Modern Kyoto: Building for Ceremony and Commemoration, 1868–1940

Hardback: $68.00
ISBN-13: 9780824873752
Published: October 2018

Additional Information

296 pages | 74 illustrations, 35 in color
  • About the Book
  • Can an imperial city survive, let alone thrive, without an emperor? Alice Y. Tseng answers this intriguing question in Modern Kyoto, a comprehensive study of the architectural and urban projects carried out in the old capital following Emperor Meiji’s move to Tokyo in 1868. Tseng contends that Kyoto—from the time of the relocation to the height of the Asia-Pacific War—remained critical to Japan’s emperor-centered national agenda as politicians, planners, historians, and architects mobilized the city’s historical connection to the imperial house to develop new public architecture, infrastructure, and urban spaces. Royal births, weddings, enthronements, and funerals throughout the period served as catalysts for fashioning a monumental modern city fit for hosting commemorative events for an eager domestic and international audience.

    Using a wide range of visual material (including architectural plans, postcards, commercial maps, and guidebooks), Tseng traces the development of four core areas of Kyoto: the palaces in the center, the Okazaki Park area in the east, the Kyoto Station area in the south, and the Kitayama district in the north. She offers an unprecedented framework that correlates nation building, civic boosterism, and emperor reverence to explore a diverse body of built works. Interlinking microhistories of the Imperial Garden, Heian Shrine, Lake Biwa Canal, the prefectural library, zoological and botanical gardens, main railway station, and municipal art museum, among others, her work asserts Kyoto’s vital position as a multifaceted center of culture and patriotism in the expanding Japanese empire.

    Richly illustrated with many never-before-published photographs and archival sources, Modern Kyoto challenges readers to look beyond Tokyo for signposts of Japan’s urban modernity and opens up the study of modern emperors to incorporate fully built environments and spatial practices dedicated in their name.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Alice Y. Tseng, Author

      Alice Y. Tseng is associate professor of history of art and architecture at Boston University.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • Modern Kyoto is a stellar work of research and an important contribution to a number of fields, including Japanese history, architecture, and urbanism. I know of no other English-language work that addresses Kyoto urbanism and its relationship to imperial presentation in the modern era. It is sui generis and has no comparands.
      —Yukio Lippit, Harvard University
    • Alice Tseng provides a lucid and visually vivid account of the Meiji, Taishō, and early Shōwa Imperial presence in Kyoto’s built environment through a spectacular array of ceremonies, pageantry, exhibitions, and public architecture. Her multifaceted, persuasive analysis of Kyoto complements the extensive literature on Tokyo during this critical period of Japan’s modernization. Based on assiduous primary research, Tseng offers one of the most comprehensive accounts of the topic in English, extending the political and cultural analyses of the Japanese throne to capture its visual and spatial presences within the popular realm prior to the Pacific War.
      —Ken Tadashi Oshima, University of Washington
    • [Modern Kyoto] confirms that the author is a clever detective who has amassed an extraordinary array of evidence to demonstrate how Japanese imperial history was constructed and instantiated in Kyoto’s urban fabric. . . . This rich, stimulating publication on a particular period of Kyoto’s development provides new approaches to crafting urban (hi)stories, as well as inspiration for further detective work to help illuminate mysteries in the fertile field of Japanese architecture and urbanism.
      —Ari Seligmann, Monash University, The Art Bulletin (September 2020)
    • Tseng surveys a wide variety of archival materials, including photographs, newspaper articles, maps, architectural drawings, and woodblock prints. The result is a richly informed study that not only demonstrates the importance of public buildings and ceremonies to the creation of modern Kyoto, but also shows how the production and dissemination of different images contributed to the idealization of Kyoto as a vital link to Japan’s imperial past. Tseng makes clear that the meaning ascribed to the city’s most famous sights was by no means fixed, but instead was continually subject to reinvention.
      —Timothy Unverzagt Goddard, University of Hong Kong, Pacific Affairs
    • In addition to her foundational examination of the transformation of Kyoto, her consideration of how literature, paintings, and prints mediated these imperial spaces and ceremonies for the public provides fascinating insight into the symbolic construction of these sites. . . . Modern Kyoto is a most welcome addition to the field of Japan studies. The high-quality illustrations and Tseng’s deft, interdisciplinary analysis of spatial practices and imperial events means Modern Kyoto no doubt will appeal to historians and urban theorists, as well as to art historians interested in the history of Japanese architecture.
      —Kari Shepherdson-Scott, Macalester College, The Historian
    • Readers interested in the physical modernization of traditional urban landscapes anywhere in the world will find Modern Kyoto illuminating and captivating. Tseng has also set the itinerary for my next visit to Kyoto.
      —E. Taylor-Atkins, Northern Illinois University, History
    • The monograph applies an interdisciplinary approach integrating a broad spectrum of fields such as architecture, urban planning, regional studies, and cultural studies. Tseng’s meticulous articulation reconstructs an important chapter in the modernization of Kyoto’s urban space. Her study contributes to the English-language scholarship on Japanese architecture and urban spaces in both method and conceptualization. The rich historical details and masterly analysis convincingly reveal how social and cultural activities, as well as visual and textual representations, influence the public reception of built environments.
      —Yu Yang, Kyushu University, Journal of Asian Humanities at Kyushu University
    • [Tseng] offers deep insights into the correlation between the material representation of the nation, the promotion of different ideological ideas and imperial power networks reflected in the way Kyoto was planned, recognized, and understood after the move of the emperor and that are still present in the city. . . . The book is as such more than needed and timely, as it shows that Kyoto is the home of different special and culturally unique features, being a city of religion, education, culture, and art which should be respected and not result in the hollowing out of Kyoto's culturally rich communities.
      —Heide Imai, Hosei University, Journal of Urban History
    • [Tseng] examines both permanent and ephemeral structures and spaces, analyzing the projects themselves and the processes by which they were planned, produced, and then reproduced in the popular press, on postcards, in commemorative albums, and more. In the process, she reveals how each project ‘straddled the practical and the symbolic for Kyoto and the nation as a whole’. The beautifully produced large-format volume is filled with illustrations that add enormously to its value and appeal.
      —Michael Cronin, College of William & Mary, Japanese Studies
    • Premised on the idea that urban scholarship of Japan is overly biased toward a focus on Tokyo, Alice Tseng has set out to correct the balance with this volume on public initiatives to build Kyoto during the Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa periods. . . . The book is beautifully designed and produced, a hard-cover volume with many color illustrations and maps, and a beautiful [jacket] design reproducing Yoshida Hatsusaburo’s splendid bird’s-eye view of Kyoto of 1928. . . . Kyoto seems to have been particularly successful in attracting both national and imperial resources to local projects, and Tseng persuasively argues that this success can be attributed in large part to the historical linkage to the imperial household, whether through their direct sponsorship and donations, or through national government efforts to reinforce imperial symbolism.
      —Andre Sorensen, University of Toronto, The Journal of Japanese Studies, 49:1 (Winter 2023)
    • Alice Y. Tseng’s Modern Kyoto: Building for Ceremony and Commemoration, 1868–1940 is a rarity for its exclusive focus on the city’s modern built environment. Copiously illustrated, the book vividly documents the reinvention of an “aged city” as a modern metropolis. . . . As the author convincingly shows, Kyoto attracted a host of movers and shakers on the national and local levels determined to exploit the city’s long imperial history.
      —Jeffrey E. Hanes, University of Oregon, The American Historical Review, 126: 3 (September 2021)
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