The Struggle For Space
I. When "the underground" is not underground
In Metabolism 1960, the fundamental document of the avant-garde Japanese Metabolism architecture group, architect Kiyonori Kikutake complains that "the Japanese still live in an age when 'the buildings stand lower than the trees…it is time to separate from the horizontal city.'"[i] His advice has obviously been taken to heart, as plans for the vertical city are still proceeding. This is especially evident if we look not only skyward but also beneath the ground, where Japan hosts perhaps the most elaborate system of subterranean habitation and commercial space on the planet.
In the popular imagination, images of literal subterranean space often resonate with images of those resistance groups who, because of their one-time association with seeking refuge in the space of this underground, became known themselves as "the underground." The term has always connoted a kind of social invisibility and incommensurability with the larger society, a condition that could be either voluntary (i.e. a 'lifestyle choice') or a condition that was forced upon subcultural elements by that larger society. However, the history of modern insurgencies, particularly those that are based in the urban areas of industrially developed nations, reveals that the concept of 'basement agitators' is questionable at best. As with most world cultures, the Japanese language is rich with idiomatic phrases associating "darkness" with criminality - the argot relating to the black market is, on its own, an inventive code laden with references to "fog" or "moonlit nights" [i.e. items available at black market prices.]
In the case of Tokyo, subterranean space can be as highly developed as overground space, and is not seen merely as a sort of transitional or inerstitial space without social or commercial functions. Given that this space is expected to be used rather than merely passed through, plenty of thought is given to crime prevention here, and the ubiquitous police sub-stations or kouban [交番、colloquially refered to as "police boxes"] are well represented along with regular foot patrols. Nevertheless, owing to the acts of the Aum Shinrikyo sect, specifically their 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed twelve individuals and injured over five thousand, the underground remains a place of potential insurrection and catastrophe within the public mind. Most forms of mass transit have, of course, been conceived of as ideal for staging acts of terror and political violence, given the ease with which exit points can be choked and the large number of human captives that can be used as negotiating chips or - for the more fanatical groups - as sacrifices for 'the cause.' The concept of the 'captive audience' has also been put into play for some of the groups mentioned in this paper: the Zero Dimension group was known to perform 'sleeping' actions in which they would lie atop futon mattresses spread out on the floor of train carriages (a gesture also repeated within galleries, but probably made more notorious on the public transportation system, and more effective in conveying their intended criticism of Japanese society's endemic passivity.)
It would seem that an urbanization of subterranean space was inevitable in Tokyo: boasting over 270 individual subway stations and some 300 kilometers of covered ground, the Tokyo subway already represented a remarkable move into the earth, and plans gradually appeared which would further colonise the space beneath the surface with station-linking corridors of commerce. It is somewhat interesting to note the name that, in the early 1990s, was proposed for these underground complexes by the civil engineering and construction specialists at the Taisei Corporation: "Alice Cities," refering to the titular heroine in Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland that falls down the rabbit hole and encounters a fantastic world there. Such a name would seem to suggest a chaotic experience rather than a mirror of the overground order, which may have also figured into the less fanciful name given by the Shimizu Corporation to its similar project- the "Urban Geo Grid." Though an article that appeared during the larval stages of these projects warned that "Japan's densely populated lowlands are mostly founded on loose geologic strata, making underground construction particularly difficult,"[ii] such undertakings now appear to have been massively successful. As Peter Schöller relates:
The Japanese underground centres are counted among the best and most rationally laid-out retail and restaurant facilities on earth. They are, however, purely commercial, offering neither cultural or social facilities nor any starting point for communication and urban identification.[iii]
If this on its own does not provide a convincing idea as to the commercialization of subterranean space in Tokyo, Schöller gives a fairly exhaustive inventory of uses for the underground (keep in mind that this inventory has only expanded since the 1976 publication of his report):
Here you will find all convenient facilities, tended to by a day-labor force of thousands: restaurants, coffee and tea houses, refreshments, bars, barber shops, kiosks […] of every type and price range, discount shops, travel bureaus, counseling offices, postal agents, bank branches, the occasional arcade with gaming machines, and theaters. Systems of escalators and elevators connect the underground floors with the office levels rapidly, for those who aren't permitted much time to run their errands.[iv]
Schöller also points out some particular overground locations that had their distinctive features of grandeur and luxury 'mirrored' by underground development, e.g. Frank Lloyd Wright's now-demolished Imperial Hotel (1923-1968), which was linked to an extensive series of underground shopping arcades.[v] Other accclaimed subterranean systems of pedestrian transit, such as those built around Montreal's Place Bonaventure, Central Station and Place Ville Marie, have claimed inspiration from such developments (though the first recorded "underground commerce street," the chika shoutengai [地下商店街] built in Nagoya in 1957, was developed almost concurrently with the Canadian developments.)
