Tokyo: Representation and Reality

A summer 2016 course for undergraduates at the University of Tokyo

With a population of over thirteen million people in the city proper, Tokyo ranks with Shanghai, Lagos, and Mumbai among the ten largest cities in the world. When adjacent cities—Yokohama, Saitama, Chiba, and others—are included, the Tokyo metropolitan area is perhaps the world’s biggest, with over thirty-six million residents, nearly twice as many as in New York City and all its suburbs.

A city so vast inevitably encompasses contrasts and contradictions. Destroyed and rebuilt twice in the 20th century, the metropolis of Tokyo now appears to be a success story of modern urban development: the streets are safe, the air clean, the people seemingly content. But beneath its peacefully bustling facade lie many challenges: an aging native population, a widening gap between rich and poor, emptying suburbs, conflicts over immigration, the always-looming threat of crises both natural and manmade.

In this intensive course taught in the summer of 2016, undergraduates from Princeton University and the University of Tokyo tried to come to a deeper understanding of this complex, multifaceted city. How do media images and stereotypes of Tokyo correspond to the day-to-day reality? How do the people of Tokyo interact with the city in which they live? What does Tokyo’s role as the political, economic, and cultural capital of Japan mean for its status as a global city? And, most importantly, how can one even begin to comprehend a social phenomenon as huge and complicated as a great city, where directed planning and design inevitably interact with the diverse aspirations and actions of millions of people?

The students participated in lectures and workshops taught by UTokyo faculty, went on exploratory field trips within and around Tokyo, and conducted individual and group research projects in which they delved into particular aspects of this intriguing city. To maximize their exposure to urban life, international students stayed in a student lodge in the heart of the city, and the course was based on UTokyo’s Komaba Campus, which is just a few minutes away from Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s most dynamic and youthful areas.


Tom Gally

Professor and Director, Centre for Global Communication Strategies

Born in Californiain 1957, Professor Gally has lived in Tokyo and Yokohama since 1983. He worked as a translator and writer for many years before joining the faculty at Komaba in 2005. His research interests include language education policy and lexicography. His books include Eigo no Aya (“Figures of English,” 2011) and, as coeditor, Kenkyusha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary, 5th edition (2003). Professor Gally is organizing and coordinating this course.

Kyungnam Moon

Assistant Professor, Komaba Organization for Educational Excellence, University of Tokyo

Dr. Moon received his Ph.D. from the University of Tokyo in 2016. His research interests include Ancient Greek Philosophy, with a primary focus on Aristotle, and Contemporary Analytic Philosophy. He hopes his current research will develop into a wide-ranged comparative study of various types of pluralism, both Western and Eastern. Dr. Moon is working as an assistant of Professor Gally for this program.

Hideki Koizumi

Professor, Department of Urban Engineering

Professor Koizumi received his Ph.D. in urban engineering from the University of Tokyo in 1993. A specialist in community design, cooperative city planning, and citizen-driven town development, he is author and coauthor of many books and references on urban planning and sustainable development.

Yusuke Obuchi

Associate Professor, Department of Architecture, University of Tokyo

Yusuke Obuchi is an Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Tokyo, where he has directed Obuchi Laboratory in the Department of Architecture since 2010. Professor Obuchi was Co-director of the Design Research Laboratory at the Architectural Association (AA) in London from 2005 to 2010, and Course Master and Unit Master of the Architectural Association from 2003 to 2005. He studied architecture at Princeton University, Southern California Institute of Architecture, and the University of Toronto. He has previously taught at Princeton University, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, the University of Kentucky, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Professor Obuchi teaches design studios, workshops, and seminar courses where he explores the concepts of materiality, design systems, computational design techniques, and fabrication processes in contemporary architecture and urban design.


Designer, Etw.Vonneguet

Olga is a designer for her fashion label Etw.Vonneguet. She studied fashion and technology in the UK. To find new perspectives on fashion, she designs fashion using digital tools like 3D modeling with her own original methods and philosophy. She also designs costumes for artists to use in their publicity videos and live performances. Using innovative digital tools for creation, her fashion label Etw.Vonneguet shows new collections for society and people more publicly as a fashion brand. For example, runways on Tokyo streets and 3D simulated digital collections. Etw.Vonneguet also took part in the Mercedes-Benz fashion week in Tokyo. Etw.Vonneguet's retail store has been operating at Shibuya Parco since March.

