[Book review] Tokyo Roji by Heide Imai

Tokyo Roji
The Diversity and Versatility of Alleys in a City in Transition
Heide Imai

First published 2018
By Routledge
First issued in hardback 2018
Reviewed edition: Hardback
ISBN: 978-1-138-94910-2 (hbk)
ISBN: 978-1-315-66928-1 (ebk)

The intention of the book is described as followed:

This book is about the role and meaning of the roji in Tokyo and seeks to go behind the facade of the contemporary urban landscape to re-contextualize these forgotten yet necessary, uncertain yet tempting, marginal yet present places of everyday life.
[…]
I take the position of the beholder and ask: What is the potential and future of the roji?

Heide Imai is Visiting Associate Professor in the Department of Global Interdisciplinary Studies (GIS) at Hosei University and Research Associate at Keio University, Tokyo, Japan. Licensed as an architect, her research, teaching and practice focus is urban resistance, resilience and the future of vernacular landscapes in global cities.

Cover and Layout
The hardcover version of this book is very sturdy and survived my daily commute to and from work without any visible damages. It still looks like new.
The cover is simple and clear and the picture is not promising anything which can’t be kept in the content of the book. It shows a simple, narrow alleyway, typical for Tokyo.
All fonts and font sizes are well chosen and it is easy to read. The quality of the figures and photos is always best, even though the photos are printed in monochrome. Almost every picture gets a whole page of its own and is therefore not too small.

Contents of the book:

List of figures
Foreword
Acknowledgments
General remarks
Interviews

Introduction
1 Tokyo and its alleys
2 The roji
3 The yin and yang of Tokyo – Nezu and Yanaka and the mixed-used roji
4 Between Geisha Town and Petit Paris – Kagurazaka and the commercial(ized) roji
5 Between old row houses and skyscrapers – Tsukudajima and the residential roji

Conclusion

References
Glossary
Index

Throughout this book, we will find minor typographical errors, which slipped through the proofreading process, but will be edited in following publications.

The book starts with explaining frequently used terms as well as the transformation process from Edo to Tokyo. The author focuses primarily on the structure of the city and defines terms such as shitamachi, yamanote, yokocho, shotengai and, of course, roji.
Even without any knowledge about Tokyo, its history and layout, these chapters make the following content easy to understand and paint a vivid picture of the small streets of Tokyo.

The main chapters are describing three different areas featuring roji in Tokyo, each of them facing significant changes, but all of them in a slightly different way.
The author is describing the process of change through the eyes of old and new residents she met and interviewed during her research, and through her own observations.
The reader soon gets a feeling of the places and how the changes in the area affect the everyday life of the residents.
After each chapter, featuring a different neighborhood, the author explains some smaller concepts of how roji are re-invented into today’s urban landscape planning processes by describing some concepts which can be found in other areas of Tokyo. Most are so-called neo-yokocho concepts.

The conclusion gives an easy to understand, short summary of the previous chapters before answering the initial question:
What is the potential and future of the roji?

I won’t give you the answer here. Please support the author and consider to buy her book.
When I first discovered this book, I looked forward to reading and review it, as I am enjoying walking through Tokyo’s small alleyways since arriving in Japan. While reading, I expected to learn more about the role of the roji in a neighborhood and about their history in the urban development of Tokyo. As for now, I never got in contact with the residents of a roji and the interviews in this book demonstrate how they feel about the disappearing roji, the roji, which is more and more becoming a tourist attraction and the roji as a hip place with modern small shops and a meeting place for artists and entrepreneurs. The book also features an extensive workup on the historical development and significance of the roji.

I am sad that roji as a place for common neighborhood life vanish, maybe as a result of Tokyo becoming more and more anonymous. Likewise, I like the flair of the neo-roji in newly discovered trendy neighborhoods with small shops and hip cafés.

Tokyo Roji is part of the series Routledge Research in Planning and Urban Design

An edited Paperback will be published in November 2018.

A great thank you to Routledge Taylor & Francis Group London and New York for providing a copy for the purpose of reviewing.

If you got interested in this book, I would be happy if you buy it via the following link:
click here

All links are tied to the Amazon Associates program and we will get a little percentage of the purchase price while you are not paying more.


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