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Japan - Temples, Shrines, and Shopping Centers

By Reck

The temples and shrines in Japan are probably the most visible vernacular elements of the culture. Numerous temples and shrines can be found in either of the two cities I had opportunity to visit: Kobe and Kyoto. Temples and shrines are everywhere in Kyoto; they cover the hills around the city and occupy whole blocks of downtown. In Kobe there appears to be fewer, but they still occupy large spaces near downtown and little nooks off to the side. Wherever they are, these temples and shrines must share the city space with transnational elements, from skyscrapers to shopping malls.

At first appearance these vernacular elements seem to be holding their own against the transnational institutions of the modern world. However, this is not always the case. The Ono Hachiman Shinto Shrine is one example of a vernacular element that has been relocated to a more convenient location. Its original location is now occupied by the Daimaru department store. In his paper "The Urban Restructuring Process in Tokyo in the 1980s," Takashi Machimura talks about how city spaces are relocated, with the important central spaces going to the more important global city features, displacing the less important features.

Many of the shopping areas that I visited appear to have developed organically from a store-lined side street. Eventually the narrow street was overwhelmed by pedestrians and closed to cars and a roof was built over the street between the buildings that sided it. I noticed a few places in Kyoto where a Buddhist Temple and a small shrine were still tucked in between the store fronts after it became a larger shopping center.

It's interesting that the highly planned and constructed shopping center, the department store, could not be designed to coexist with the vernacular elements around it. Whereas the commercial centers that appear to be the results of much less planning or designing have more organically developed into lively, thriving, shopping areas that incorporate the temples and shrines around them.

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