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Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Water Metropolis

My recent travels to La Paz, Bolivia triggered memories of Osaka, Japan.  It is a funny association; the high, dry plains of northern Bolivia and the humid, congestion of a buzzing megalopolis on Osaka Bay.  But it is water that unites the two cities.  La Paz is a city built within a canyon.  At the lowest point of the canyon is a system of roads raised on pylons and terraced parks.  This is the course of the former Choqueyapu River, which at the time of Spanish colonization was a river of gold, so abundant in the mineral that it shimmered yellow at the canyon’s basin.  Modern day’s La Paz traces its history along the river.  The river’s course also parallels the social and economic make up of the city.  The river provides a history of structure and meaning to the architecture, design and urbanism of La Paz.  Similarily, in Osaka, water plays a significant role.  I dug up this paper from my days of living and working in Japan.    
Structure and Meaning in Osaka, Japan: “A Water Metropolis”

                “Dangerous waves” is an unusual identity for the modern city of Osaka.  Nami-haya or “dangerous waves” is the first name given to the settlement that became present day Osaka.  Overtime this was translated to Naniwa, which remains today as the mythic name for Osaka.  In the 7th century B.C., according to the story of early Japanese history, the first Emperor Jammu founded his empire at Naniwa.  However, Jammu wasn’t the first to settle in the area, tribal communities settled the region as early as 10,000 B.C.[i] There is a dispute over the story of the origins of the Yamato Clan, whether they arrived from Central Japan or from Korea, but it is significant to note that their arrival was from the sea and that their landing point was at the point where the rivers met the ocean.  From the beginning of its history and meaning Osaka was defined by water.  In one early poem written about Naniwa, one can see the important relationship between water and settlement. 
                                Once in the long-gone age
                                So has it ever been told to this day,
                                The emperor Nintoku ruled the under-heaven
                                From his court in the land of wave-bright Naniwa.
                                O the imperial palace of Naniwa!
                                Hither from all the provinces of the realm
                                The tribute ships come,
                                A noisy throng like a flight of teal,
                                Piloted through the canal,
                                Bending their oars upstream
                                In the calm of the morning,
                                Or plying their poles downstream
                                On the evening’s flood tide.
                                Out beyond the beach are seen
                                The fishermen’s boats, dotting the sea-plain
                                Amid the white waves breaking one upon another.
                                They are fishing to provide for the august table.
                                O how spacious the view!
                                How free and open!
                                Well was here established the imperial abode
                                From the ages of the gods.[ii]

                In order to analyze the structure and meaning of Osaka with regards to the role water has played in its evolution, one must first be familiar with the general characteristics of Japanese cities.  Kevin Nute describes that the “Japanese understanding of space seems to have begun with the vague idea of an essentially unfilled gap between tangible things, with the emphasis firmly on the latter.  Indeed the early Japanese seemed to of understood their world as essentially a constellation of object places.[iii]”  With respect to the city in particular, Barrie Shelton writes about a cloud-like city with hidden orders, decentralized and multi-nodal, patchwork and mosaic, non-linear, dynamic and complex. The structures, forms and characters that Shelton mentions lead to the materialization of a Japanese city and the way the Japanese perceive themselves. [iv]  
In Osaka, one of the major factors in the design of the city is water; water gives a sense of place for the city.  Waterways connect the city’s attractions and hubs.  In a way the water geography provided a map for religious leaders, shoguns, daimyo, merchants, engineers, architects, and modern developers to locate sites for their constructions.  By tracing Osaka’s history one can follow the changing significance of water in structuring and giving meaning to the city of Osaka. 
                Since its first settlement, Osaka was recognized as a prime location to inhabit because of the preeminence of water.  James L. McClain and Wakita Osamu explain this observation with regards to the poem included above, “the poem suggests the Yamato Court became attracted to Naniwa chiefly because of its prominence as a harbor.  Situated at the inner recesses of a magnificent bay and at the terminus of a major river, Naniwa could serve as a convenient port for seaborne and inland waterway traffic.”[v] 

