The urban development of Edo is considered to have begun with the development of what is known today as the Kanda area. After this area had its hilly sections leveled, it became a location for the construction of samurai family residences and attracted numerous artisans in fields ranging from carpentry and plastering to blacksmithing and metal casting. Later on, it also would be known for the Kanda fruit and vegetable market, a key supplier of foods to the citizens of Edo.
Artisans, merchants, and other citizens resided mainly in the current Uchikanda district on the western side of the JR Kanda Station, while the residences of the samurai class lined the northern side of the Kanda Keisatsu-dori Avenue that runs east-to-west through this area. Kanda's southern perimeter is said to have served as a firebreak buffer zone to protect the district from the conflagrations that were a frequent event in those days.
With the arrival of the Meiji era, a series of schools were built in the firebreak buffer zone and on the sites of former samurai residences that had been vacated by their inhabitants. This transformed Kanda into a district of culture and the younger generation as symbolized by the throngs of students who traveled along its local streets each day. In the process, the Kanda area would see its streets increasingly lined with small bookstores, eateries and drinking establishments, the offices of major publishers and printing houses, and retailers focused on sporting goods and musical instruments. These changes eventually gave Kanda as a major district for books, sporting goods, and musical instruments as well as the enjoyment of food and drink.
Sumitomo Corporation's ties to the Kanda area stretch back more than half a century. Although headquartered in Osaka at the time, in 1966 Sumitomo opened its first Tokyo office in a building located in the Kanda-Mitoshiro-cho district (known as the Sumitomo Shoji Mitoshiro Building today). This is why Sumitomo views Kanda as the site of its second start as an enterprise.
Sumitomo would later open several offices in this area and continued to run its building rental business even after relocating its headquarters to the Harumi district of Tokyo's Chuo Ward in 2001. Several years ago, it began supplying the residential market with its Classy House condominiums.
That said, why would a general trading company with a focus on commodity trading and business investments involve itself in the business of real estate?
Masao Sakurauchi has been involved in Sumitomo's real estate development business for more than 20 years. In his words, Sumitomo traces its roots in the real estate business to a drive to develop port and harbor infrastructure in Osaka, and has since then continued to amass and refine its expertise in the fields of real estate development, commercial property maintenance and management, and the supply of building materials and equipment. Indeed, as Sakurauchi emphasizes, real estate is one of the main roots or pillars of Sumitomo's business.
Masao Sakurauchi has continued to work in the real estate development division since joining Sumitomo Corporation in 1994. Having engaged in a series of negotiations with all interested stakeholders, he contributed Sumitomo to acquire the site of the old Tokyo Denki University campus. In Sakurauchi’s words, “Cordination skills represent the true value of a trading house employee. If you don’t like it, you’d better to quit.” He adds: “The first impression of Kanda is an old community. However, it’s actually a community with a strong, enterprising spirit or readiness to constantly take on new challenges. That is one reason I feel it extremely worthwhile to have the opportunity to work there.”
The Kanda Development Project is an undertaking currently being led by Sumitomo's Building & Overseas Real Estate Business Department, the department where Sakurauchi works.
Sadaomi Ueno has been working together with Sakurauchi on that project. As Ueno explains, this project was placed into motion in 2011, the year that Sumitomo completed its Nishikicho and Jimbocho Buildings. It was from about that point in time that he and Sakurauchi and their coworkers began exploring ways to help boost the value of the area as a whole.
Completed in 2015, the Terrace Square Building has fulfilled a landmark role for the Kanda project. Furthermore, Sumitomo has launched a project to build a massive new 21-story building complex on the expansive grounds of Tokyo Denki University's former campus site, which is located almost at the center of the Kanda area.
When it is completed in the spring of 2020, Ueno anticipates this project will have a larger-than-expected impact on the community, and underscores the hope he shares with his coworkers that they will be able to help people in the Kanda community develop this location, its surrounding infrastructure, and Kanda as a whole, as a great place to visit, live, and work time and again.
Sadaomi Ueno joined Sumitomo Corporation in 2001. He was involved in real estate development projects in Osaka, and the construction of the Terrace Mall Shonan commercial center in Tsujido, Kanagawa. Since 2015, he has been a part of the team working on community development in Kanda. “This is something I learned after becoming involved with this project, but Kanda is an extremely interesting magnet for individuals with unique tastes, criteria, and lifestyles. I want to see Kanda evolve as a vibrant community of adults that resonates with more and more people. We still have many things to do to make that happen.”
