Ghosts of Showa: the Karasuyama apartment complex, gated communities, & the fight for Tokyo’s soul

“Visiting a ghost town is like seeing someone wearing a California Golden Seals hockey jersey: it’s sad and cool at the same time.”  I Am The Cheese blog: Ghost Towns

I.  Team ground 団地  (danchi)

In February I stumbled through the tightly packed streets south of Chitose-Karasuyama station and into an open patch of ground dotted with dilapidated houses and scarred by the foundations of extinct homes.  Open land in Tokyo exists but always with a clear purpose: park, garden, parking lot…this land was altogether different. These were the remains of the Karasuyama apartment complex 烏山第一団地. The complex goes by many names, all of which are listed at the bottom of this post.  The mostly demolished complex is one of the earliest examples of danchi 団地 “group/team land”, large clusters of apartments that gained in popularity in the 1950’s. The details:

  • Karasuyama apartment complex 烏山第一団地
  • Minamikarasuyama, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 東京都世田谷区南烏山 5丁目5−5
  • Nearest station:  Chitosekarasuyama Station 千歳烏山駅  (Google map)

Foundations: 

Demand for housing in post-WWII Tokyo led to innovations in land use and construction. This period of reconstruction 戦後復興期~公営住宅の登場 was shaped by the Government Housing Loan Corporation (GHLC) 住宅金融公庫 , founded in 1950 and responsible for financing 30% of Japanese houses built between the end of WWII and 2002 (19 million units out of 58 million). The Karasuyama complex was built in 1958 and either designed by or modeled after designs by Kunio Maekawa  前川國男, an architect who studied with Le Corbusier from 1928-1930 and became influential in the post-war era (source).  The complex’s Building 22 has been described as one of this Maekawa’s signature daichi designs, I suppose for its functionalism, ease of construction, and clean aesthetic.

Kunio Maekawa also designed the similar Asagaya housing complex 阿佐ヶ谷住宅, which underwent demolition recently. The Asagaya complex is a 5-minute walk southwest of Minami-Asagaya station 南阿佐ケ谷駅 on the Marunouchi Line 丸ノ内線 (map).

The Karasuyama apartment complex 烏山第一団地 sits on a generous plot of land, bisected by north/south and east/west streets, both closed to cars. A handful of buildings still remain – some still occupied – but they look forlorn sitting among weeds and empty foundations.  It’s a dramatic change from just a few years ago when many of the buildings were occupied and well manicured.

Building 15, then and now:

Building 21, then and now:

II.  “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” 灰は灰に、塵に塵

Most of the Karasuyama complex was demolished four years ago.  A surge of blog activity in spring 2008 yielded a great visual record of the complex, including pictures of the demolition from June 2008:

Although some buildings still stand, it is only a matter of time before the land is redeveloped. Some bloggers have expressed dismay at the loss of the Karasuyama complex, indicating a nostalgic yearning for the post-war Showa period 昭和時代, an era when dramatic change and progress made people look to the future with hope, as some would say.  Or better put:

The Showa Era (the reign of Emperor Hirohito) lasted from 1926 to 1989. Everybody politely ignores the first two decades. Showa nostalgia instead refers to the twenty years of economic recovery following the war, when everybody pitched in and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.” – Eugene Woodbury: Showa nostalgia

Building 21

Building 8

III. SECOM, SECOM run セコム,実行セコム

I noticed an odd detail from my initial visit in February: signs indicating that the area was under camera surveillance. This is strange 1) because Tokyo is extremely safe, and 2) I happen to collect pictures of Japanese signs (see gallery) and have never seen such a sign elsewhere. I was curious if this neighborhood was particularly dangerous, so I spent some quality time with google and its cousin google translate.

Security cameras are everywhere “防犯カメラ毎り”

Karasuyama - video camera sign

Along with some great old photos of the complex which are included in this post, I uncovered a handful of blogs indicating that the Karasuyama complex land was being acquired by SECOM セコム , the largest security company in Japan. In addition to providing home security systems SECOM operates a real estate development business that develops and sells condominiums in the Glorio series.  SECOM has been criticized by some residents for building a gated community north of the nearby Roka-kōen station 芦花公園駅 on the former site of another public housing complex.  This project goes by the following names: Roca Park Glorio / グローリオ蘆花公園  / Glorio Roka-koen / Glorio Roka Park / Roka Terrace & Villa, and is described more fully in my other post: Fear and loathing in Roka-koen: the unnecessary fences of gated communities in Japan 日本のゲーテッドコミュニティ

Glorio Roka Park グローリオ蘆花公園 (Google maps) per SECOM website:

While still rare in Japan, a rise in the number of gated communities has brought a fair amount of criticism. This criticism has been taken so seriously that SECOM addresses the issue on its website, explaining the qualitative difference between gated communities in Japan vs. the “gun society” of the United States:

“銃社会のアメリカでは、どうしても人を拒否するというイメージになりますが、我々が考えているのは決して外部と縁を切るというものではありません。”

In the gun society of America, the image is that of absolutely refusing people, what we have in mind will never intended that cut with the outside edge.

