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Yet as Hani's characterization of Florence's Piazza della Signoria reveals in its promiscuity of terms for the urban citizenry and the national citizenry, popular sovereignty and public authority, the citizens who gathered in the public square were conceived as much in the terms of modern nation-state citizenship as in the frame of an urban public sphere. And although Hani spoke of "free intercourse," suggesting the interaction of multiple subjects and opinions, Japanese advocates of the urban plaza in the s and s were as likely to emphasize its importance as a site of solidarity and of the expression of a unified national voice.

A conception of the plaza or public square as an open commons-the site of a public formed through spontaneous and unorchestrated interaction, where universal access but not universal consensus is guaranteed-thus stood in tension with a conception of the plaza as the instrument of citizen solidarity, the site of a public formed through unified mass action. This tension between different ways of figuring the public politically had its architectural counterpart in the problem of monumentality. In addition to providing space for citizens to gather, trade, and exchange opinions, public squares and plazas have historically been built to enhance vistas of buildings and sculptures, making them monuments bearing symbolic or commemorative meaning.

Monumental space symbolically aggrandizes the power of the people who occupy it, too. Much like the excess beyond mere function that a monumental setting imparts to a structure, the space of unified mass action acquires a significance beyond the mere capacity to hold large numbers of people.

As a space of politics writ large, the hiroba becomes a monumental site, where the collective will exceeds the will of the individual.

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The public square in Japan's early postwar decades embodied in unresolved form both the grand political idea of popular sovereignty and an emergent space for the traffic of ideas, the unified voice of the people and a cacophony of people's voices, the monumental and the everyday. Japanese cities had possessed open spaces, and crowds had gathered in them, for centuries.


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After Edo was destroyed by fire in , the Tokugawa shogunate created broad avenues and open spaces around bridges to serve as fire breaks. Over time, these spaces were transformed into informal markets and entertainment districts.


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  • In addition, some Buddhist temples opened their precincts to the general public, making them popular sites for commercial and leisure activities. What the Tokugawa city lacked, from the standpoint of modern democratic ideals, was a space explicitly granted to the citizenry for the purpose of gathering.

    Nor did the Meiji government consider the provision of monumental open spaces essential to the city's modernization.

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    German architects Hermann Ende and Wilhelm Beckmann, commissioned in to redesign the central districts of the capital, proposed a baroque city plan that would have had large public squares, but the Meiji government chose instead to focus on regularizing the street pattern and providing basic infrastructure for commercial development. As the transport network developed, it became common practice to create open spaces-mainly traffic rotaries-in front of train stations.

    Apart from these, the Meiji city did not have planned spaces called hiroba, plaza, or square. For the modernizing state in the s, traffic flow thus took priority over monumentality. After the Great Kanto Earthquake of , there were once again plans for a new city that would include public squares, but these plans were largely thwarted, this time not by government but by the organized interests of landowners.

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    Hibiya Park, the country's first planned public park, was one of the capital's first open spaces to acquire political significance as a site of mass gathering. Created in on grounds just south of the Imperial Palace, the park became a frequent site of mass demonstrations beginning with the protests against the Portsmouth Treaty of Political rallies continued in Hibiya through the s.

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    May Day demonstrations were held at Ueno Park and other parks in Tokyo from until , when they were banned. In accordance with the Public Order and Police Law instated in , all gatherings in parks and other outdoor public spaces required permits from the police.

    The use of public space in these mass political events was thus premised on state sanction. Violence erupted in a few cases when permits were not granted or when the demonstrators transgressed the boundaries of the state-sanctioned public by marching out of the park-as when demonstrators attempted to bring their protest from Hibiya to the gates of the palace in Two competing models of national sovereignty clashed in this incident: one in which the people amassed in public might appeal to their emperor directly and one in which public parks provided space for pacification of the masses, with police present to maintain order and buffer the emperor and his ministers.

    Events tied to a public that was unambiguously coeval with the Japanese monarch, since all sovereignty resided in him, took place in the front plaza of the Imperial Palace beginning in the late nineteenth century.

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    Beginning in the s, Tokyo participated in this trend. However, repeated destruction and rapid redevelopment left the city with little building stock of recognized historical value. Scholarship to date has tended to view historicism in the postindustrial context as either a genuine response to loss, or as a cynical commodification of the past. Moving from the politics of the public square to the invention of neighborhood community, to oddities found and appropriated in the streets, to the consecration of everyday scenes and artifacts as heritage in museums, Tokyo Vernacular traces the rediscovery of the past—sometimes in unlikely forms—in a city with few traditional landmarks.

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