Kanda's traditional downtown atmosphere coexists in harmony with its modern office structures and diverse array of small retail shops. That is the reality of Kanda today. Recently, good transportation access, coupled with convenient proximity to the Otemachi, Marunouchi, and other downtown office districts, have encouraged a widened influx of new residents into the Kanda area. A great place to visit, live, and work. To achieve this vision as articulated by Ueno, it will be essential to pursue measures in urban development that give everyone who works or lives in Kanda as well as its visitors a sense of belonging, a sense that Kanda is their own community.
“The biggest challenge will be to create bonds between the residents who have been here for a long time and the new residents who are now moving in. Without that bonding, Kanda may end up as nothing more than a collection of office buildings with no residential population at all.” That's the assessment of Kimikatsu Kurebayashi, a Kanda resident for more than 70 years who has served close to 30 years as the chairman of the Nishiki-rengo, an alliance of four local block associations.
“Years back, there was a community with a nice atmosphere, composed primarily of ordinary households (that weren't involved in running a business). Having lost much of its residential population base, Kanda no longer retains any of that former image. However, it doesn't make much sense to try to cling to the old things or ways. My hope is that we will see more growth in the number of residents in Kanda. For that to happen, we have to be prepared to accept a steady influx of new residents.”
Kimikatsu Kurebayashi was born in 1945. He inherited the inn business that his parents started and currently runs a local restaurant. “Many of my old friends are long gone, but Kanda itself is a community that I believe to be still in its prime, with a bright future ahead. If we locals work together with the corporate interests and new residents, we can achieve many things.”
Matsuri festivals have been instrumental in helping forge stronger bonds between the long-term residents, the daytime working population, and the residents who have recently begun moving into the Kanda area.
Although Kanda has one of the three major Edo festivals or matsuri—the Kanda Matsuri, Sanno Matsuri, and Fukagawa Matsuri—all with historical roots that trace back to the Edo era, in years past, there have been times when participants didn't have enough manpower to shoulder the portable shrines or mikoshi. Although these traditions had steadily lost their appeal and appeared to be on the verge of being entirely lost, they were revived through the participation of Kanda's working population.
“The matsuri have come roaring back to life thanks to Kanda's company workers, many of whom now attend every year to shoulder the mikoshi. If you want to better understand Kanda's true appeal, you need to come and watch our matsuri festivals in May.” (Kurebayashi)
Matsuri festivals link traditional Kanda with the Kanda of the future and bond its long-term residents with citizens arriving to start a new life. Business persons usually in suits and active at the forefront of the Japanese business scene will don festival attire once a year and line up with local residents to shoulder the mikoshi. Kanda is probably the only place you will find that kind of community atmosphere.
Yoko Sugiura represents Sakaki Lab, a design firm that set up its offices in Kanda about three years ago. She is currently cultivating a small grape vineyard on the roof of the former Hakuhodo headquarters building that is now a part of Terrace Square, and is pursuing plans to produce a wine with Kanda-sourced grapes. “I view winemaking as a form of storytelling. This is the kind of story you can expect to come out of Kanda, a story that people of all backgrounds will share when they gather in Kanda and sit down to enjoy a nice glass of wine. That's my dream.” Sugiura herself is a credentialed wine expert, and is of the opinion that wine is an item that brings people together. The event space provided by Sakaki Lab served as the location of the first workshop.
Although Sumitomo has been engaged in this community as a developer, Sakurauchi points out that building a great community is not something that can be achieved unilaterally through the efforts of a developer acting alone.
“Kanda already had a community here to start with. Our job is to add new value that reflects its historical and local attributes and work with everyone involved in the community to draw a future vision. That is our concept of community development.”
Being an active participant in the local matsuri festivities is not the only step. To avoid a one-sided approach to development, Sumitomo has held workshops with the attendance of people who work in Kanda and solicited ideas on the future of the Kanda area. The first workshop was attended by around 30 people including staff members from a design company with an office in Kanda. That gathering was themed on the question of the types of people they would like to see coming to the Kanda area and resulted in heated discussion and debate over target image and ideas.
“This generated an enormous array of ideas that we would never have been able to come up with on our own. Harnessing opportunities of this kind to gather views and opinions from a broader group of people is absolutely essential if you are serious about pursuing creative strategies of community development. I certainly became convinced of that.” (Ueno)
Sumitomo has a role to play not only as a developer but also as a facilitator or coordinator of ideas and opinions from a diverse cross-section of citizens. Sakurauchi and Ueno were unanimous on that point.