In the mid- 7th century A.D., Naniwakyo was founded at the base of the Yamato and Yodo Rivers, on the Uemachi Plateau, which provided access inland and out to the harbor and sea.  A map showing the 7th century settlement also shows the amount of water there was between the bay and the two major rivers.  (Fig. 3)  The first capital consisted of a walled government compound and 200 blocks of residences, shops, merchant, and artisan homes.  They were arranged in a rectangular grid with a north-south axis defined by a processional gateway of 12 torii gates.  This grid is the first evidence uncovered of an un-natural pattern imposed upon the existing geography of waterways and coastal cutouts.[vi]  The persistence of the grid gave the Japanese control of the geography.  It is an early example of the Japanese compulsion to control the land and structure their city and society rather than letting the hills, waterways, and jagged coastlines provide the organization.  
                In 694 A.D. the sitting ruler, Empress Jito moved the capital from Naniwakyo to Fujiwarakyo and then her successor moved the capital to Nara in 710 A.D;[vii]  the seat of national power would never return to Osaka.  However, partly due to the presence of water Osaka continues to be a political, economic, cultural, and religious center.  The religious communities were some of the first sustaining populations after the capital moved.  At Sumiyoshi Taisha, a Shinto shrine to the south of Naniwakyo, the compound was appropriately designed, like the palace, to face the sea.  Four principle gods are enshrined at Sumiyoshi each believed to offer security and prosperity to mariners.  Concurrently, a Buddhist Temple, Shitenno-ji was established, to honor four principle Buddhist gods who protect from foreign enemies, again designed to face the sea to the west.  Eventually, Sumiyoshi Taisha and Shitenno-ji attracted both a mariner and religious community, which in turn attracted a growing number of pilgrims and commercial settlers.  These communities are called monzen machi and are early examples of the anti-nodal urbanity one finds in Osaka today.  By the fifteenth century, the monzen machi had expanded to include a seaside market stretching from the west “sunset” gate of Shitenno-ji to the port, named Tennoji, which boasted an estimated population of 7,000 households.[viii]  (Fig. 4)
                Numerous traders, merchants and religious pilgrims passed through Osaka en route to the capital, making it a hotly contested city for political and military power.  In 1585, Toyotomi Hideyoshi unified Japan and was crowned Shogun by the emperor.  Part of Hideyoshi’s military campaign included castle building and Osaka Castle, completed in 1590, became the greatest and most fortified castle in the country.[ix]  The castle site was chosen just north of the old capital of Naniwakyo near the confluence of the Yodo and Yamato Rivers at the core of the city.  As Wakita Osamu writes, “one of Hideyoshi’s most consequential initiatives was to decree that Osaka’s geography articulate a correspondence between space, function, and status.”[x]  Closest to the castle, Hideyoshi ordered the construction of his vassals’ and daimyo estates.  Beyond these military residences were communities of merchants and artisans and then around the edges of these communities, were districts for temples and shrines.[xi]  The temples and shrines provided a defensive barrier for the city, while the city’s design provided them with close access to waterways.  The natural waterways, Yodo, Yamato, and Hirano River, and man-made canals, Tenma and Higashi Yoko made it easy for religious goods and wealth to be moved from the merchants in Osaka to the larger temples in Kyoto and Nara and vice versa from far away temples and shrines to local ones like Sumiyoshi and Shitenno-ji.[xii]  In the 16th and 17th century, these same waterways played a significant role in Osaka’s emergence as the “merchant capital.”  (Fig. 5)
                After Hideyoshi united Japan and constructed Osaka-jo, he also set about making “Osaka an important node of exchange and production, Hideyoshi threw his weight behind an ongoing effort to create ‘free markets and open guilds.’  He sponsored the development of wharves and anchorages along the Yodo River to facilitate the shipment of goods into Osaka, and he formulated plans to plat new residential quarters for merchants and artisans in the Senba area.”[xiii]  Initially, merchant and residential housing was concentrated in the Uemachi district, just outside the third enceinte of the castle and within the boundary of the Higashi Yoko canal completed in 1594, but by 1598, Senba had developed with a population estimate of 17,000 households.  Senba today is the geographic center between Umeda and Namba.  It also continues to be a concentration of commerce and trade with a high density and variety of office buildings, restaurants, residences, and shopping arcades.  Senba works as an example of the role water has had in shaping Osaka.  During these early centuries of development the relationship between the natural organizations provided by water and the imposed order of the Shogun and merchant communities is clear; water would be exploited and restructured, yet deeply appreciated.  
