Tokyo Studio Trip

Tokyo Studio Trip

Barbara Epstein
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The 2024 Loeb Fellows joined Mohsen Mostafavi’s Rethinking Metabolic Rift: Tokyo studio trip in February, where the charge was to examine Japan’s approach to urbanization and resource degradation through the lens of the Ueno Park neighborhood.

View of Ueno Park through branches trained in a circle

Ueno Park in Tokyo Downtown North represents a 19th Century vision of culture and nature. The area encompasses several museums and cultural institutions, including the city’s zoo and the National Museum of Western Art, the only building by Le Corbusier in Japan, as well as the University of Tokyo and Tokyo University of the Arts.

The studio was designed to challenge the trend toward lavish developments and the increasing privatization of the public domain by shifting the emphasis from the economies of scale to the economies of scope. It is an approach characterized by variety rather than volume and sensitivity to the needs of local neighborhoods and residents.

For the Loebs, the trip was a mix of structured activities and inquiry with the students and self-guided experience. Fellows came armed with their curiosity and diverse personal interests: the Japanese relationship to nature, disaster preparedness, the physical and social infrastructure that support the needs of the youngest and the oldest segments of the population. The Loebs wanted to know about the structures of urban policy and governance in order to understand how the state responds to the needs of its people. They were looking for the arts counterculture, street culture and, of course, food culture and food systems. They were keen to navigate the streets and transit system and to see how Japan mediates the juxtaposition of the old world and the new.

Photos are courtesy of Mavis Gragg, Kannan Thiruvengadam, and Susan Ocitti Mahoney.

Loebs at dinner on their first night in Tokyo

First night dinner in Tokyo

Lively street at night in Ueno neighborhood
Kannan and Maria-Mercedes on a train platform with a view of the city behind them.
Loebs and students walking in Ueno Park on rainy day
Loebs at gateway to historic site in Ueno Park
Joseph and students standing in doorway to be out of the rain
Maria-Mercedes at lunch with students, tying on paper bibs.

At lunch with the students, small groups made for stimulating conversation.

John and Adi walking through pedestrian tunnel lined with hundreds of parked bikes.
Miyazaki leads a walking tour of his projects
Street scene showing women wearing traditional kimonos
Line and Mavis viewing a traditional Japanese garden
Henry Grabar in Japanese garden with cherry blossoms overhead
Loebs at a bar

For more: Henry Grabar’s excellent article about Tokyo’s narrow streets and what they reveal about Japan’s society, politics, and infrastructure is in the launch issue of his new newsletter Ground Floor.