Richard Shefferson

Associate Professor of Plant Ecology, Department of General Systems Studies

Richard Shefferson is an internationally renowned plant evolutionary ecologist particularly focused on evolutionary demography. He studies senescence, eco-evolutionary dynamics, trade-offs, life histories, and conservation management, and also conducts some research on the evolution of ecological interactions, particularly symbioses. He earned his Ph.D. in 2004 from the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Akiko Shimizu

Associate Professor, Department of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies

Professor Shimizu's research interests include feminist and queer theories, theories of bodies and (self-)representation, queer disability studies, and postcolonial feminist theories. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English literature at the University of Tokyo and a second MA at the Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory, University of Wales, Cardiff, where she also completed a PhD. Among her works is the book Lying Bodies: Survival and Subversion in the Field of Vision (2008). Her website is at .

Toby Slade

Associate Professor, Centre for Global Communication Strategies

Professor Slade teaches fashion theory and Japanese popular culture and is the author of Japanese Fashion: A Cultural History, the first comprehensive study in any language of Japanese fashion from the Edo period until today. He is also editor of Introducing Japanese Popular Culture, a 40-chapter volume on the many aspects of pop culture in Japan, to be published in early 2016. Professor Slade’s talk will explore the dynamics of Japanese sartorial modernity and the historical antecedents of today’s fashion. It will explore the different ways to conceptualise fashion and how these can be applied to the contemporary styles, the growth and decline of subcultural fashions, especially on the streets of Tokyo, and the institutional structures that govern trends and styles.

Katsuya Sugawara

Professor, Department of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies

Professor Sugawara has been on the faculty of the University of Tokyo since 1999, where he has been actively involved in research and teaching in the fields of comparative literature and English-language education. Among his works are the book Eigo to Nihongo no Aida (“Between English and Japanese,” 2011) and the paper “Great Bearer: Images of the US in the Writings of the Air Raids” (2004).

Haruko Wakabayashi

Lecturer, Department of East Asian Studies, Princeton University

Haruko Wakabayashi is Lecturerat the East Asian Studies Department, Princeton University. She received her Ph.D. in Japanese history from Princeton University in 1995. Her interest lies in the social, cultural, and intellectual development of medieval Japan, and the use of visual sources in the study of history. She is currently working on medieval Japanese perceptions of natural disasters, and how these views were framed to serve various social and political circumstances in the late twelfth century. Her recent publications include The Seven Tengu Scrolls: Evil and the Rhetoric of Legitimacy in Medieval Japanese Buddhism (2012, University of Hawai’i Press) and “Disaster in the Making: Taira no Kiyomori’s Move of the Capital to Fukuhara" (2015, Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 70, No. 1). She has been teaching Japanese history and East Asian Humanities at Princeton since 2010, and has led the Princeton University Summer Research Program at the University of Tokyo 2015 and 2016.

Brendan Wilson

Professor, Department of Language & Information Sciences

Professor Wilson born in Glasgow, Scotland, and studied English Literature and Philosophy at Glasgow University. He then went to Oxford, concentrating on Philosophy for his DPhil. After a period teaching in the UK, he came to Japan, joining the English Department at the University of Tokyo (Komaba) in 1991. He has published three books in philosophy (all with Edinburgh University Press) and a number of other books in Japan. His philosophical interests lie in the mainstream of Western analytical philosophy, with particular attention to Wittgenstein, philosophy of language and philosophy of mind.


Part 1: Immersion in the Metropolis

June 6 (Mon)

10:25–12:10 First meeting of Princeton and UTokyo students / Orientation to the course (Tom Gally)
13:00–15:00 Campus and Komaba area tour (Tom Gally)

June 7 (Tue)

10:25–12:10 Lecture 1: What does it mean to know a city? (Tom Gally)

June 8 (Wed)

10:00–17:00 Field trip 1: Exploration of Tokyo (Tom Gally)

June 9 (Thu)

10:25–12:10 Lecture 2: How strange are strange new worlds? (Brendan Wilson)
14:00–16:00 Presentations by yesterday’s groups about what they observed in Tokyo. Discussion of issues that those observations raise and preliminary brainstorming about possible themes for group projects. (Tom Gally)

June 10 (Fri)

10:00–15:00 Field trip 2: Edo-Tokyo Museum and Ryogoku area (Tom Gally)

June 11 (Sat)

10:00–17:00 Field trip 3: Socio-ecology of Satoyama and Tama New Town (Tom Gally and Diego Tavares Vasques)

June 12 (Sun)


June 13 (Mon)

10:25–12:10 Sharing weekend activities / Week planning (Tom Gally)

Part 2: The People of the City

June 14 (Tue)

10:25–12:10 Lecture 3: Japanese fashion in the modern and contemporary periods (Toby Slade)

June 15 (Wed)

10:00–17:00 Field trip 4: The birth of a merchant city (Tom Gally and Samuel Patrick Thomas)

June 16 (Thu)

10:25–12:10 Lecture 4: Conservation measures and policies in a densely populated landscape: The Kanto Plain as a microcosm of Japan (Richard Shefferson)
20:00 Deadline for submitting proposals for topics for group projects

June 17 (Fri)

10:25–12:10 Lecture 5: LGBT diversity and the queering of Tokyo (Akiko Shimizu)
13:00–14:45 Group project proposal peer review (Kyungnam Moon)

June 18 (Sat)

13:00–17:00 Field trip 5: Trickle down and bubble up: High fashion and street fashion (Toby Slade)

June 19 (Sun)


Part 3: Urban Change and Evolution

June 20 (Mon)

10:25–12:10 Sharing weekend activities / Week planning (Kyungnam Moon)

June 21 (Tue)

10:25–12:10 Lecture 6: Asakusa: The center of worship and entertainment (Haruko Wakabayashi)

June 22 (Wed)

10:25–12:10 Lecture 7: The growth and planning of Tokyo (Hideki Koizumi)
14:00–17:00 Field trip 6: Taishido neighborhood (Kyungnam Moon)

June 23 (Thu)

13:00–17:00 Field trip 7: Walking tour of Ueno and Asakusa (Kyungnam Moon and Haruko Wakabayashi)

June 24 (Fri)

10:25–12:10 Lecture 8: May 10, 1945: An apocalyptic vision of Tokyo (Katsuya Sugawara)
14:00–15:45 Sum-up discussion (Tom Gally)

June 25 (Sat)

20:00 Deadline for submitting proposals for topics for individual papers

June 26 (Sun)


Part 4: The City in Perspective

June 27 (Mon)

10:25–12:10 Group project presentations (Tom Gally)

June 28 (Tue)

10:25–12:10 Peer reviewing individual project proposals (Tom Gally)

June 29 (Wed)

10:25–12:10 Lecture on Japanese architecture (Yusuke Obuchi)

13:00–17:00 Field trip 8: Architecture in Tokyo

June 30 (Thu)

Individual meetings with students (Tom Gally)

July 1 (Fri)

10:25–12:10 Sum-up discussion (Tom Gally)

July 2 (Sat)

Student activities

July 3 (Sun)

10:00–12:00 Field trip 9: The fashion industry in Tokyo and online (Olga and Tom Gally)

July 4 (Mon)

Student activities

July 5 (Tue)

10:25–12:10, 13:00–14:45 Final symposium on individual projects (Tom Gally)
Evening Party (Tom Gally)

Lectures & Field Trips

Lecture 1. What does it mean to know a city?

Lecturer: Tom Gally
In this lecture, I will give an overview of Tokyo as I understand it after having lived here for more than three decades. This overview will be necessarily subjective, and in my lecture I will try to foreground that subjectivity and my own incomplete awareness of it. I hope that this example of self-reflection on the limitations and biases of my own knowledge will suggest ways for students to approach their own emerging understandings of Tokyo.

For a different and perhaps less biased introduction to the city, students are encouraged to read through the Wikipedia articles about Tokyo to familiarize themselves in advance with the main facts about the city, especially the names of the various areas.

Field trip 1. Exploration of Tokyo

Attendant Advisor: Tom Gally
The students meet on campus and divide into groups of about three people each. Each group is assigned a randomly selected area of Tokyo to visit that day. After the morning rush hour has died down, the groups depart for their destinations by public transportation, taking notes and photographs of matters of interest along the way.

Field trip 2. Edo-Tokyo Museum and Ryogoku area

Attendant Advisor: Tom Gally
Students visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum to learn about the history of Edo and Tokyo. Then students are divided into groups and tour the Ryogoku area. Students will be encouraged to record the details of what they see in town. The tour will finish up at the Sumidagawa river.

Field trip 3. Socio-ecology of Satoyama and Tama New Town

Attendant Advisor: Tom Gally
Students will visit the Tama Forest Science Garden and learn about nature in Tokyo and how Japanese people have dealt with nature in general. Then students will move to Tama New Town and see one of the most manifest results of post-war Japanese urban planning. If the weather is fine, students may go on an additional hike.

Lecture 3. Japanese fashion in the modern and contemporary periods

Lecturer: Toby Slade
Professor Slade’s talk will explore the dynamics of Japanese sartorial modernity and the historical antecedents of today’s fashion. It will explore the different ways to conceptualise fashion and how these can be applied to the contemporary styles, the growth and decline of subcultural fashions, especially on the streets of Tokyo, and the institutional structures that govern trends and styles.

Field trip 4. The birth of a merchant city

Attendant Advisor: Tom Gally
This field trip considers the importance of merchant culture to the growth of the metropolis through a walking tour of East Tokyo. Students will correlate the "omotenashi" of Japan's first department store Nihombashi Mitsukoshi against the downtown culture of the post-war blackmarket Ueno, as well as consider Akihabara as a microcosm of commercial and cultural meanings.

The tour will begin at the kilometer zero of Tokyo, Nihombashi, and proceed through Kanda, Akihabara and Okachimachi before ending in Ueno. Students will encounter a variety of disparate conceptions of commercial culture, and are encouraged to examine what this reflects of the city and its origins.

Lecture 4. Conservation measures and policies in a densely populated landscape: The Kanto Plain as a microcosm of Japan

Lecturer: Richard Shefferson
We will look at satoyama as an important cultural concept that has been used in Japan to provide a natural environment to towns. This concept has taken on special importance for conservation measures in Tokyo and Kanto as a whole, and also compare this approach to conservation measures worldwide.

Lecture 5. LGBT diversity and the queering of Tokyo

Lecturer: Akiko Shimizu
What does it mean when a city claims to promote diversity? Who qualify as legitimate members of a "diverse" community, and whose lives become even less "tolerated"? Starting by overviewing the history of sexual/spatial politics in which sexual minorities have (ab)used the public space, this lecture will examine the current politics of "LGBT diversity" in pre-Olympic Tokyo.

Field trip 5. Trickle down and bubble up: High fashion and street fashion

Attendant Advisor: Toby Slade
This field trip will walk up the Omotesandō, Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées, starting with the youth and subcultural fashions closer to Harajuku, then proceed up the avenue, known as Tokyo’s architectural showcase, with many fashion brand flagship stores designed by world famous architects such as the Louis Vuitton store by Jun Aoki (2002), the Prada building by Herzog & de Meuron (2003), the Tod's buidling by Toyo Ito (2004), the Dior building by SANAA (2004), Omotesandō Hills by Tadao Ando (2005), and Gyre by MVRDV (2007). We will discuss the relationship between the aesthetics of buildings and the aesthetics of clothing. We will finish with two aging greats of Japanese fashion, Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons.

This walk will give us a vantage point to see fashion constituted in a number of ways, reflecting and presenting social class, age, gender, nationhood and other identities.

Lecture 6. Asakusa: The center of worship and entertainment

Lecturer: Haruko Wakabayashi
Since the Edo period (1603-1868), Asakusa has been a popular center of religion and entertainment in the so-called "shitamachi" (low city) area of Tokyo. People visited Asakusa not only to pray at the famed Sensoji temple, but also to play—on the pleasure boats on the adjacent Sumida River, and at the Kabuki playhouses and the Yoshiwara licensed pleasure quarters located just outside the temple. Despite undergoing two major disasters in the modern period—the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the Tokyo Air Raid of 1945—Asakusa continued to develop into one of the major tourist sights in Tokyo. This lecture will look at the various elements of "prayer and play" that constituted the history of Asakusa, through which we may better understand the nature of Japanese religion and sacred space.

Field trip 6. Taishido neighborhood

Attendant Advisor: Kyungnam Moon
Students will visit the Taishido area in Setagaya ward and see how community development (machizukuri) influenced the landscape of the town.

Field trip 7. Walking tour of Ueno and Asakusa

Attendant Advisors: Kyungnam Moon and Haruko Wakabayashi
Students will start from the Ueno area and observe its overall landscape, which was spared from airstrikes in 1945. In the afternoon, Professor Hatsuda Kosei of the Department of Architecture, a specialist in urban history, will take participants on a walking tour through Asakusa with Professor Wakabayashi.

Lecture 8. May 10, 1945: An apocalyptic vision of Tokyo

Lecturer: Katsuya Sugawara
At the end of WWII, Tokyo was in ashes and debris, devastated by air raids. One of the major bombings took place on the night of May 9, 1945, which has been remembered as the May 10 incident. It provided masses of materials for Japanese people to produce their own narratives of war. In this lecture I will show you some examples of their writings and discuss how people came to terms (and still do) with their experiences.

Field Trip 8. The fashion industy in Tokyo and online

Lecturer: Olga
The students visited the shop of the brand Etw.Vonneguet in Shibuya Parco, heard a talk from the brand's director, Olga, about her fashion business, and tried some cutting-edge virtualization technology developed by her Fashion Technology Lab.


Tom Gally

Kyungnam Moon