                The death of Hideyoshi in 1598 instigated a period of unrest and devastation in Osaka’s history.  Upon his death many vassals took advantage of the weakly defined heir to the throne and competed for national power.  Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged as Shogun.  Ieyasu and his son, Hidetada met resistance however from Hideyoshi’s family at Osaka leading to a battle at Osaka-jo that lasted through the years of 1614-1615.  Ieyasu was the victor, but the city he won had been largely destroyed by fire and destruction.  The Tokugawa family re-erected Osaka-jo on the site of the previous castle, which set the stage for Osaka’s rebirth.  “Osaka as a busy port city, imperial capital, marketing community, religious center, and military citadel inclined many merchant and artisan families to resettle the city and rebuild their shops, homes, and lives.”[xiv]  This push toward commerce and revitalization worked in conjunction with a regional growth in craft and agricultural production to redefine Osaka as the “merchant’s capital.”  (Fig. 6 and 7) 
 All of this was aided by the construction and expansion of waterways, new wharves, and seaside districts.  The first part of the 17th century saw the construction of a series of canals; the Nishi Yoko, Edo, Doton, Kyomachi, Naga, Kaifu, Satsuma, Awa, Horie, and Itachi all flowing into the Dojima, Tosabori, Yodo, or Kizu River.  The dredging of the canals also provided for the draining and infilling of more marshy land along the rivers and at the edges of the Uemachi Plateau, which provided more land for merchant, artisan, and residential neighborhoods.[xv] (Fig. 8 and 9) 
As more and more canals were built, the population center shifted marking the movement of the city center westward, the rise of the merchant population, and the decline of the castle as illustrated in contemporary maps and drawings.
                The canal building and infilling of marsh lands highlights a recurring theme in the meaning of water in Osaka.  Water is deeply rooted in the organization and meaning of the religious community and also very valuable to the shogun and military in addition to merchant, artisan and agrarian peoples, but the exploitation of water has consequences of altering the natural landscape and water presences.  Although the shrines and temples, which are dedicated to the gods of the sea and have a slightly more meditative respect and phenomenological appreciation for water, are more important for mariner reasons of security and prosperity.  The shrines and temples themselves crowded waterways for the transportation of goods.    
                The canals provided for the easy transport of goods within and through the city as Kusumi Sukeyoshi, an Osaka magistrate wrote, “Naniwa lies at the intersection of the great sea routes of the country and is congested with goods and traffic.  Thus people commonly say that Osaka is the ‘country’s kitchen’ a storehouse of provisions for all of Japan.”[xvi]  As the country’s kitchen, the city was home to countless smaller canals which branched off of the larger arteries presented above.  Spanning all of these canals were bridges.  Osaka is affectionately referred to as the 808 bridges of Naniwa with 808 representing a number that is close to infinity in Japanese lore.  Bridges became nodes and centers of commerce.  They were and still are used as a means for describing locations within the city.  Around the bridges were markets and specialty shops, important industries, warehouses and clusters of artisans.  Each bridge had its own distinct neighborhood of merchant trades and commerce.  At the Korai Bridge, for example, one could find pearl engravers and between the Tenma and Tenjin Bridges one could find leather workers.[xvii]  (Fig. 11) 
 In many cases, the arch of the bridge provided one with the most elevated views of the city, over the 1 and 2 story buildings.[xviii]  In addition, there was a very clear hierarchy of circulation in the city that one could observe from the bridges.  Rivers provided a venue for the greatest volume of transportation, the larger canals a slightly lower volume of shipping, smaller canals provided individual merchants and local residents with a means of conveying themselves, but more importantly their goods, while on land there was a gridded hierarchy of major streets laid out by the government, visually dominated on a map by the tangled network of pedestrian scaled alleys and through-spaces.  However, the openness around the base of a bridge provided public space for commerce as well as leisure as the rising middle class began to enjoy the sites and sounds along the canals and rivers, in contrast to the narrow passages between buildings.[xix]  Bridges were the gathering places in 18th and 19th century Osaka.  Bridges illustrate the influence of water giving structure and meaning to the city.  Without the initial presence of rivers and harbors there would not have been canals, ports or wharves.  The construction of these man-made devices to control and use water then played a role in the settlement patterns and organization of the city, especially during this period of Osaka as the “merchant capital.”