The design office “ziba” was born in the US state of Oregon in 1984. “ziba tokyo,” its Japanese branch, relocated from Ebisu to Kanda in 2013. One of the workshop participants, Michiko Yamada, is engaged in public relations work there. After working in the Kanda area for a while, Yamada began to feel that the backstreets in Kanda were one of its prime charms. “If you step off the main streets into one of the alleys, you'll find many nice shops that just seem to make you feel like going in. That's the kind of appeal I'd like to somehow let others know about.” Yamada relates that her ideal of a community is one with numerous spaces where anyone can relax and take a break. “Many people who commute to jobs in the Kanda area also find that it's a place where they can enjoy their time off from work. I would like to see more places like that.”
Originally founded and built in central Kanda, Tokyo Denki University moved to a new campus in Tokyo's Senju area in 2012. In November of that year, a series of unprecedented art events was held in a former TDU school building that had been slated for demolition.
“We utilized the entire 17-story structure to hold a variety of events, including art exhibits, talk shows, symposiums, dances, and workshops. Initially we had about 200 participating artists but within the first month of operating schedule, their numbers had risen to around 300. I believe this project has served as a starting point for the Kanda community to demonstrate its creative strengths.”
Those are the words of Masato Nakamura, a professor at the Tokyo University of the Arts, one of the planners behind Trans Arts Tokyo, and now chief director for that project, which comprises events held in a variety of different formats each year. “Trans” is the root in “transcend” and signifies a crossing-over. The use of the plural “Arts” reflects the aim of this project to establish linkages with diverse idioms, diverse ideas, and diverse cultures.
Professor Nakamura has been involved with a vast number of art projects to date, including the “ZERODATE” project that sought to restore the city of Odate in Akita Prefecture, Nakamura's home district.
“Any given town will typically have its own local community, its own industries, and a mixed population of long-time and new residents. However, each of these attributes can be subject to invisible barriers that prevent or hinder their integration. I believe an art project can serve as a catalyst that harnesses the creative forces of the community to bring about that integration.”
Born in 1963, Masato Nakamura has been involved with art in a diverse array of positions: as university professor, corporate manager, and representative of an NPO. He is also the Director of 3331 Arts Chiyoda, an art space in a renovated structure of a now-closed middle school in the Kanda area. “I believe that community development demands attention to three dimensions: those of the local community, industry, and art. I feel that Sumitomo Corporation brings solid power to bear through the industrial dimension, and I look forward to combining our strengths and working together to build the Kanda of the future.”
As with the DNA we each carry in our individual bodies, our environments and cultures also possess “genes” of their own. The biologist Richard Dawkins was the person who referred to these as “memes.” Prof. Nakamura insists this concept is extremely important within the context of community development.
“Even if a community undergoes steady change, its memes will be perpetuated and endure. What memes does Kanda possess, how will they evolve, and how should they be perpetuated and accepted by the next generation? These are questions that we must give serious thought.”
Prof. Nakamura has lived in the Kanda area for 20 years and views the sheer depth of its historical roots as one of its main charms. How will the cultural assets and human activities that have accumulated over the historical course of this community be blended with new ideas, new commercial activities, and new lifestyles and passed on to future generations as a new meme? No place is better suited than Kanda to put this experiment into motion. That is the way Prof. Nakamura sees it.
“Kanda is located right in the center of downtown Tokyo and could be characterized as occupying the very center of Japan itself. In my view, the challenges taken up in the Kanda area will likely serve as guides or indicators of future trends in Tokyo and the broader region.”
If Japan's population continues to shrink, future efforts in community development will likely be expected to facilitate the creation of spaces that bring daily life, work, human interaction, creativity, and other elements of day-to-day human endeavor closer together. Kanda is a place where this experiment with the creation of a future-ready community will move forward. As Sakurauchi explains, “Real estate development and art are two fields that clearly show an affinity when it comes to the question of what to create in the interest of the future. Creativity itself will be key to boosting the value of Kanda as a community. That is what we believe.”
In 2020, the site of the old Tokyo Denki University campus will have a new building. However, that achievement will represent only a milepost, not the final destination. That building will occupy a central location within the Kanda area and serve as a place that can be utilized for a variety of purposes including commercial endeavors, cultural events, and efforts in communication. One question will be how to put its facilities to effective use and help make Kanda in its entirety a more appealing community. The vision to achieve these goals seems certain to gradually materialize during the developmental process leading up to 2020.
What Sumitomo Corporation needs to do from now on is to listen to the people who live in, work in, and often visit Kanda, identify their true expectations toward this community, and translate those expectations into tangible form. That will involve more than the construction of new buildings. The goal is to build a community together with all stakeholders.