Urban Planner Fights Ugly Japan

Urban Planner Fights Ugly JapanIt’s no secret that Tokyo is not one of the world’s most attractive cities. Between wars, earthquakes, fires, and generally bad urban planning, Tokyo’s inner beauty has been largely buried under what appears to be a random jumble of concrete and steel.

Take the Nihombashi bridge for example. The ornate bridge is a monument of Japanese history. Constructed in the 17th century, the landmark is the central point from which all distances in the capital are measured. The bridge was instrumental in transforming old Edo into what we know today as modern Tokyo. You would think that a structure with that sort of history would be preserved for future generations.

Instead, an eight-lane motorway was built on top of the bridge in preparation for the 1964 Olympic Games, essentially burying the historic monument and blocking out all sunlight.

While the Nihombashi bridge may be an extreme example, Shigeru Itou, Japan’s foremost urban planning expert, sees similar architectural nightmares throughout Japan.

In a battle against the his country’s “hideous” architecture and planning, Itou has just released a report titled “Ugly Japan”. He’s hoping his report will generate public outrage that will ultimately lead to a more beautiful Japan.

Professor Itou is careful not to single out particular buildings as ugly, believing that his report is only useful if it deals with objective ugliness, not subjective dislikes? He does, however, reserve a private judgment on the glittering steel and glass tower of Roppongi Hills, one of Tokyo’s most famous new landmarks and a structure which he thinks “resembles an old Russian woman’s backside”. 

Nihombashi bridge tops Itou’s “list of the loathsome”, which also includes “Shibuya river where even the water rats fear to tread”, and “Omuta city the shopping arcade of a thousand bankruptcies”.

There are signs that Itou may be more than just an angry architect. His prominence has lead Prime Minister Koizumi to appoint Itou to head up a panel of experts to study the possibility of a “Japan beauty renaissance”.