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Global Pulls, Art & Tokyo

I am biased, Tokyo is my most beloved city in the world. My connection started since I was
13 and developed as work connections began to drag me towards Japan. Until this
day, I believe that Tokyo provides a vision of what urbanisation can be, and cities can

Global forces in cities pull towards an homogenous world order. Cities world over are
being pushed to become similar, or to share common traits, which in the past were not
common or… the skyscraper, the modern understanding of public services, public housing
and so forth has been incorporated to them. Furthermore, these processes contrast and
deeply affect local processes and communities. Communities are built upon common
linkages and time. Whenever capitalist global processes come into play in cities,
communities are indeed very clear losers, or their diminishment, understood as the
reduction of common values and connections between people, loosen.

Yet, our system is setup in such a way that without the ferocious fight for capital
investment in our city to transform labour into money or capital, our cities will fail. One
can recall all the way from the epoch relevance of Rome, Istanbul, and even Bagdad, and
their current irrelevance in the global stage. This view from being alpha cities, that drive
and define how humanity will unravel, to becoming gamma or not relevant in defining
what we are to become or understand ourselves as. This is in part, I argue, because their
economic relevance was destroyed. Yet at the same level I could argue that their demise
was brought upon their social destruction, and therefore their inability to forge individuals
that can lead the world stage.

Cities require sustenance, both for social aspects as well as economical ones. Politics, I
argue again, is the art of mediating between the economic morality of value creation, and
the social morality of being humane. Both are relevant, and the mediation between them
is a very complicated and, nowadays, underappreciated ability in our societies. Politicians
have become victims of their own abuse of power… for siding more with the economic
than the social.

I must disclaim that as I view the social it is related to what we understand to be right,
what might be good in one society is not good in another one. Yet politicians need to
develop the ability to bridge gaps between not only internal city gaps, but also national
social interests.

Tokyo is a fantastic example. Tokyo is a creation. It is Japanese capitalism’s response to
their ancient regime. The creation of the city, including the seemingly ancient, yet 100
year old, Meiji Shrine, is part of a wave of modernisation that Japan embraced. Its ability to
become central to all national processes and its expansion, not only in size and economic
power is also matched by its ability to create a new cultural transaction. At least in the
case of modern art, where Tokyo, although it did not have the first Modern Art Gallery, it
did nurture it through “lending” its experts to curate it and develop outside of it.

After the war, Tokyo became the centerpiece of integration to global world order. After the
1952 San Francisco accords, Japan was reinserted to global international life. Through the
eyes of art, one can see how the Tokyo biennales became a way of fostering the creation
of art identity within the cultural scene. From Warhol interpretations by Makishi, that
included motifs that mocked Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964 to portraying and shaming the
military for the destruction of prosperous Japan through their expansionary ambitions.

Yet all these reactions and art creations are largely due to the involvement of the Japanese nation with others throughout the world. From the Nirvana group in the late 60s that became a group of artists with clear European links, to seeing how local biennales
encouraged artists from even 17 countries in the 70’s to come and join the Japanese
nation and show their interpretation.

While global phenomenon threaten the creation of particular types of communities, they
foster others. There was a key piece of information that came to mind: while indeed
communities are linked to space, their destruction comes through displacement and
gentrification is a catalyst; the new spaces that are occupied, or displaced to, then become
the transnational spaces where this phenomenon happens. I am not justifying
displacement. I believe that displacement does destroy communities, yet the process of
transnationalisation of cities is ever-shifting and reinventing itself in multiple spaces or

Local tensions with global world order are mainly due, it is believed, because of the
economic dimension that they bring. The crowding out happens because of the unequal
income, being very simplistic. Yet, I can also argue, that the creation of a strong identity
enable a swifter and more equitable interaction with global order; the push will be there,
yet with a strong identity the absorption of global homogenous world order might take a
different perspective.

Tokyo is fascinating. It is a creation that includes both government and private companies
working together to create a reaction to the old political regime. Yet, as I’ve been seeing, I
fail to understand the social dimension of it, other than the interactions of the Yakuza as,
in the case of Shibuya, provide a social leverage against global incursions.

January 2020
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