The degree to which subterranean space is intended to duplicate over-ground activity can be seen in the clusters of specialized or themed commercial zoning, quaintly refered to as "towns" in spite of these zones' relative smallness (perhaps as large as a couple of city blocks, but hardly equal in scale to any conventional estimation of a 'town.') Amusing names such as "sweets town," "fancy town" and "high mode town" (generally rendered in katakana text and spoken as slight phonetical variants on the original English words) designate 'functional clusters' given over to shops for pastries and ice cream, formal wear, and couture fashion, respectively. The underground centers tend not to even be accessible after shopping hours, as the various means of accessing them - stairway entrances leading down from the sidewalk, or elevators situated within the more heavily trafficked office buildings - become shuttered or unusable after the nightly termination of underground train service. This sealing off of the underground makes it inconvenient to use this space for the type of events that the cultural underground enjoys, such as the all-night concerts meant to last from the time of the "last train's" departure until the time when trains resume service around 5 a.m. For this reason, venues such as "live houses" and live theaters are practically nonexistent in subterranean Japan, and any intrepid attempt to open such a venue would likely not be officially approved, given that these venues are difficult to integrate into the "functional clusters" mentioned above. Schöller's lament from the mid-1970s, i.e. "these systems do not offer the opportunity to stop and rest [...] there are almost no cultural facilities, and no approaches that suggest an identification of the citizen with his city, history and culture,"[vi] still holds very much true because of this.
This has meant that any type of non-sanctioned performance happening within this space is necessarily going to have the flavor of a confrontation or protest to it, an activity that is seen in Keiya Ouchida's 1970 documentary film Chikatetsu Hiroba [地下鉄広場]. Peter Eckersall recalls how, in February of 1969, an ever-expanding band of "folk guerrillas" conspired to turn the subterranean space by the West exit of Shinjuku Station into a performance space, wherein
…revolutionary dictums were combined with performative modes of resistance such as protest actions, mass singalongs, chants, and sit-ins that blocked the main pathways through the station. There were also regular clashes with riot police that bled out from the station, so that nearby roads and neighbourhoods were also included in the scene of activity.[vii]
Just as the 1960s were an exceptional era for protest within Japan, though, these events at Shinjuku remain an atypical moment within the larger history of Japan's subterranean spaces. Interestingly, the candid events portrayed in Chikatetsu Hiroba also show how this type of "subterranean" activism was already cresting at that point (i.e. the film sequences showing numerous commuters and passerby who either scold the protestors or explain why their loyalties lie elsewhere.)[viii]
Peter Eckersall, upon viewing this film, notes the degree to which authorities went in order to maintain that the underground was a place to replicate the business activity of the overground, and not an 'alternative' space to be used at the whim of society's discontents: "the sign for the underground plaza – using the word hiroba – is hastily covered over by a hand-drawn sign reading tsuuro [通路] or passage. The name ‘underground passage’, a term stressing the functional linking of the two sides of the station and not a place for lingering, comes to replace the more utopian ideal of the plaza, and is still used today."[ix] Thus, any possible emotional attachment to the place was neutered, since - as Eckersall is suggesting - "passages" are places of continual movement rather than of thoughtful pauses. In both the underground plaza areas of modern Tokyo, and also its major above-ground agora like the Hachiko Square attached to Shibuya Station, other modes of behavioral modification are now being put in place, such as the strategic placement of video screens in those areas where one can stop for a moment without impeding the flow of pedestrian traffic. The famous building-height video projections at Hachiko Square, for example, present a particular sonic and visual distraction that seems to discourage using the square for anything but its prescribed purpose as a meeting space (as most locals do refer to it.) The video screens' rapid 'zapping' from one short audio-visual segment to the next, which are predominantly advertisements, produces a situation in which "the behavioral cognition of the urban becomes drastically differentiated from the traditional modes of physical community."[x] This is not to say that the square is not utilized by several variations on the "man with a megaphone" theme (politicians, religious groups, and the occasional social activist), but in most cases their efforts are Quixotic attempts to draw listeners in a chaotic, transitional sort of urban launch pad.
