Session details


Takahito Mori (Hitotsubashi University) and Rainer Liedtke (University of Regensburg)


Transnational History, Modernization, Urban Governance


What constitutes the “modern city” in Europe? In order to understand this in a global context, it would be meaningful to compare the development of the modern city in Europe with that in Japan, which followed, according to Eisenstadt’s theory of “multiple modernities”, a unique path of modernization among the Non-Western societies owing to its “unusual combination of similarities and differences with Western societies” (Eisenstadt). 

It is widely acknowledged in recent studies of Japanese urban history that the prototype of the modern city in Japan was formed during the interwar period, when against the background of accelerating urbanization the ideas of modernity, in terms of regularity, functionality and rationality, contributed to the establishment of mass culture and ultimately the social mobilization for "total war". This applied to various fields such as urban planning, public hygiene, and consumer culture and culture of the body. These views correspond in some respects with those of European urban history which describe the interwar period as the transformation of urban space and lifestyle due to ideas of modernity in the sense mentioned above. 

Such a remarkable coincidence raises the question why the modern city had developed at the same time in Japan and Europe. Starting from there, this session examines from the perspective of the transnational history of "urban governance", what influence the European experience of urbanization had on the development of the modern city in Japan and how the persistence of Japanese urban traditions could be reconciled with European "role models". "Urban governance" is defined here as a social order of urban space created by the interactions of actors in the fields of urban planning, infrastructure, housing policy, public hygiene and social policy, namely central and local governments, the army, private companies, voluntary associations, city planners and others. 

As potential themes for contributions to this session, we welcome comparative studies on urban planning, provision of public services, transport infrastructure, social welfare, and urban culture in Japanese and European cities mainly during the interwar period, and on transfers of knowledge within these fields. 


Fireproofing the Japanese City against Disasters and Total War, 1923-1945


Julia Mariko Jacoby (University of Freiburg)


Urban Conflagrations, Urban Planning, Transfer of Knowledge


This paper examines the role of natural disasters and the growing influence of air defense on the transformation of urban space in prewar, wartime, and postwar Japan. In conjunction with each other, they sparked a discourse on fire prevention and became a catalyst for introducing urban planning practices originating in Europe to Japan. The Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923, which destroyed two-thirds of Tokyo, mainly by fire, showed the vulnerability of Japanese cities during urban conflagrations. As a consequence, fire preparedness was discussed and researched by Japan’s architects, urban planners, and engineers.

Since the Great Kantō Earthquake happened shortly after the implementation of the Japanese Urban Planning Law in 1919, the reconstruction became a testing ground for urban planning techniques learned from Europe, especiallyGermany, transforming them in the process. In the following years, preparedness against disasters and aerial warfare became important catalysts for introducing or even imposing European urban planning practices inJapan, like zoning, zone condemnation, greenbelts and garden cities. Likewise, the recently introduced,reinforced concrete was extensively researched and promoted as a disaster-resistant building material. Although not everything could be put into practice because of material shortage during the war years, and other measures such as greenbelts were partially removed after the war, the interwar discourse on fireproofing exertedconsiderable influence on postwar reconstruction.

In this paper, the debates on fireproofing the Japanese city from the 1920s to the 1940s are brought into focus, with emphasis on the Japanese gaze on European, especially German, urban planning practices and their effectivity against urban conflagrations. 

The knowledge transfer from Europe was not a linear process, but one marked by discussions on applicability to the disaster-prone Japanese environment, thus knowledge was transformed according to Japanese needs and urban planning traditions.

The German Influence on the First Subway in Tokyo


Shuichi Takashima (Aoyama Gakuin University)


Railway Engineer, Germany, Japan


This presentation will focus on a German railway engineer, Rudolf Briske (1884-1967). He was born in Breslau as a Jewish German. After graduating the college, he gathered his experience as a railway engineer. It was during his tenure at Siemens Bauuinion that he was asked to be a technical adviser for Tokyo Underground Railway Ltd. Co (TUR), which constructed the first subway in Japan. Briske worked for the company from 1923 to 1926. The most significant influence from Briske to TUR was the adoption of the ramen construction method. It was a method for constructing square tunnel, which was developed in Germany. Furthermore, Briske also contributed in introduction of German machinery, waterproofing inside the tunnel, station planning, and subway network planning.

But at the same time, it should be noted that for these new attempts TUR did not necessarily depend on Briske entirely. By the time, there were some high educated civil engineers and city planners also in Japan. Therefore which parts of Briske's advice were to be incorporated and which were rejected depended on their subjective choices.

Briske also received some great "harvests" through staying in Japan. The biggest one was the experience of the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. Based on that experience, he wrote his doctoral thesis after returning to Germany. 

He was awarded a doctoral degree of engineering in 1927. After going back to Berlin, he gave some reports on subways in Stockholm, Prague, and Moskow. His experience in Tokyo helped him to raise his reputation as an engineer. In 1938, he was fired because of being a "non-Aryan." However, he could escape from the worst fate. He became an independent engineer, to find his place in a Silesian coal mine. After the war, he returned to Siemens and worked there until 1950.

In early 20th century, Japanese city transport were certainly influenced by Western systems. However, it is not enough to focus only on the commonality between Europe and Japan. Even if the phenomenon is similar on the surface, there were cultural "interactions” and “translations" underlying. We have to drill these aspects.

The Western Reception of Japanese Architecture from the 1920s to the 1960s


Beate Loeffler Technical (University of Dortmund) and Katja Schmidtpott (Ruhr University Bochum)


Japan, Orientalism, Modern City


The reception of Japanese architecture in Europe and the USA changed in the course of the 20th Century. In the interwar period, Western interest was still focused on traditional characteristics of Japanese architecture and European modernism drew inspiration historic buildings, while the works of Japanese counterparts received little attention. Finally, in the postwar period, contemporary Japanese architecture, began to be viewed favorably by Western architects. Tange Kenzō was the first Japanese architect to be accepted as part of a global avant-garde. The presentation will attempt to trace the reasons for this change, also including (cultural) political factors against the background of the Cold War.