Syllabus Metropolitan Tokyo

The last of four posts sharing my TUJ syllabi is Metropolitan Tokyo. I probably put most work into this class: It was the one closest to my own research, the bar was high and I kept adapting the syllabus the more I taught it, in total five times over two years.

Although all classes at TUJ need also to be taught at main campus, Metropolitan Tokyo is one of the obvious exceptions. When I started teaching at Temple’s Tokyo satellite campus, it had not been on the curriculum for a few years. Prior to that, the course was taught by people from a variety of backgrounds, including urban geographers and architects.

One of the challenges and privileges of teaching such a class is that there are hardly any comparable English-language courses taught around the world that one could draw inspiration from, or that could have collectively spawned a textbook. Given Tokyo’s size as the biggest urban agglomeration in the world comfortably on par with G-20 nations, that is maybe a little surprising.

From what I know, there is a class at Harvard that is being taught by the great Theodore Bestor and several urban studies courses taught in Tokyo that are mainly on Tokyo, e.g. at Sophia University. Christian Dimmer has been teaching urban studies at Waseda and focuses on Tokyo.

Many noted academics with extensive Tokyo experience teach urban studies classes, often drawing on their research on the Japanese capital. These include Jordan Sand (and his Approaches to the Modern City at Georgetown), Paul Waley at Leeds, Andre Sorensen at Toronto, and many others.

Suffice it to say, a class called “Metropolitan Tokyo” leaves it up to the instructor which spin s/he wants to give it. My background as an economic historian informed a lot of the syllabus, although I tried to be as interdisciplinary as possible to make it fun for liberal arts undergraduates. The size of the class was between 15-30 students, with a large proportion of exchange students (who spent a semester at TUJ) from all over the US.

The reading list is rather ecclectic and omits some of the few classics, e.g. Seidensticker’s standard text. I made sure that my students were aware of its existence and many of them quoted him in their written work.

At the risk of sounding a little megalomaniac, there is clearly no better way of learning about a city than to teach a course about it. Now being away from it all makes me wonder what immense privilege this has been, i.e. being allowed to stand in front of students learning about this amazing city together. Onwards with the practicalities:

My intro read: “Tokyo is a megalopolis bursting with superlatives: More than 30 million people live within a 30-mile radius of Nihonbashi Bridge, making the urban agglomeration the largest in the world. The city’s efficient public transport system brings millions of workers to and from their workplace every day. The Metropolitan Government commands a portfolio that puts it comfortably on par with that of a G-20 nation. Tokyo has many of the features we associate with a globally-systemic megacity, but also an urban pattern that is almost uniformly low-rise and medium-density. This interdisciplinary class will acquaint students with the tools to approach this fascinating city. After contextualising its position in the world and Japan, as well as learning about the city’s political geography, this course will chart Tokyo’s historical development over the centuries. The course will then introduce famous areas using a thematic approach. We conclude the course by looking at aspects of everyday life as well how memory and places are made. All throughout, students are expected to perform tasks outside of the classroom.

The course should acquaint students with the intellectual ammunition to answer (some of) the following questions:

  • How do we need to contextualise Tokyo’s position in the world and within Japan? How does our understanding of the city change when we look at the special ward area, the prefecture or the entire urban agglomeration?
  • What are the main continuities and the changes from Edo to Meiji-era Tokyo, and from pre-war to post-war Tokyo? What is the legacy of the twin disasters of 1923 and 1945?
  • How does Tokyo defy conventional urbanisation theory in terms of spatial organisation, industrialisation pathways and intra-urban inequality?
  • How are memories preserved amidst a culture of “scrap-and-build”? What role does heritage preservation play?

The analytical tools covered in the class extend well beyond Tokyo. Students will:

  • Understand how to intuitively read statistics from a variety of sources and interpret graphs and charts with more confidence
  • Build a multi-source narrative combining desk research and on-the-ground explorations for presentations and projects
  • Be exposed to a variety of methodological tools, e.g. GIS, archival research, literature review; and will be introduced to interdisciplinary research drawing on studies from scholars in anthropology, sociology, economics, politics and urban studies
  • Become acquainted with some of the major themes in contemporary urban development, which will be of use in analysing cities in other countries”

The assessment for the class included three “out-of-classroom activities”, i.e.:

First out-of-classroom activity report 15%: This assignment (about 2-3 A4-pages) requires students to visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum and discuss several questions focusing on the Edo and Tokyo periods. Students are also required to reflect on the culture and tradition of memory and commemoration in this city.

