Section = 005_7


“In Japan, ‘public’ is more of a mental construct than a physical presence” (Hidaka and Tanaka, 2001) and the concept of ‘privacy’ has never taken hold (Kitayama, 2010e:131). The closest native Japanese approximation of private-public may be uchi (family, clan, group)-soto (that which is not uchi) where uchi extends the Western ‘private’ to ‘other private[1]’ plus ‘public’ (Shelton, 1999:167-8; Jonas, 2007:24 mentions this in relation to flowerpot gardens).

It is these plastic intermediate spaces[2] of uchi which make the creation of natural environments possible. A history and present of paper-thin walls and sliding doors that open on to the street evoke the permeation of daily life into public space – (Kitayama, 2010e:131; Kurokawa, 1991). Memory and current practice/conception regard whole neighbourhoods as ‘home’[3] (Hidaka and Tanaka, 2001), with parks as common yards (Jinnai, 1995:198-206) that are defined variously in time by use (Hidaka and Tanaka, 2001; Kurokawa, 1991:chpt6). The Japanese city can be characterised by use[4] – (1) the perceived strength of the individual plot, (2) utilitarian public spaces, and (3) public space as a domain for temporary invasion and annexation (Shelton, 1999:167-8). Following, ‘modern life’ in Tokyo can be said to be ‘city affirming’[5] – exhibiting commitment and positive interest in personal level ‘feathering the urban nest’ (Smith, 1978:70) and so much like how the urban development of Edo/Tokyo took place around many scattered nuclei (Jinnai, 1995:15) so too the scattered nuclei of Tokyo’s informal gardens provide foundation for everyday humane life – the multilayered units of urban space growing more refined and human as they grow closer to the daily lives of the people of the city (Jinnai, 1995:122). Tokyo uchi can thus be understood as a ‘place-by-place’ (Thakera, 1989:66[6]) plot-by-plot discontinuous and autonomous series of uchi (oases) (Shelton, 1999:63).

[1] Intermediate space between public and private – communal space. In Kyoto, this was primarily the street, in Edo this was the open space behind houses and in the center of housing blocks (saisho), and in Nagoya this was the kansho (idle place) – a small alley that led from the street to the temple or graveyards behind housing lots (Kurokawa, 1991:chpt10).

[2] See note above.

[3] Similar to the environment inhabited by the medieval urban dweller, where “[t]he commune provided not only security to its populace but also a deep sense of community. It offered not only protection but the comfort of sociality and a human scale the burgher could comprehend and in which he could find a uniquely individual space. The commune was home – not merely an environment that surrounded the home.” (Bookchin, 1974:49; see also Pirenne, 1948:209-10 quoted in Bookchin, 1974)

[4] Use, Lifestyle, Way of life, Practical Concerns: Content. Ashihara (1989:98-100, 119) discussing important concerns in Japanese architecture – use and historical periods. And comparing European cities (stage settings) and Japanese cities (practical).

[5] As opposed to the anti-urban sentiment and commitment to only the nuclear family that one finds in the American ‘modern life’ of suburban ideology (Smith, 1978:70).

[6] In Shelton (1999:63).