II. Spatial re-evaluation: erasing 'enclosures,' smoothing space
The explosion in digital, broadband communication has had a profound effect on perceptions of urban space and on the means of interacting with it. Not the least among these has been the devaluation of physical space relative to its 'digital virtual' counterpart, with the use of interactive AJAX[xi] maps and Google Earth™ streetscapes preceding first-hand "immersive" experience in the urban environment (or, at least creating a situation where the authenticity of the latter must be judged on its resemblance to its 'digital virtual' counterpart.)
Meanwhile, in the last few years, the phenomenon of 'flash mobs' organized via text-messaging has already shown one example of 'mono-functional' spaces being appropriated for quirky perfomances, e.g. sudden outbreaks of synchronized singing or dancing in the food court areas of American shopping malls (violent 'flash mobs' have also been formed for the express purpose of overwhelming security and police in commercial areas as well, but this is a discussion for another day.) In the more unorthodox manifestations of this phenomenon - e.g. humans gathering together as living sculptures with coordinated frozen gestures - we can see a mass urban movement that, while generally not identifying as intermedia artists, nonetheless shares many of the same attitudes towards the social use of urban space. In all cases, what Jonathan Raban called the „hard city“ (its built / material fabric) runs up against the „soft city“ or the individualized interpretation of surroundings that exists within the experience of each urban dweller.
We have not had to wait for the rise of the 'virtual city' to re-envision 'assigned' spaces as having different functions, though, as the story of Chikatetsu Hiroba attests to. Noriyuki Tajima notes that 'hybrid structures' in Tokyo can arise from appropriations as simple as "skate-boarders us[ing] handrails for their special boarding techniques, while homeless people regularly occupy entrance canopies as sleeping spots…alternatively, a young group of teenagers uses the mirrored glass façade of high tech buildings for their dance practice."[xii] This inventory is not exhaustive by any means, and does show that willfully 'radical' culture has not cornered the market on personalizing urban space. Students of Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari’s spatial theories might refer to this as "deterritorialization," a process of moving between contexts in which the ‘territories’ in question “do not refer only to geographical or physical entities, but also to mental, psychical and cultural territories (ecologies in later Guattarian vocabulary.”)[xiii]This process is often seen by the academically-minded as a quest for Deleuze's "pure affect," though again it must be stressed that activities like those mentioned above are done as much out of practical concerns (e.g. the lack of alternate spaces in which to practice coordinated dance routines) as they are done to communicate a desire for social change.
Yet while the project of deterritorializating space may be unwittingly carried out by groups of teenage skateboarders and pop dancers, the various agitational performance troupes like Hi Red Center, Zero Dimension and the Situation Theatre have gone one step further by 'deterritorializing' some other aspect of performance or social exchange and then grafting that on to the 'deterritorialized' urban space. We can return again to the Cleaning Action of the Hi Red Center for an example of this, as the content of this performance removed the events contained therein from their utilitarian origins. Or we could see the Situation Theatre’s nomadic red tent also as a deterritorialization of its traditional association with (in the case of Japan) non-urban modes of performance.
This deterritorializing habit was not entirely absent during modern Japan's most heavily-policed years in the 1930s-1940s, though it had to be limited to artwork of a non-performance nature: one of the most popular sites of resistance during that period was the public toilet, whose walls would be turned into makeshift galleries and - more commonly - as "sites of exchange for subversive information" (Detlev Schauwecker notes that "one graffito in a factory loo read 'this toilet is our propaganda board [for preparation for a strike]...use it effectively!'"),[xiv] while there were still more provocative calls to "kill" the "crazy emperor" or to "overthrow the emperor."[xv] Whether knowingly or unwittingly, this practice was echoed by John Duncan when he pasted collaged A4 posters of alternatingly pornographic and banal imagery in public toilets central to Tokyo's hubs of fashion (Shibuya), finance (Hibiya), government (KokkaiGijidomae), and entertainment (Shinjunku).
