|RANT 'N' RAVE
The people make the city
I just returned to Philadelphia from my
first adventure in Tokyo. While I have been to other enormous cities before, the
verticality and density of Tokyo seems impossible to describe now that I am no longer
amidst it, to witness it for myself. But these overwhelming elements are conjoined with a
tranquility and repose that seem even more profound when taken in such stark contrast.
The quiet alleyways and twisting back roads coexist with the grand boulevard and the
massive intersection. The beauty and atavistic energy of temples are bordered by cafe
culture on one side and haute couture on the other as seen on Meiji Dori in Harajuku. In
short, Tokyo is a city founded on complexity and contradiction, a condition which has been
well-diagnosed by a fellow Philadelphian, Robert Venturi.
The Kabuki Theatre in Ginza seems quite at home rubbing shoulders with futuristic cousins
like the Sony building with which it shares the neighborhood. But, for me as the son of
both an architect and a painter, the radiance of the city was encapsulated in the
unintentional. The stately design of the subway car, the clever railing on a stairway, the
subtle hint of the ancient among the glittering future, all of these coalesce in this
remarkable place called Tokyo. While I know the building has caused no small degree of
controversy, the recently completed International Trade Forum also in Ginza designed by
Rafael Vinoly is unquestionably one of the great buildings of the century and has been
recognized as such around the world. You are most fortunate to have a work of such lasting
aesthetic richness and yes, complexity.
But at the end of it all, one can have a city of great beauty, wealth and history and
still not have a world-class city. I will not insult the residents of such cities by
pointing them out, but suffice to say they exist in sufficient numbers on every continent.
The reason Tokyo rises above other remarkable places is quite simple, it is the people.
The people are generous, witty, resourceful and beautiful. They exhibited grace, dignity
and solicitude at every turn of the road.
I would especially like to thank the gentle young woman who simply guided me from the
Yamanote line to the Marunouchi line, when I brashly decided to go solo and decode the
Tokyo subway system (though I understand virtually no Japanese). She was an exemplar of
all that is good about Tokyo; a genuine concern for the welfare of those around you. I
will be back to Tokyo, but from the warmth that is it in my heart at this very moment, I
assure you it cannot be too soon.
Many thanks to reader Aaron Luis Levinson for this Rant.
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