                In the Meiji Era, the city of Osaka experienced another evolution in its structure and meaning.  The nation’s capital moved from Kyoto to Edo, later renamed Tokyo, stripping Osaka of its enviable position between the nation’s capital and the sea.   However, the city did not decline because Osaka had established itself as the “merchant capital,” the “country’s kitchen,” and the political and religious seat of power and prestige in western Japan, all deeply rooted to the presence and exploitation of water.  During the Meiji period, Japan felt the pressures of modernization and industrialization from Western nations.  Osaka is a prime example of a city whose present structure and meaning has been profoundly affected by modernization.  “Extensive infilling of the canals, moats, and rivers as well as reclamation of swamps and shorelines has occurred since the Meiji period, which makes it very difficult for today’s observer to appreciate just how watery most of Japan’s cities once were.”[xx]  (Fig. 12) 
The evidence of Osaka’s watery past lies in the names of streets, parks, and neighborhoods as well as settlement patterns of fishermen shops, warehouses, shrines, temples, and other industries.  The infilling of the canals was due to the arrival of new modes of transportation, rail, subway, and the automobile.  The old waterways provided the infrastructure for subway systems like the Yotsubashi, Senichimae, or Chuo Subway lines, which in-filled former canals.  (Fig. 13)
Subway lines are not the only instances where new infrastructures occupy old waterways.  An aerial photo or automobile map from today reveals expressways which now occupy land on and over many former waterways.  (Fig. 14) 
Ironically, fisherman shops which once occupied a canal façade with boat anchorages now exist under an expressway amongst concrete and cars.
One aspect of the water based infrastructure that has changed, but retains a great sense of place and meaning are bridges.  Since the Meiji era, bridges remain a nodal point in the city as evidenced in the nearby construction of important or tall buildings like Osaka City Hall at the Yodoya Bridge and the more recent Osaka Business Park at the confluence of the Yamato and Hirano Rivers near the Kyo Bridge.  Hashi or bashi means bridge; therefore streets and neighborhoods like Shinsaibashi, Yodoyabashi, Yotsubashi, Ebisubashi, Nagabori bashi, Asahiobashi, and Tsuruhashi all refer to specific places where there was a prominent bridge and waterway. (Fig. 15)  Sakurajima, Ehokojima, Fukushima all refer to the memory of jima or shima meaning island.  Place names like Tamagawa, Sakuragawa, and Nakagawa all present day neighborhoods conjure up the names of rivers that are no longer present in the city’s landscape.  Along with the place names, what is present in some cases are spatial memories as already discussed with the example of the subway.   The location and spatiality of the subway line represents the former canal.  In a similar way, a large O-dori or avenue, in many cases was built on a land-filled waterway as in the case of Nagaborigawa.  In the late 17th century there were numerous bridges crossing the Nagaborigawa, and today those bridges are replaced by stoplights and intersections of streets.[xxi]  (Fig. 16) 
                There is very little water present in modern Osaka.  The major rivers are still used for festivals like the Tenjin Festival, a 1000 year old tradition, held every July on the Yodo and O Rivers.  The festival still remembers a famous local scholar who became a Shinto god and culminates on the river because 1000 years ago that was the most important place in the local community.  The god watches over the citizens from the river.  (Fig. 17)  In addition, a handful of canals still exist like Doton, which now hosts the most animated day and night life scene in Osaka.  (Fig. 18) 
But for the most part the significance of water survives in memory.  The exploitation and influences of modernization, which take their roots in the founding structures of the old city of Naniwa led to the disappearance of water.  Since the first capital, the city has been anti-geography, situating itself at the convergence of two rivers near the natural harbor to enhance military and commercial transportation, but more importantly to settle and take control of the landscape.  This re-occurs in the contemporary city of Osaka.
            The city continues to move westward, settling newly constructed land, man made islands in Osaka Bay.  At Kansai Airport, an artificial island completed in 1994, phase two is currently being built to add more terminal, shipping and airport support spaces as well as recreation space.  (Fig. 19 and 20)  

