mirai 21 as the new urban image of the city, in the sense that the highest and most modern buildings and infrastructures of Yokohama, in sum, the techno-orientalist appeal of the city, is “objectified” in the port, the iconic urban element that has been the face and identity of Yokohama since the great urban and demographic development of the city. In this sense, we can conclude that the urban policies applied in the waterfront axis area correspond to different urban interests that the ones used throughout the rest of the city. More concretely, the initiatives carried out in the waterfront axis are urban landscape policies, in this case materialized with the Minato Mirai 21 as the new iconic image of Yokohama and its cultural identity.
Jun’ichiro Tanizaki in his essay In Praise of Shadows (1933) argued about the qualities and patterns of Japanese aesthetics in traditional Japanese architecture and urbanism, how they embrace the darkness and natural elements while rejecting the Western architectonic modernities, synthetic materials and technological innovations based on the “light”. Almost a century after his words, we can see how not only Japanese cities but also other macro urban centres all over Asia have embraced and improved the latest trends in postmodern architecture and avant garde electronics as their new cultural image under the ideals of globalization.
Defining East Asian cities only through these parameters would be falling in Eurocentric stereotypes. However, it cannot be neglected that most of this cities have adopted this techno-orientalist appeal, in relation with their rising economic and industrial status, in order to be more globally competitive. Some of them as Tokyo or Hong Kong had adopted the techno-orientalist landscape more evenly throughout their urban geography, while others as Shanghai or Yokohama have “reduced” their city landscape in an specific place or area, as could be Shangai’s Pudong or Yokohama’s Minato Mirai 21. In the case of Yokohama, we have seen how the port, that embraced the ideas of cosmopolitanism and modernity since the origins of the city, was selected as the most suitable place to develop the new city landscape. A port that, in order to be correspondent with the rising global status and national relevance of Yokohama, adopted all kind of high-tech buildings and infrastructures, that in sum, endowed the Minato Mirai 21 with a remarkable techno-orientalist appeal.
Oscar García Aranda, 2019
CITIES AND URBANISM IN ASIA PACIFIC_UPF
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