Beyond the Metropolis: Second Cities and Modern Life in Interwar Japan

Beyond the Metropolis: Second Cities and Modern Life in Interwar Japan

Beyond the Metropolis: Second Cities and Modern Life in Interwar Japan

Beyond the Metropolis: Second Cities and Modern Life in Interwar Japan

Synopsis

In Beyond the Metropolis, Louise Young looks at the emergence of urbanism in the interwar period, a global moment when the material and ideological structures that constitute "the city" took their characteristic modern shape. In Japan, as elsewhere, cities became the staging ground for wide ranging social, cultural, economic, and political transformations. The rise of social problems, the formation of a consumer marketplace, the proliferation of streetcars and streetcar suburbs, and the cascade of investments in urban development reinvented the city as both socio-spatial form and set of ideas. Young tells this story through the optic of the provincial city, examining four second-tier cities: Sapporo, Kanazawa, Niigata, and Okayama. As prefectural capitals, these cities constituted centers of their respective regions. All four grew at an enormous rate in the interwar decades, much as the metropolitan giants did. In spite of their commonalities, local conditions meant that policies of national development and the vagaries of the business cycle affected individual cities in diverse ways. As their differences reveal, there is no single master narrative of twentieth century modernization. By engaging urban culture beyond the metropolis, this study shows that Japanese modernity was not made in Tokyo and exported to the provinces, but rather co-constituted through the circulation and exchange of people and ideas throughout the country and beyond.

Excerpt

In Japan, the interwar period (1918–37) constituted a time of intensive reflection on what it meant to be “modern.” At a moment of rapid urbanization, as expanding city populations remade the social and physical landscapes of their communities, the Japanese began to link modernity with the urban experience. Popular referents for the neologism modan—jazz music, bobbed hair, cafés, automobiles, and multistory buildings—all conveyed the sense that what characterized the “modern” was the novel phenomenology of city life. in an outpouring of commentary, urbanites invented new categories to describe the changes they were experiencing in their everyday life. This new consciousness of the modern tried to make sense of the ways that the economic growth of the teens and twenties dramatically altered urban modes of production and consumption. To chroniclers of the new age, transformation of their built environment into a futurescape of paved roads and electric streetlamps, the rise of “social problems” like labor strikes and unsightly slums, and a mass consumer culture linked to the baseball field and the movie palace, all stood out as defining modernity. the city, in short, assumed the face of “modern Japan.”

How were ideas about modernity produced and circulated? What were their material and ideological effects? To answer these questions, this book looks at both the subjective consciousness and the social structures of “the modern.” Though humanities fields differ in their understanding of this term, historians tend to conceive of modernity as a tale of two revolutions: the political, social, cultural, and economic transformations that attended the advent of the nation-state, and the emergence of industrial capitalism.

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