WOW -Witness Our World- Photographer Hiroshi Yamauchi
Urban Species JAPAN 2007

Japan had enjoyed a rapid economical growth after devastation of the World War II. There were decades during which the country marked incredible double-digit GNP rate. Major cities on mainland Japan had grown as counterparts to world famous hot spots like Paris, New York City and London, in terms of both economic status and life styles. Cliché phrases were used to describe atmosphere of rising mega-cities that there are more tolerance for individualism, one-and-only, or be-what-you-want-to-be because of rich soils for opportunities and good life. From the late ‘80s to the early ‘90s, Japanese economy was floating as a big bubble, something very fancy and magical in a way, but very fragile. Then the bubble, filled with strong yen power at the time and over-investment, hit the peak. In the mid ‘90s, this crush of Japanese economy later named by economists as “Bubble Burst”, was the prologue for the depression period now named as the “Lost Decade”.  Major cities were hit by the burst very badly. West Japan’s biggest city Osaka, for example, is still trying to recover from a long interval of restoration. Once nation’s second most populated with over fifteen million people, Osaka presently holds fourth place in population ranking after Tokyo, Nagoya, and Yokohama, in addition to dishonorable worst unemployment rate in the country. Now Osaka is paying back for what it should not have bought for the first place. The majority of working population, people in the ages of 40s and 50s, are getting laid off, companies are not hiring highly educated and trained fresh workforce out of schools, homeless men sleep in tiny one-man cardboard houses dotted through subterranean walks, suicide number marks a record, birth rate goes down because of clouded future for young couples themselves, let alone for their next generation. In trying to recover old legacy of Japan’s west capital, Osaka started revival plan at the turn of the century. Tightening city government in efforts to match its budget to shrinking tax income, polishing infrastructures and offering quality public service with low tax are certainly attractive to its residents, yet the side effects of hovering around economically are still obvious in street scenes. Elements of urban life, such as scheduled public transportations, high-risen apartment complexes filled with small cell houses, glittering shopping malls, electronic stairways that go vertically, horizontally and diagonally on the surface of the city make residents of metro areas operate almost in routines. People had become more occupied to worry about own securities in life; they cannot afford to look around for the others. The mere shells of friendliness, individualism, or interpersonal relationships are easily spotted. One survey supports the anonymity of urban life; average single residents in apartment complexes spend five years without knowing neighbors’ names. This is a kind of life seen in Osaka today. It became superficial. There is much less necessity and reason for identifying who I am and who you are than there used to be. Manmade structures are composed in careful calculation with natural and artificial lights. People blend in the cityscape, theatrical yet inorganic, in figures. The word “working poor” is used frequently in mass media, questioning whether we live to work or work to live. Residents of mega cities become gears to keep the system spinning. It seems they have to evolve life around the will of their environments, not will of themselves. The people living in Osaka had become emaciated; their silhouette is the only proof of existence. Osaka again starts looking shiny, busy and materialistic yet when there are people in the cityscape, it looks unbalanced. There is not enough sense of organic life in picture.

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