Second out-of-classroom activity report 15%: The second assignment, also on about 2-3 A-4 pages, will see students visit one of the famous areas portrayed in the third section of the class (Roppongi, Yanesen, Toranomon, Shibuya), reflecting on the relevant class’s contents and finding evidence to support (or refute!) its main tenets.

Third out-of-classroom activity report 15%: This assignment will focus on the built environment. Students can choose one building, architectural structure and, on 2-3 A4 pages, discuss its history, context, and meaning for Tokyo’s history. These don’t need to be famous structures but can also be ephemeral details or quirky but symbolic features of the city, for example, a “Thomasson”.

The presentations (15%) tasked the presentations to introduce a film about Tokyo, or do in-depth research on a building and its place in the city’s history. A final essay (30%) and class participation (10%) constituted the remainder of the total grade.

I had a total of three guest lecturers speak to my students: Dr. Chelsea Szendi Schieder of Aoyama Gakuin on postwar political protests in Tokyo; Dr. Maho Ikeda of Hokkai Gakuen University on the political history of Meiji Tokyo; and Norio Yamato of the Mori Memorial Foundation on his organization’s vision for Tokyo. The latter’s multimedia-heavy presentation was a great finale to the class.

Let me know if you need more details about this class or any of the assignments, lecture notes etc. It would be great to hear about what teaching there is on this great city around the world.

Class Topic Reading / notes
1 Introduction and course overview
2 Defining Tokyo
3 The 23 wards, the Tama area and the Tokyo agglomeration Introduce one of the 23 special wards (or one of the cities in the Tama region)
No class (instructor traveling) Flexible timing: Edo Museum visit. For this, read Sand, Jordan (2013), Tokyo Vernacular, chapter 4

Sep 20 (Fri) please attend “Meet the Author and the Translator of Convenience Store Woman” @7:00 PM TUJ Parliament

4 From Edo to Meiji Smith, Henry D. (1978), “Tokyo as an Idea: An Exploration of Japanese Urban Thought Until 1945”, in Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1 (available here)
5 From Taisho to 1945 Either Waley, Paul (2009), “Distinctive patterns of industrial urbanisation in modern Tokyo, c. 1880–1930” Journal of Historical Geography, 35 (3), available here; or Fanning, Rory (2015), “The Firebombing of Tokyo, here
7 Post-war Tokyo Yoshimi, Shunya and David Buist (2003), “‘America’ as desire and violence: Americanization in postwar Japan and Asia during the Cold War?”, in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, pages 438-441
8 Roppongi Cybriwsky, Roman (2011), Roppongi Crossing, chapters 3 and 7
9 Yanesen: gentrification Sand, Jordan (2013), Tokyo Vernacular, chapter 2
10 Guest lecture: “Tokyo as a site of protest” Dr Chelsea Szendi Schieder (Aoyama Gakuin University)

Schieder, Chelsea S., “Tokyo 1969: studying abroad, striking abroad” and “The other transpacific alliances: introduction”, in The Sixties, 2017

11 Central Tokyo: vertical cities Waley, Paul (2013), “Pencilling Tokyo into the map of neoliberal urbanism”, Cities, 32 (available here)
12 Shibuya: corporate cool Havens, Thomas (1996), Architects of Affluence (section: “The Siege of Shibuya”, selected news clippings
13 Life in a ward in the 1950s and in the 1980s Dore, Ronald (1958), City Life in Japan: A Study of a Tokyo Ward

Bestor, Theodore (1989), Neighbourhood Tokyo

14 Discovering Tokyo on foot Jinnai, Hidenobu (1995), Tokyo: A Spatial Anthropology

Imai, Heike (2017), Tokyo Roji, introduction

15 Danchi and suburban Tokyo Neitzel, Laura (2016), The Lives We Longed For: Danchi Housing and Middle Class Life in Postwar Japan

Bansal, Benjamin (2013), “Sakuradai Village”, available here

16 The “Tokyo Model” Echanove, Matias (2011), “User Generated Tokyo”
17 Literary and cultural memory Waley, Paul (2002), “Moving the Margins of Tokyo”, Urban Studies, Vol. 39, No. 9; Thornbury, Barbara and Evelyn Schultz (2017), Tokyo: Memory, Imagination and the City, choose one chapter; film screening
18 Architecture and the built environment Watanabe, Hiroshi (2001), The Architecture of Tokyo

Meyer, Ulf (2018), Architectural Guide Tokyo

Akasegawa, Genpei (2010), Hyperart: Thomasson

19 Out-of-class activity
20 No class Preparation student presentations
21 Student group presentations
22 Student group presentations
23 Guest lecture: Mori Memorial Foundation Mori Memorial Foundation, Global City Power Index 2019


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *