Living in Tokyo you become used to the continual process of demolition and new construction. Not the ten or twenty year boom and bust cycles I’ve seen in San Francisco and New York City. Even in the perpetually shrinking Japanese economy, Tokyo continues to morph and grow. The photo is from the demolition of a post-war Showa house in Nakano, a residential neighborhood. It will undoubtedly be replaced with a multi-unit structure made of pre-fab materials and slightly customized, standard layouts.
Closer to my house, I’ve seen the local liquor seller vacate his main storefront, which was replaced by a brand new 7-Eleven in less than four weeks. I watched the incredibly fast work to the interior, modernizing a 1970s storefront into the faceless, placeless space of a convenience store. They also installed enormous heating and cooling structures on the roof. I was glad to see that the liquor store owner has retained an adjacent, closet-sized space for his liquor sales. He seems to enjoy interacting with the neighbors.
It is exciting to read about how Seoul, Korea’s Mayor Oh Se-hoon is remaking his city into a green leader. Accomplishments include reducing air pollution by 20% in just four years. I like how Seoul uses attractiveness and energy efficiency as success metrics.
I am impressed that Seoul is connected an attractive city with economic growth and international competitiveness. May Oh is quotes as saying, “If the city is attractive, people, information and capital flow in. This in turn creates economic re-vitality and it also creates a lot of jobs.”
This forward looking attitude seems lacking in Tokyo’s city government. Why does Japan’s largest city cede environmental leadership to smaller cities like Yokohama and Nagoya? How will Japan compete globally in the next economy with last century’s technology? What will it take for Tokyo to abandon the status quo and become a leader in new urbanism? Tokyo has so much grassroots energy and creativity for brining nature into the city and making streets livable, yet so little government and corporate support.
Today is Japan’s national elections, with the opposition Democratic Party expected to take power in a landslide victory over the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, previously out of power only once since 1955. The electoral shift has been related to the nearly two decades economic decline and a desire for political change.
Recently, the British owner of one of Tokyo’s most expensive plant shops explained to me how the current economic downturn is affecting sales at his store. Global banks, corporate headquarters, and office lobbies have suspended regular deliveries, forcing the plant shop to layoff employees and reduce salaries.
In this difficult economy, the shop’s revenue has become more heavily dependent on government and the yakuza. In anticipation of today’s election, a US political advisor has ordered 480 of his most expensive white orchids, five stems for 50,000 yen ($535) each, for each winner of the lower house of the Diet. That single order is worth $250,000. It is interesting how an election creates direct economic benefits, and the owner is sad that it does not happen more often.
The other clients who have not cut back in spending are the yakuza. According to my source, the yakuza routinely order very expensive plants and flowers to send to their rivals. They also insist that delivery be made by the shop’s truck, even in Osaka and Kobe so that the prestige of the Tokyo shop is circulated publicly. I was taken aback at the idea of sending such lavish gifts to one’s rivals, but apparently the yakuza, like almost all other sectors of this consensus-oriented society, strive to maintain positive relationships with their enemies.