It is a pleasure to present Japan Story, a website aimed at transdisciplinary thinking and discussions of urbanism and urbanization. Structured as diverse and broad in its intellectual and creative outreach, the site aspires to work as a platform for exchanging ideas integrating the history, current practices, and future possibilities of Japan’s social and physical environments.
One of the features of Japan Story is the presentation of research conducted at the Harvard GSD. (These can be found under the Pedagogy category.) At the launch, we will share work from a fall 2020 seminar, “The Project & the Territory,” and a spring 2021 design studio, “Fudo/Umwelt: Devising Transformative Environments in Japan.” The outcomes of both the seminar and the studio propose a range of potentials for architecture and urbanization that are based on a critical reflexive approach toward current and past practices and histories. While we plan to expand the intellectual and geographic scope of the site in the future, our research thus far has been mainly focused on unraveling and describing the urban morphology of Tokyo.
In the category of Research Drawings, website readers may explore the physical evolution of specific areas and contemporary urban conditions through systematically executed research drawings. These drawings both ask and answer a series of questions: How did the city’s major mixed-use developments come about? How was the presence of military sites and their associated barracks manifested—and what has become of them? What is the impact of water and land reclamation? What role did disaster play in transforming the rebuilding program of the city? How did the 1964 Olympics change the urban landscape?
The relation of inhabitants with their environment is often best described through literary and visual modes of representation. As indicated by the adoption of concepts such as Fudo or Umwelt in the spring 2021 studio, we are interested in delving into the diversity of organisms, human and nonhuman, that make up the complexity of the Japanese environment. Many academics and designers have contributed their views and stories in the form of interviews, found under In Conversation, or in essays, under Perspectives.
The site features the work of novelists and photographers adept in the precise description of the minutiae and nuances of urban life under Writings and Visual Culture. Similarly, the sensibilities of Japanese authors and musicians are captured in the sections In Translation and Audio. Design speculations on the future of urbanization are contingent on our deep understanding and articulation of relations between the social and the physical worlds; this is the task of Japan Story.
The impetus for japanstory.org derives from a multi-year research initiative based at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. The project is made possible through the generous support of Mr. Toichi Takenaka, honorary chairman of the Takenaka Corporation. Takenaka, one of Japan’s leading construction companies, is also conducting a parallel research project in conjunction with the Japan Story research team. We are grateful to them and the other contributors for their support, and we look forward to productive dialogues with others in the future.