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The City as Subject: Seki Hajime and the Reinvention of Modern Osaka

September 1, 2009 3 comments

Academic books in English the focus on Osaka are not very common, as the focus has always been disproportionately skewed in favor of Tokyo, and to some extent Kyoto. However, there are a few good ones out there, and if you have an interest in Osakan history and culture I highly recommend taking a look at them.

This time I want to introduce The City as Subject: Seki Hajime and the Reinvention of Modern Osaka by Jeffrey E. Hanes, a history professor at the University of Oregon (it can be found at Amazon and Amazon Japan). This well-researched work focuses on Seki Hajime, an early-twentieth-century mayor of Osaka who strove to make the city a livable city at a time when it had acquired the fitting nickname “Manchester of the Orient.” Not only does this book focus on Seki Hajime and his career and aspirations, it encompasses urban planning history and political history as well. Among his other projects, this Osaka mayor led the development of Midosuji from a tiny street into the first grand north-south avenue in the city with the country’s second-ever subway line (this is now the most glamorous avenue in Osaka with the busiest subway line in Japan running underneath it). His ideas for a socially progressive style of urban planning to support social equality among citizens of the rapidly expanding industrial metropolis of Osaka have left their mark in Japanese history, and he would be glad to know that Osaka has truly become a vibrant, livable city like none other.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Osakan history, and to any students of Japanese history who want to broaden their horizons and escape the trap of viewing Japan as a Tokyo-centered society.

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