[danchi]My present home in Tokyo

Living in a Public Housing in Tokyo


An essay, entry, and Excellent Price winner of Tokyo International Student Communication 1994: Cultural Exchange in Cosmopolitan Tokyo - The Role of Tokyo in Cultural Exchange as Felt by the Experience of People

By Johannes Widodo


Spaces are formed not only embody functional and physical aspects, but also to have a certain atmosphere or ambience. Even though the human behavior is determined by complex aspects, but the atmosphere of space contributes a significant role to the human behavior.

Rapid changes in Japanese modern society have affected the way people use spaces, and in turn it has also changed their behavior. Many good social values from the past were disappearing, sometimes were replaced by new values that alienated the individual from their social entity. The wrong urban space design, can destroy the quality of public life, which in turn will affect the behavior and the harmony of community.

In the first two years we lived in a new, specially designed Foreign Student House located in the middle of an elite Seijo neighborhood in Setagaya-ku. The Foreign Student House is similar to a typical private upper class housing, with Western style and scale. We enjoyed a pleasant living in luxury surrounded by a beautiful neighborhood, but we feel as we life in an aquarium full of exotic fishes. It is just like foreign island in the middle of the individualistic neighborhood. Our contacts were limited with some local volunteers.

After two years we had to move out, and we were very lucky to win the lottery for a public-housing (a Danchi). We got a nice apartment in Adachi-ku, located on the northeastern corner of the city -- exactly the opposite direction of Setagaya-ku. Yes, it is not just a geographical opposite, but also a socioeconomic opposition as well. Adachi-ku, our present location is a part of Shitamachi or downtown. But for us it is really a great opportunity to experience the contrast of living in two types of community.

In this Danchi we live in a Japanese style house, we sit and sleep on the Tatami, and we are completely blended into the live of ordinary Japanese neighbors. Most of the housing units in the Danchi are small and simple. From the very beginning we should to adjust our living and moving patterns, since our room is quite small (2 DK) and only thin wooden walls separate our room to our neighbor. We should also apply many rules. All these constraints trained us how to behave properly, to make our life and relationship more pleasant.

Living in a Danchi room takes quite a lot of adaptation efforts. But after we are being used to it, we found that the semi-transparent design principle of Japanese house, also the low privacy degree of designed space, has given us many positive aspects, especially to bring our relationship closer, informal, and surprisingly: more freedom. The most interesting fact is that our room is small but we could utilize it more freely than before -- our previous Western style home with fixed rooms and fixed fuctions. All these positive aspects have stimulated our children's creativity and make them eager to do freely various activities on the Tatami room. Before, in the Western style room, the fixed furniture tends to restrict their innovation and movement. Of course this rich development makes us very happy.

Life is going on as the season change. The rhythm of the season and Japanese festivals could not be separated. Through that events we can easily understand, how is the tradition and the open space, complemented with the residents participation, can create a strong sense of community. That kind of sense is expected to be developed in different daily life situations.

The modern city life, which tends to form individualistic human beings, has already taken away this wonderful sense. But the flowing open spaces can become a catalisator to generate relationships and communication among the local residents. Almost every day, especially in a fine day, we could see the housing public open space is utilized effectively, by children playing in the play ground, by mothers and senior citizens chatting and socializing to enjoy their freedom from the pressures of small room and to escape from loneliness. One important function of most Danchi’s open space is to provide a valve from the pressure of living in the small room, to maintain a good human psychological balance.

Another precious role of the open space is the safety to practice responsibility. Our housing complex is relatively safe from vehicles, which allows our children to grow more independently outside, and to be able to build good social relationships with other children. Sometime we ask our six years old son to buy simple things in the Supermarket in the central plaza, or we allow them to play by themselves in the playground downstairs. This is an important part of learning process of the children, which is to become self confident, independent, and responsible.

Within a relatively short period, compared to the two years living in the previous high class area, we have gone through many positive experiences since we live in the Shitamachi. We would say that providing an interconnected open space for an open society and neighborhoods, will create a positive interrelationship between people, fits to the local cultural background and tradition. This positive principle is too valuable to be applied only in the public housings area of “poorer” community in Tokyo, but it should be promoted and implemented in all corners of this Cosmopolitan city, in order to enrich our life and to improve our civility.


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