Meanwhile, the negative opinions of gated communities reflects an anxiety that Japan’s national myth of being a nation of “one hundred million middle class” 一億総中流 is disappearing, as economic growth has stalled while income inequality has risen.There have been claims that the rise of gated communities in Japan has less to do with consumer demand and more to do with advertising, scare tactics, and the media. Is it possible that the video surveillance signs surrounding the Karasuyama complex are not merely helpful civic guideposts? Instead, are they part of a plan to inculcate a philosophy of fear among the locals?

The part of my brain that believes in journalistic integrity wants to give SECOM the benefit of the doubt.  They aren’t some evil multinational corporation trying to manipulate the public for the benefit of shareholders. Are they?

Omni Consumer Products (OCP) – a Robocop joke…

Let’s see what SECOM has to say for themselves:

In line with our emphasis on peace of mind and comfortable living, we develop and sell condominiums in the Glorio series, which are equipped with advanced SECOM security systems. A notable example is Glorio Roka-koen, in Tokyo’s Setagaya City. This complex combines SECOM MS-3, a security system developed specially for condominiums, with around-the-clock access control, as well as the SECOM IX remote imaging security system and a sensor-equipped perimeter fence, to provide quality homes that are safe and secure.”  Source: SECOM 2011 annual report.

OK, I get it, you are a security company with a product you’re excited about, and you want to sell it.  This may not be a conspiracy, and you may not be evil, but I sure don’t want your gated communities to spread across Tokyo. The joy of living in this amazing city is being able to walk through parks, alleyways, small neighborhoods, and bustling train stations.  The freedom of pedestrian expression is unparalleled. Gated communities run counter to everything I enjoy about Tokyo.

Hmm…the Karasuyama complex has gates too!

It appears that once completely demolished, the Karasuyama apartment complex will become one of SECOM’s next high security housing projects.  And there may be a lot more where that came from.  According to SECOM’s March 31, 2012 financial report they hold approximately USD $515 million in real estate, with the aim of “realizing our vision of the establishment of “Social System Industry”, a society where everyone can live safe and secure anytime.”

No thanks, I’d rather have safety and security without gated communities.

Appendix

Related posts about danchi and gated communities:

Links:

Photos:

Other

Alternate names for the Karasuyama apartment complex 烏山第一団地 :

  • Karasuyama first danchi (housing complex) 烏山第一団地 or 烏山 一団地
  • Karasuyama Corporation Complex 公団烏山第一団地
  • Toei Karasuyama Complex JKK / JKK 都営烏山第一団地
  • Karasuyama Danchi 公団烏山第団地 ,
  • Karasuyama Danchi first corporation 公団烏山第一団地
  • Kōdan Karasuyama jūtaku 公団烏山第一住宅
  • Housing Kitakarasuyama  北烏山住宅が
  • Karasuyama apartment complex 烏山 一団地
  • Karasuyama Community Housing Project
  • Karasuyama residential landscape 烏山住宅の風景
  • Karasuyama community housing project 烏山コミュニティハウジングプロジェクト

Related terms:

  • Gated Mansion ゲーテッド・マンション
  • Gated town ゲーティッドタウン
  • Large, public apartment complex 団地 (danchi)
  • SECOM セコム
  • Gated Communities ゲーテッドコミュニティ   / ゲーテッド・コミュニティ
  • ゲーテッドコミュニティ 日本 Gated community Japan

Other posts about abandoned buildings in the Tokyo area:

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8 comments

  1. […] Ghosts of Showa: the Karasuyama apartment complex, gated communities, & the fight for Tokyo&#821… (kentpleasetry.wordpress.com) […]

  2. Until the other day when you mentioned that you were doing lots of blogs, I had no idea how extensive your writing is. And it is fantastic! I hope you get this comment. I’ve never responded to a blog before!

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