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Kyoto, Istanbul, and the Transnational

By Reck


Kyoto and Istanbul are both ancient cities, dating back to long ago. Both are absolutely packed with historical temples, shrines, mosques, or palaces. In Kyoto the shrines are absolutely overwhelming, they surround the city, occupying nearly every hill around the edges of the city itself. They are a bit less prevalent in Istanbul, but still occupy large areas in the center of the city and displace growth to the outer edges of the ever expanding city.

Japan - Temples, Shrines, and Shopping Centers

It was Constantinople, now it's Istanbul


Both Istanbul and Kyoto are ancient cites with a rich history. During their long history each has played many different roles, but it is their role as a global city, and the transnational forces at work in each of them, that has brought them together, to be more similar than ever before.

Kyoto is still a small city, far smaller than Istanbul, yet it was an important historical capital as was Istanbul. The key difference is probably that Istanbul is still the bustling capitol of Turkey, where as Japan moved their capitol to Tokyo many years back. This has driven massive growth in Tokyo, and preserved Kyoto as a historical capital and taken the strain off building a global city in the middle of a crowded city with such a rich historical past as Kyoto.

Istanbul has developed into a massive, bustling, global city, and managed to preserve their rich cultural and historical sites. Building the requisite monuments to the transnational is also far easier in Istanbul than in Kyoto. Land is a scarce resource everywhere in Japan, and Kyoto is no exception. Istanbul, on the other hand, has plenty of space around it to spread and grow in different directions. Caglar Keyder, in "The Housing Market from Informal to Global", talks about how Istanbul grows outwardly to match its needs, without displacing the historic cultural sites littered throughout the old city.

Kyoto never had the luxury of extra space, if they were to develop their downtown, or even expand the city outward they would have to displace hundreds of important shrines and historical artifacts, if not the Kyoto Imperial Palace itself. Sean Gallagher talks about the destruction of Hutongs in Beijing in his paper "Beijing's Urban Makeover: the Hutong Destruction." The destruction of the Hutongs in Beijing would not be dissimilar to the destruction of shrines and historal cites in Kyoto that would be necessary to expand Kyoto to true global city. This destruction, or rather to avoid it, is why the capital had to be relocated to Tokyo to build the capital into a true global city.

Despite the differences, these two distant cities have a lot in common. The same transnational companies have appeared in each, the same banks, and hotel chains. Their buildings in Kyoto might be a bit smaller, but they are still there. Even moving around in these two cities has the same feel to it. Mass transit has been pretty successfully globalized, nowhere I have been, do two subway systems, or rail lines, seem so distinct that familiarity with one does not assist with, if not completely translate to, the other.

One area that these two different cities have in common, is they are both doing a good job of preserving their history as they develop. This maintains an authenticity to it, and means they will not be in the unfortunate position of having to rebuild their history. As Edward Denison discusses in his paper "Restoring History in China," this position is where the people of China finds themselves, needing to rebuild their history.

Despite the differences, in both the culture, and history, of distant cities like Kyoto and Istanbul, these distant cities are being changed, reformed with more and more similarities, by the transnational global moment. The companies, businesses, even mass transit systems, are increasingly the same. The same companies, the same buildings and business models, are expanding across the globe, transforming the cities they come into so that they all resemble each other. Where it is going, or what the future will hold, only time will tell.

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