It would be disingeneous to suggest that, for all the radical strategies they have used to ensure their survival, the anguro culture has not embraced the concept of "hangouts," or fixed gathering places. David Novak notes, for example, the underground influence of music-themed tea / coffeehouses or kissaten [喫茶店] that were originally intended as listening rooms (an idea that persists in Japan today in the form of "record bars," where sizable libraries of recorded music are on hand for patrons to request as they drink.) Novak claims that it was the jazz-oriented "kissa" which, though they "shared with earlier music cafés a refined salon-like atmosphere of intellectual connoisseurship," were also "less public, and encouraged a more particular clientele drawn by the slightly hedonistic insularity of its dimly-lit, contemplative ambience."[xvi] What Novak mentions next is of particular interest for determining what made these environments more unique:
In the bohemian counterculture of the 1960s, the jazu-kissa became a symbolic meeting ground for the student [underground], much like Greenwich Village folkhouses in NewYork City during the same period, where progressive politics and music tastes were interwoven. Kissa became crucibles for radical student life, hosting film screenings, lectures and meetings.[xvii]
It is easy for us, surveying this scene from a culture that is saturated with music, to not see the radical implications of using these spaces in such a manner. In effect, by using spaces explicitly intended for listening as "crucibles for radical student life" (from which we can easily infer that this listening was supplemented by other behaviors), the students were again re-purposing the space to meet other ends besides those originally intended. Musician Otomo Yoshihide recalls his own youth spent in these spaces and mentions the "notebooks filled with the opinions of young leftists" that could be found there, strongly suggesting that the spaces served as information exchanges even under the strict set of rules that governed them (particularly the insistence that customers treat the spaces like libraries, remaining as silent as possible while music is playing.) This state of affairs shows that the "chikatetsu hiroba" syndrome was not all-pervasive - i.e., the mere authoritative naming of a space did not have the binding power of a magic spell - and that less heavily-trafficked forms of public space could still be redefined. Spaces such as the kissa had many strategic advantages for hosting underground activities: for one, the average smallness of these spaces meant that there was hardly ever room to fit more than a couple dozen patrons, ensuring that they would be "occupied space" for the underground and less easy for agent provocateurs or outsiders to infiltrate.
Ideally, the underground’s smoothing of space would work in such a way that their modifications would seem natural to outside observers. In this sense, deterritorialization could be seen as a preliminary step to a kind of urban camouflaging and an eventual dissolution of contextual boundaries. Such a camouflaging or blending technique is evident in the placement of the Off Site [2000-2005] club (which, in the words of its former proprietor, was already meant to be multi-use in nature, acting as both music club, coffeehouse and art gallery.)[xviii] The club was situated within a quiet residential neighborhood, where the outdoor sounds of tofu vendors and the neighborhood fire brigade (who announced their presence with wooden handclappers) often leaked through the venue's open door and intertwined with the sounds of the nightly performances. The onkyo style of music that was associated with this space - notable for its use of lengthy silences, and deliberately limited tonal vocabulary - was partially formed by the need to perform in a way that would be suitably challenging to audiences, yet not disruptive of the surrounding community. As such, it is interesting to consider that the performers in the underground do not merely port their current activities to a new environment or impose these activities on it regardless of environmental pecularities, but develop new forms as a response to the rules already encoded within these surroundings. In a way, this is similar to the activities of banned performance groups like Hungary's Squat Theatre, who eventually transfered their plays to their personal apartments (at some points even building full stage sets within the available space) and in turn rewrote the rules for audience interaction.
III. Intra-city nomadism and "the ephemeral"
All of the above concepts of deterritorialization and dissolution, given that they imply a constant revisability of the city, lend credence to much post-War urban planning and its utopian fascination with ephemerality. British architect Cedric Price was one early and notable proponent of a city of impermanence, a theory which he expounded on in the proposal for his Fun Palace:
The increasingly obvious reduction of the permanence of many institutions […] allied with the mass availability of all means of com-munication, have demanded an almost sub-conscious awareness of the vast range of influences and experiences open to all at all times. This dimension of awareness enables a questioning by all of existing facilities available in, say, a metropolis- not merely an assessment of physical or measurable limitations. The city today works in a constipated way, in spite of its physical and architectural limitations. The legacy of re-dundant buildings and the resultant use patterns acts as a straitjacket to total use and enjoyment.[xix]
Price's collaborator Joan Littlewood also proposed, of urban spaces meant for theatrical display and creative use, that they not be "segregated enclosures" limited to these uses. In Littlewood's Laboratory of Fun, there was also to be "no rigid division between performers and audience."[xx] Though it is unlikely that Littlewood knew of the actions of groups like Zero Dimension and the Hi Red Center, it is interesting how close her ideal cleaves to the actions of that group. As a side note, though, we have to wonder what she would have thought of the urban demolition rituals of Hanatarash or Hijokaidan, or of any other underground events in which the free-spirited “no rigid division” has nonetheless not erased the division between perpetrator / attacker and victim.
