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Crossing the Globe: Kobe to Istanbul

By Jane Wiseman

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul                           Small rundown buisness, Kobe


 Throughout this semester we have discussed the differences between the transnational and vernacular aspects of global cities. This assignment will compare two cities, one from Asia and one from Europe. In this paper, I will analyze the cities of Kobe, Japan and Istanbul, Turkey comparing how the two cities deal with becoming transnational areas while trying to preserve their vernacular history. Both Kobe and Istanbul are cites with great history and have had to weather the transition from a rather small area of influence to influence from around the globe.
            In the Asian city of Kobe, Japan, there are obvious signs of transnationalism. There are worldwide companies that range from banks to restaurants. However, there are also thousand year old Shinto shrines and vernacular eateries built out of someone’s home. For the time being, the transnational and vernacular aspects of Kobe seem to be coexisting. Unfortunately, there are signs that some vernacular features of the city are simply being replaced by transnational factors. While there are certainly still vernacular parts of the city, I was disconcerted to find that there was hardly anything in the city that wasn’t touched by transnationalism. Even the little eateries had credit card machines and I was able to pay with my Visa.

Istanbul is undoubtedly a transnational city. As a city that was a capital to three empires it certainly has a long history and there were vernacular characteristics everywhere I looked. Of course the city has the markers of a global city with the typical banks and restaurants. Yet, there are also Ottoman mosques and Roman pillars. Unlike Kobe, Istanbul seems to have been better able to meld their vernacular pieces of history with the transnational elements having transitioned into a global city without phasing out the vernacular aspects.

Field Reports

            The following are links to my field reports on Japan and Turkey.
                               Kobe: Here and There in Japan
                          Istanbul: The City of Eur-Asia


Now I do not mean to be too harsh on Kobe and say that they are not preserving their history. Of course, many pieces of their history are still around today and embody the vernacular spirit of Japan. It just seems that Kobe is morphing into a place not with both the transnational and vernacular but a mutant that has both yet neither. Theodore C. Bestor talks about “literal utopians” that are “nowhere in particular and everywhere at once” in his article "Supply Side Sushi: Commodity, Market, and the Global City." Now of course Bestor is talking about fish markets, but it is an idea I think could be applied to Kobe as a whole, not just its fish markets.
            On the other hand, I feel that Istanbul has managed to successfully navigate the transition from mostly vernacular to transnational. As the previous capital of three empires, it is a little awkward to talk about Istanbul as being strictly vernacular. Having been the capital of empires whose domain encompassed many peoples, Istanbul has influences from a variety of cultures and therefore vernacular has a slightly different meaning for the city. Unfortunately, Istanbul still has the characteristics of a major global city. For example, in Jenny White’s article, "Bridge Between Europe and Asia," she talks about how there are clear cut divisions between neighborhoods based on class distinctions. According to White, many low income people have been displaced by developers building high rent housing which is a major characteristic of a transnational influence on a city. Istanbul also suffers from the global city curse of not having enough housing for all those who are drawn there. It seems that, while it has kept much of its history while becoming a global city, Istanbul has fallen prey to the typical problems of being a transnational city.


The cities of Kobe, Japan and Istanbul, Turkey have both had to deal with becoming transnational areas while trying to preserve their vernacular history. Kobe and Istanbul are radically different cities with Japan, and subsequently Kobe, being extremely isolated until recent years while Istanbul has been a hub of activity for quite some time. However, as transnational cities they both face the same challenges of trying to retain their vernacular identity while trying to become a global entity. Both Kobe and Istanbul are trying to seamlessly integrate transnational qualities into their cities without losing their vernacular culture. Having been to both cities, Istanbul seems to have better been able to achieve the global city status with transnational aspects and vernacular spirit.
            In Michael Foucault’s article "Of Other Spaces, he talks about how the world is not a void in which we can simply exist independently and go about our business untouched by others. Foucault’s point is that places and people are always affected by one another and that, in fact, one area might be defined simply by its relation to another. I think that Istanbul has embodied this idea. Not only is Istanbul’s global identity transnational, even the vernacular culture is a meld of cultures and people. This most likely comes from being a capital to different empires and having a plethora of people migrate to and through the city. Conversely, Kobe is still rather isolated from the influence of other cultures. Although it is still transnationally connected in the sense that Japan trades globally and imports from many countries, Japan (and Kobe) has not completely embraced the global market. For example, no non-Japanese credit cards can be used in the country (yes that includes Visa and MasterCard). This really stunts a city’s ability to really become a global city. If Japan is not willing to accept the global market, how transnational can they really be? Istanbul, and Turkey as a whole, really seems to have the right idea in terms of becoming a global city. They are incorporating the new, transnational society into their vernacular customs.
        In sum, both Kobe and Istanbul are transnational cities. They both have long histories that should be preserved even while they are incorporating transnational behaviors. Alas, it seems that some of Kobe’s history is getting lost among the bright lights of the global market. Yet, Istanbul seems to have been able to keep its historic sites and even use them to boost its global relevancy. There are no utopias. Neither Kobe nor Istanbul, as transnational cities, exists completely separate from outside influences. According to Foucault, that makes them heterotopias: separate from one another, yet mirroring other influences that are not essentially part of their individual cultures. 

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