Editor-in-chief Gordon Price spent part of yesterday on a guided tour of Kagurazaka, a traditional, prominent Tokyo neighbourhood, by local architect Shunji.

“The town is the stage” notes Gordon from the tour, an allusion perhaps to Kagurazaka’s history, which spans back at least to the 15th century when Edo Castle was built, as a roji community. Roji is the name for the characteristically narrow alleys tucked throughout the enclave; in this neighbourhood, roji are also closely associated with ryōtei — luxurious traditional Japanese restaurants — and the geisha who, at one time, served their patrons within.

Such a stage doesn’t quite exist as it used to, as recent decades have seen the infiltration of French restaurants, among other foreign intrusions. Kagurazaka street itself is seen as “iki” — chic, cool, stylish.
As such, efforts are being made by the city and residents of Kagurazaka to maintain this community’s roots by way of a planning concept that will be very familiar to readers in its approach, if not by its name — Machizukuri. “Machi” can mean community, or even ‘small area’; “Zukuri” is making or planning. In the context of Japan’s urbanism movement, machizukuri is recognized as the attempt to involve the local residents in community planning, to improve it, and perhaps also to sustain elements of traditional life.

While the width of roji were once measured in actual feet (ie. human steps — ten, to be precise), today the rules say roads have to be wider than 4m, which of course would kill the unique qualities of roji, and encourage bigger development.

Kagurazaka all but burned down in World War II; somehow the roji survived. What will happen to this neighbourhood in the coming decades?


  1. The reason there are few street signs is because only big streets have names.

    Instead of street numbers for addresses, they use block / parcel numbers. This makes way-finding quite difficult without a map. This is especially egregious in Kyoto where block numbers can go quite high.

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