Other islands like Tempozan, Sakishima, Maishima, Yumeshima and an unnamed new island under construction all populate the bay, the place of “dangerous waves” as described by Emperor Jammu.  This depiction still holds weight as the conquest of the open water in Osaka Bay doesn’t come easy.  It is not only expensive, but also risky.  At Kansai Airport, there is a water control and land settling system in place to keep the airport from sinking as well as a human workforce that regularly goes through the building to “jack it up.”  (Fig. 21 and Fig. 22)
                It is easy to see Osaka as the multimodal, nonlinear, patchwork city Shelton described.  Water played the key role in shaping the city and generating this mosaic, dynamic and connective form. More significantly, throughout history, the attitudes that inhabitants of Naniwa and Osaka had towards water shaped the structure and meaning of the city.  Contemporary Osaka may not resemble the Osaka of “808 Bridges of Naniwa,” but there is still an effort to invigorate the water metropolis and emphasize the water’s role: structuring the built landscape, providing a sense of place and memory, and endowing an identity and meaning for the city of Osaka. 

[1] McClain, James L. and Wakita Osamu, “Osaka Across the Ages,” Osaka, The Merchants Capital of Early Modern Japan, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999) p1-2.
[1] McClain and Osamu, p2
[1] Nute, Kevin, Place, Time and Being in Japanese Architecture, (London, England: Routeledge, 2004), p11-12
[1] Shelton, Barrie, Learning from the Japanese City. West Meets East in Urban Design, (London, England: E & FN Spon, 1999) p12-18
[1] McClain and Osamu, p3
[1] ibid, p5-10
[1] ibid, p6
[1] ibid, p7-8
[1] ibid, p16
[1] Osamu, Wakita, “The Distinguishing Characteristics of Osaka’s Early Modern Urbanism,” Osaka, The Merchants Capital of Early Modern Japan, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999) p263
[1] Osamu, p263
[1] ibid, p265
[1] ibid, p264
[1] McClain and Osamu, p18
[1] McClain, “Space, Power, Wealth, and Status in Seventeenth Century Osaka,” Osaka, The Merchants Capital of Early Modern Japan, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), p53
[1] ibid, p54
[1] ibid, p72
[1] ibid, p117
[1] ibid, p14
[1] ibid, p116
[1] ibid, p123

For further reading refer to:
Hanes, Jeffrey E., The City as Subject.  Seki Hajime and the Reinvention of Modern Osaka, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002.

Nute, Kevin, Place Time and Being in Japanese Architecture, London, England: Routledge, 2004.

McClain, James L. and Wakita Osamu, Osaka, The Merchants Capital of Early Modern Japan, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999.

Shelton, Barrie, Learning from the Japanese City.  West Meets East in Urban Design, London, England: E & FN Spon, 1999.

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