Passing through Tokyo’s Harajuku neighborhood I glimpsed a view of the new train station that is taking shape. Echoing throughout the corners of my mind were those famous words, “We shape our buildings and thereafter they shape us.”

The quaint brick and mortar building that is Harajuku Station, rising from the ashes of the Great Kanto Earthquake to survive the devastating firebombing of World War II, has over the years helped shape the character of an urban center that is now considered a global capital of cool.

While the growing hordes of visitors has pushed the little brick building to the point where it’s bursting at the seams, it would be a mistake to just pave under the past without giving it a second thought.

After all, they say those who ignore history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. Luckily there are lots of local lessons to learn from.

When the magnificent Mitsubishi Ichigokan building, standing a stone’s throw from Tokyo Station, fell to the wrecking ball in the late 1960s, it took nearly half a century before that mistake was painstakingly corrected at great expense.

If there is a way to preserve the past while paving the way to the future, we have to look no further than Kita Ward, Tokyo. Its Central Library, aka Akarenga Toshokan, (the Red Brick Library), is a former Imperial Japanese Army weapons warehouse that has been re-imagined as a public library in which the bullets of old have given way to books.

When designing the library building, its architects incorporated a modern concrete structure into a design that seamlessly interweaves old and new into a beautiful tapestry that people will marvel at for years to come.

When Harajuku’s old brick station building is forever replaced with a gleaming glass, metal and concrete edifice, will it alter the character of the cityscape and those that inhabit that space? Only time will tell. Like all masterpieces, the real test is time, and as the years pass, I think the old station will be missed for what it once was, is, and could have been.


The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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