Whether they were familiar with urban planning theories or not, the idea of "the ephemeral" is one that has always been close at hand by both criminals and artists who must, by dint of their work's heretical content, be prepared for it to not last long before it is unceremoniously destroyed or removed by the authorities. We have already seen this come into play with the toilet "exhibitions" of wartime artists, and countless other underground forms exist that have had a built-in sense of their own temporary nature- thus opting for an unequivocal strength of 'message' over aesthetic refinement.
Physical mobility is also a necessary function of any fringe group that finds the power of the establishment arrayed against it. While being ambushed by superior forces in one's base of operations may provide a segment of the viewing public with some sympathy for the besieged (as in the American cases of Ruby Ridge and Waco), few would want things to ever come to this, as it almost always means the defeat or destruction of the resisting group. So, for groups within Japan who are cognizant of the threat they pose to the established authorities, the better strategy seems to be one of - if not 'constant movement' - then settling in one space or district with the advance understanding that it will not be a permanent residence. This was a strategy adopted early on by the United Red Army (e.g. "a new hideout was always rented well in advance in a different prefecture from the robbery site, with another alternative if they could not escape a prefecture-wide blockade.")[xxi]
A similar expectation of displacement has to be applied to any underground performers who want to stay busy - if not because their activity is seen as outright criminal, then certainly because the utilitarian structure of Tokyo can never seem to accommodate "alternative" spaces long enough for them to become the kind of fixtures that last over multiple generations of cultural development (e.g. Amsterdam's Paradiso club, or Chicago's Cabaret Metro.) The "functional clusters" mentioned earlier are very much a feature of the whole urban territory, not just its subterranean space, and as such it is awkward for the proprietors of performance spaces to set up shop in areas where they 'stick out like a sore thumb' in the surrounding community or seem to invite activity that is a nuisance to their neighbors.
We have already seen, with the example of Ise Shrine, that built-in impermanence in architecture is something of a special pre-modern innovation within Japan. The pre-planned impermanence of personal habitations, if not entire cities, was also a regular theme of post-War architectural theory, with Kiyonori Kikutake designing his Marine City and Cell City projects along the organic / cellular concept of a "move-net," "in which fixed structures allow building units to 'grow and die and grow again'"[xxii]. Elsewhere, the reassessment of urban space a la Cedric Price - particularly the view of architecture as a self-regulating, mutable "ecology" - closely binds the previous practice of continual reassessment with one of resisting the concept of "fixed" locations for activities. Since at least the 1960s, a movement within 'radical' architecture and architectural criticism has called for (in Price's words) "a constructive use of [...] mobility" while consequently questioning "the sociological meaning of the permanent character of the constructions and cities of the past."[xxiii] Among members of the Parisian Utopie movement of urbanists, this mobility - tied in as it was with "adaptibility, variability [and] growth"[xxiv]- was tied in with ephemerality as well. Utopie was fond of noting, in early issues of their eponymous magazine, that the construction of houses lagged severely behind that of other modern products: this durability of construction was in fact a drawback since it made for lived environments that did not truly reflect human advancement in other areas (thus their half-serious, half-parodic proposals for habitations gonflables or inflatable / pneumatic architecture.)
Given that this preceding list of characteristics was seen as positive and / or progressive, much discussion began around the virtues of constructing deliberately ephemeral structures and spaces in Tokyo proper. In many cases, such as Kisho Kurokawa's Nakagin Capsule Tower (completed 1972) and spin-offs like Peter Cook's Plug-in City (Cook's Archigram group was partially inspired by Kurokawa's Metabolist group), this wedding of ephemerality to mobility and variability was embodied in "cellular" structures, e.g. housing complexes in which individual "capsule" units could be "plugged-in" and removed by tower cranes. With the firmly established affinity of avant-garde figures like Mishima and Tange for Ise Shrine, it seemed like there was already a kind of historical justification in place for the recycled building and less of an anxiety over the „copy / original“ distinction than there would be in most Western nations. This could then be applied, ideally, to the totality of urban space rather than just isolated structures.
