Why do the Japanese knock down instead of renovate?

I’d always assumed it was love of the new, but looking at the Tokyo Station renovation and many other brand new retro buildings in nearby Marunouchi is proof that it has nothing to do with style, let alone modern style. The station itself is a particularly extreme example, because they’ve knocked down the old domes that are everyone’s image of Tokyo Station and rebuilt the even older ones that no one missed or even remembered.

My new conclusion is that just renovating here and there isn’t gambarimasu (do your very best/ work yourself to death) enough. Alternatively, maybe Japanese decision making processes make a big decision like knocking the whole thing down the only way of getting projects properly underway. Or it could simply be bribes etc from the construction industry.


  1. T2 said,

    February 5, 2012 at 3:59 am

    One reason is probably because of the earthquakes.

    The requirements for quake-resistant houses have changed quite a bit in the last 30~40 years, and if you’re house is relatively old, there’s a good chance that it will not meet the current requirements.
    And some times it costs as much a building a new house to renovate your old house to meet the current quake-resistance standards.
    So in that case, people will tend to knock their house down and rebuild it.

    As for Tokyo station, I think they’re gonna rebuild all the domes, and the floors.
    Originally there were domes in the south exit and north exit,
    which were both burnt down when Tokyo was bombed in 1945.
    Also Tokyo station used to have a 3rd floor which was removed right after the war just because they didn’t have any material to fix it.
    So after that, Tokyo station lost its domes & its third floor.
    They are currently rebuilding that so it will look like how it originally looked in 1914 when it was built.

    • alexcase said,

      February 5, 2012 at 4:54 am

      It’s certainly relevant, but the Japanese love of knocking stuff down long predates any requirements for quake resistance. For example, the beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright Imperial Hotel which survived the great 1923 quake was torn down and replaced by a concrete monstrocity.

      Although not domed shaped, there were dome-like things that everyone seemed happy enough with on Tokyo station since the rebuild (in 1950s?) http://www.tokyoezine.com/2011/06/24/the-reconstruction-of-tokyo-station/tokyo-station-at-marunouchi/. Tearing down something that’s been there 50 years to replace it with something that was only there for 30 or so years is a very strange idea of historical restoration to me. In my opinion it is very much construction for construction’s sake, as we should expect from the construction state.

  2. alexcase said,

    April 1, 2012 at 12:29 am

    Donald Keene also seems to be confused by this one:

    “People in Kyoto are apt to take pride not in the number of temples and gardens that survive from the past but in the fact that the first streetcars in Japan ran in their city, that three major Japanese department stores had their beginnings in Kyoto, and that the aqueduct that brings water from Lake Biwa to the city is the oldest in Japan. There is surprisingly little local pride in place that, more than anywhere else in Japan, should arouse this emotion. On occasion, there have been demonstrations against mutilation of the city, but they have generally been organised by foreigners.” Chronicles of My Life by Donald Keene pg 82

  3. crella said,

    April 1, 2012 at 9:39 am

    Yes, the destruction of the Imperial Hotel was a shame, I don’t understand it either.

  4. alexcase said,

    April 1, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    The good news was that I had a very nice cup of tea in its lobby, which is now in Meiji Mura in Nagoya. If it was still actually the Imperial Hotel I probably would have felt too badly dressed to go inside…

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