Wrapping up the publications

With my piece on the 1967 Robson Report forthcoming, I am nearing the final stretches of publishing the research of my dissertation in peer-reviewed journals. Finishing my PhD in three years from 2015-18, I wasn’t able to do it while engaged in my doctoral research. This was fortuitous in hindsight (I am biased of course) as it kept me from being distracted by the vagaries of scientific publishing. It would have made both processes–the publishing and the research–longer and altered the final product significantly.  

It was by no means easy to essentially rewrite and improve the three core chapters of my thesis, to face up to rejection and hard-hitting feedback from anonymous reviewers. In a way, the process of my PhD itself was much more harmonious: chats with my supervisor, discussions in student groups and conference presentations tended to be very civil affairs. The tone of reviewers’ comments was new to me, but made me stand up for my arguments and, in most cases, review, revise and improve my narrative substantially. In that sense, my dissertation would now look a lot better than it does, but that’s I guess the whole point of distilling a monograph out of a PhD.

The inaugural paper to come out from my dissertation was with Social Science Japan Journal–which is maintained by the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Social Science and published by OUP. It is considered (by some) as the leading English-language journal for social science research on Japan. My contribution on small factories in postwar Tokyo sits within economic history–performance data from 1955-1975 is analyzed for firms of various sizes in various locations–but connects with urban studies particularly in the second half. This interdisciplinary bent made it perhaps a little easier to place it in a regional instead of a subject matter publication, and the comments and suggestions of the anonymous reviewers were excellent. The additions on Osaka are only one example of a clear value-add of this peer review process.

The second paper was published with the International Journal for Sustainable Urban Development. It is a suitable home for the core thrust of my “egalitarianism” argument, i.e., that despite rapid economic and population growth, Tokyo became a more equal place during its postwar expansion and that its story might hold lessons for emerging megacities. My “postwar Tokyo model of spatial egalitarianism” is distilled and presented after the data section, focusing on urban form, homogenous economic structure and municipal institutions. The reviewers wanted me to highlight the temporal and spatial limitations of such model, i.e., ask how relevant it remains today and how applicable it is to other places.

The third paper, and perhaps the major one, zooms in on the first two points of the postwar Tokyo model of spatial egalitarianism, i.e., homogenous urban form and economic structure. It was just published with Cities, the most prestigious of the journals in this list, and widely held as one of the top journals for urban studies. It proved a lengthy but eventually successful process of two substantial revisions. The paper suggests that certain “default” neighborhood characteristics got reproduced as the city expanded. It tries to show this empirically by looking at ward-level data, in line with the methodology of the other articles.

The final paper, which I hope will see the light of day in the first half of next year in Planning Perspectives, is currently under revision after receiving some very helpful comments. It is on the 1967 Robson Report. It summarizes some of my thinking on Tokyo Metropolitan Government and its role in the city’s growth spurt in the postwar era, e.g., the absence of large-scale urban planning, fiscal redistribution, transport policies, etc. I am still working on the overall methodology, but essentially it is showing what TMG did not do in the face of well-meant advice from one of the most respected public administration experts of this era.

This means that I managed to publish about one piece per year since the end of my PhD, with a long annotated Tokyo urban studies bibliography on top of that. I am proud of this tally given the vagaries of life and the demands of my daytime job. I would not have been able to do this without the helpful suggestions and comments that I received even before submitting the drafts to the peer review process. Above all, I must thank Jordan Sand, who has become a mentor to me over the past seven years, for providing feedback on all four papers. He also read my dissertation and has been a real inspiration and guiding figure over the course of this research. He made me feel part of a community of Tokyo historians who are working to make the social history of this fascinating city available to an international audience.

This leaves a few publishable tidbits from the dissertation if I need more mileage on my CV: A paper on fiscal redistribution could rely on significant data mining I already performed for the relevant chapter. The same chapter has a few thousand words on the “civil minimum”, an interesting concept of former governor Minobe’s that has to date received very little attention in English language scholarship. While the seven-year mark of my Tokyo research means that I am looking toward new intellectual pastures, the depth and rigor of my prior engagement with the Japanese capital will mean a lifelong commitment to its scholarship (and a deep personal connection, of course).

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