Here, then, we come back to this nagging question of whether such ideas were radical for the Japanese or part of a long-standing and accepted tradition. In his discussion of the mono no aware phenomenon, De Mente is just one of many scholars to underscore how "one of the most conspicuous facets of life in early Japan was an appreciation for the ephemeral nature of man...his struggles in the face of great odds and the inevitability of his downfall and disappearance."[xxv] Ephemerality within Japanese cities, and the whole Japanese landscape, is deeply ingrained partially because of the concept's resonances with Buddhist teachings (such as the seiseiruten [生々流転、"vicissitudes of life"]) and partially because of the types of threatening contingencies that have historically made it difficult to escape this concept. In his postscript to a sizable collection of Metabolist documents, whose general thrust is of adventurous futurism and defiant waltzes with impossibility, Toyo Ito arrives at the site of 2011's catastrophic Tohoku earthquake where he wonders "what Japan's 60 years of modernization since the war was all about...back in the Edo period [a.k.a. Tokugawa period, 1603-1868], fishing villages disappeared in tsunamis; now it has happened again."[xxvi] Though this could be a somber and contradictory ending to an otherwise optimistic volume, Ito concedes that the deliberately ephemeral construction of the Metabolists was a step in the right direction towards "questioning the way we relate to nature...the people or community we always argue for in our architecture - aren't they just an abstracted scheme?"[xxvii]
As Wigley notes of the various "network"-oriented architectural think tanks (Archigram, Metabolism, Constant, etc.) their works were "polemical images" despite their grounding in "the pragmatics of construction,"[xxviii] and therefore it seems they would have some kinship with other artistic groups re-imagining the lived environment in their own right. However, apart from obvious precedents such as Isozaki, who was as much a part of the "post-War" wave of radical arts as anyone, the level of sympathy that urban planners in Japan had for the new wave performing arts is certainly not uniformly distributed (this is to say nothing of them even being aware of the performing arts culture in the first place.) One planner who explicitly stated an inspiration from the counter-culture was Tadao Ando, who expressed an admiration for Juurou Kara and his joukyou gekijou in particular. Ando's design for the kara-za (a movable theater acknowledging the impact of Kara's "red tent" performances by adopting his surname) takes its inspiration from the Metabolists’ ephemerality / mobillity dynamic, yet is clearly constructed with the present in mind. Ando’s design, based on the same audience / performer dissolutions as the original “red tent,” was seen as a necessary remedy for a Japanese populace that was becoming disengaged from their own bodies.
Ando’s efforts aside, it is safe to say that very few urban design projects were initiated with the arts underground specifically in mind. The Nakagin Capsule Tower, for example, was essentially the realization of the "space age bachelor pad" - ensconced within the bustling nightlife district of Ginza, it was conceived of as being used by "homo moven bachelors / commuters," and its tenants mostly did conform to this mold. 30 percent of the individual units went "to out-of-town companies looking for a cheap alternative to hotels for their salarymen," another "30 percent to families seeking auxiliary studies or playrooms," and another 20 percent each for "bachelors" and "miscellaneous uses."[xxix]
One form of mobility or 'nomadism' that often goes unnoticed in surveys of such artwork is that which is enabled by car travel- perhaps because this is too associated with the romantic "Americana" image of endless highways, and considered an exclusive artifact of that country's motorized rebel cultures who are always ready to quickly decamp to a new location when the "heat" of the law becomes too oppressive. However, much subcultural activity in modern Tokyo (and urban Japan in general) is based around fashioning motor vehicles into expressive and exhbitionist shapers of urban space. Some of this activity is purely narcissistic, like the parking of neon-colored vans outside of major urban shopping centers and the blasting of hyperactive techno music from them. Other activities in this vein seem flatly idiotic, like the gathering together of mini-bike 'gangs' that drive down major thoroughfares at exagerratedly slow speeds while revving their engines as one. However, similar activities have been utilized by members of the more "serious" underground, as when the cleaning van of Yasunao Tone's family business was borrowed by his improv music group and was driven across Tokyo with the back doors open, leaving the instrumentalists visible (but not necessarily audible, as the van lacked amplification.) While Tone himself admits it was not as effective as other acts of the "agitational" underground, William Marotti nevertheless defends the act in that it aspired "to fulfill a political legacy inherited from the historical avant-garde," and was a necessarily unorthodox attempt to re-inject art into "the city's expanding arteries - where economic change was bringing about massive transformations in life and work patterns."[xxx]
By this reckoning, a solution had already been found - in the 1960s - to Noriyuki Tajima's contemporary complaint about the lack of a real agora within the physical space of Tokyo. If one so desired, the very defining feature of the city - that is, its near-biological transmission of countless individual human 'cells' through a circulatory system of transportation tunnels and roadways - could be subverted with fairly harmless performances of Tone's variety (which, again, though it contained 'musical' content, was more of a theatrical or mimed performance due to the acoustic sounds' inaudibility on the highways and station-front parking areas.) One wouldn’t be amiss in wondering how such a performance can possibly be any more meaningful than the busking done by acoustic guitar duos all up and down the main pedestrian thoroughfares in Shibuya - yet the odd combination of performance and non-performance does put it into a category of its own. Such actions have shown that the underground does not need to resort to ‘experimental crime’ in its efforts to heighten urban residents’ awareness of ontological and phenomenological concerns.
It is difficult to say with any certainty what the future of Tokyo’s performance or “intermedia”-inspired subcultures will bring, and whether future manifestations will concern themselves more with kakuhan or with other more personalized concerns. But herein lies the problem- the municipal authorities in Tokyo (which is yet again a metonym for “urban Japan” at this late stage in the game) continue to foolishly trust in certain inevitabilities, relying on the so-called hara gei [腹芸、 “intuitive / gut feelings”] about the motivations of cultural dissidents. A popular criticism is that these dissidents are just socially awkward spoilsports who look to disrupt Japanese harmony - ‘dragging the rest of us down with them’, as it were - as a means of covering up their personal inadequacies. This criticism, which stems from a view of independent action or individualism as a sort of pathological condition, ironically saw even the pro-Japanese Communist protestors of yore not as being guilty of “individualism” rather than being guilty of group conformity to a rival ideology.[xxxi]
This has resulted in a foolish, if not dangerous, underestimation of any potential threat to stability, which downplays the activity of legitimate resistance movements as the work of self-isolating and narcissistic lone wolves. The performing arts underground may be numerically insignificant, and the extremity of some of their actions may repel much of the populace, but - as the recent Russian example of “Pussy Riot” shows - even they cannot be ruled out as a force to sway public opinion or generate dialogue on issues that the nation’s ruling class would prefer to leave buried (more interesting is that said Russian group appears to be part of a U.S.-led “psy-ops” campaign, with “methods […] straight out of Gene Sharp's CIA playbook for regime change,”[xxxii] but, again, this is a story for another day.)
Of course, all this bears out whatever claims the counter-culture may make about the inflexibility of Japanese post-industrial bureaucracy, which combines all the drawbacks of other bureacratic cultures with an extreme reluctance to admit to mistakes or miscalculations. The hara gei of all the authorities that count - from the Diet to the National Police Agency - do not take into account the guiding irrationality of this culture; expecting it to behave much in the same way as the more well-assimilated citizenry. This overconfidence in the predictability of events will prove to be more of an asset to the underground than any unique feature(s) of Tokyo’s urban terrain, simply because the former allows for the continued exploitation of the latter and for the ability to devise new “work-arounds.” As seen in the “Off Site” example above, performers in the underground are not so hopelessly bound to the formal aspects of their work that they cannot apply their fundamental ideals to forms more suited to new environments. In fact, many seem to enjoy the challenge of proving the ductility of their ideals by continually investing them into different forms.
Meanwhile, as the Miyazaki affair attests to, there is no shortage of resources in Tokyo to deal with and eliminate a perceived threat or public nuisance. Yet the success of such clampdowns has, in the past, been contingent upon other alliances that the authorities cannot afford to lose: a compliant and non-investigative media, an organized criminal underground that has been more sympathetic to State aims than to those of other subcultures, and - last but hardly least - the consensus of the public that any punishment received is punishment well-deserved. The severing of any one leg in this tripod means the vast expansion of safe havens in which the performance underground can take refuge, which in turn means policing bodies will have to contest with whole new infestations of space at a time when it has not yet fully come to grips with the underground’s present strategy (i.e., that of “deterritorializing” the mono-functional or even non-functional spaces within the city.) The battle that is unfolding is, in effect, not one of regaining control over the meanings inscribed into physical space - I believe the underground has already won this battle. The battle being fought now is the same conflict over psychological and ideological territory that characterizes State conflicts against far more dangerous insurgencies.
[i] Kiyonori Kikutake quoted in Kayoko Ota & James Westcott (ed).,Project Japan: Metabolism Talks, p. 366. Taschen, Köln, 2011.
[ii] Author uncredited, "Underground Cities: Japan's Answer to Overcrowding." The Futurist, 24.4 (July-August 1990), p. 29.
[iii] Peter Schöller, "Zentrenausbau in japanischen Städten (Construction of Subterranean Centresin Japanese Cities)." Erdkunde, Bd. 30, H. 2 (Jun., 1976), pp. 108-125 (p. 108.)
[iv] Ibid., p. 109. In the original: " Hier finden sich alle Einrichtungen, die zur Bequemlichkeit und zum Arbeitsausgleich fiir eine Tagesbelegschaft von mehreren tausend Personen dienen: Restaurants, Kaffee- und Teestuben, Erfrischungsraume, Bars, Friseurladen, Kioske, Ladengeschafte jeder Art und Preislage, Billigmarkte, oft Reisebüros, Beratungsstellen, Postagenturen und Bankfilialen, zuweilen Spielsäle, Spielautomatenraume, Kinos. Systeme von Rolltreppen und pfeilschnellen Aufzügen verbinden die Tiefgeschosse mit den Büro etagen, so dafür sich auch wahrend des Dienstes ohne viel Zeitaufwand Besorgungen erledigen lassen."
[v] Ibid., p. 112. In the original: "Zu denken ist hier in erster Linie an Frank Loyd Wrights inzwischen abgerissenes berühmtes Imperial Hotel, das führende Großhotel Tokyos, mit seinem verzweigten System unterirdischer Arkadengange."
[vi] Ibid., p. 124. In the original: "Die Anlagen bieten keine Gelegenheit zum Aufenthalt und zum Ausruhen, die nicht mit Geldausgaben verbunden wäre. Alle Einrichtungen dienen dem Anreiz zum Konsum, sind dem Profit zugeordnet. Soziale Kontakte und Kommunikations-Bedürfnisse haben sich den vorgegebenen Bedingungen einzupassen. Junge Leute treffen sich vor allem in Kaffee-und Teeräumen. Erst in den allerletzten Jahren sind in einigen Anlagen einige Sitzgelegenheiten aufgestellt und Ruheecken eingerichtet worden. Es gibt fast keine kulturellen Einrichtungen und gar keine Ansatze und Anregungen zur Identification des Bürgers mit seiner Stadt, seiner Geschichte und Kultur."
[vii] Eckersall, p. 334.
[viii] See Ibid, p. 337: "While there was considerable sympathy for New Left actions in the 1960s, support among the public had diminished by 1969 and passers-by were more likely to scorn the students. In the film, people taunt the students by telling them to get jobs and become productive members of society. Even when a sympathiser is found among the gathering crowd, he rejects the protestors’ calls to join the counterculture movement, saying that such ideas are unreasonable and that he has responsibilities to his family and work colleagues that take precedence over politics. In these intimate scenes, recording the conversations between the people who face off in the station, Chikatetsu Hiroba deflates the heroic myth of protestors. Commuters often reject calls to join the protest movement with recourse to the domestic rubric of work and family."
[ix] Ibid., p. 340.
[x] Tajima, p. 82.
[xii] Tajima, p. 86.
[xiii] Jussi Parikka, Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology Of Computer Viruses, p. 104n. Peter Lang, New York, 2007.
[xiv] Detlev Schauwecker, "Verbal Subversion and Satire in Japan, 1937-1945, as Documented by the Special High Police." Japan Review, No. 15 (2003), pp. 127-151 (p. 131.)
[xv] Ibid., p. 136.
[xvi] Novak (2008), p. 17.
[xviii] Novak (2010) , p. 38.
[xix] Cedric Price & Joan Littlewood, "The Fun Palace." The Drama Review: TDR, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Spring, 1968), pp.127-134 (p. 129.)
[xx] Ibid., p. 131.
[xxi] Steinhoff, p.731.
[xxii] Wigley, p. 106.
[xxiii] Utopie, p. 84.
[xxiv] Ibid., p. 79.
[xxv] De Mente, p. 263.
[xxvi] Toyo Ito qouted in Ota & Westcott, p. 697.
[xxviii] Wigley, p. 111.
[xxix] Ota & Westcott, p. 365.
[xxx] William A. Marotti quoted in Tone, pp. 31-32.
[xxxi] As Sharon Kinsella suggests, “Youth culture, symbolizing the threat of individualism, has provoked approximately the same degree of condescension and loathing among sections of the Japanese intelligentsia as far-left political parties and factions, symbolizing the threat of communism, have provoked in the United States and the United Kingdom.” Kinsella, p. 291.
[xxxii] See http://www.lewrockwell.com/blog/lewrw/archives/118503.html. Retrieved November 7, 2012.