How do we find calm in dense heaving cities such as Tokyo, London, or New York? In Sanctuaries of the City, Anni Greve explores how places such as market squares, arts venues, and religious sites offer socio-spatial capacities that enable the development of skills for coping with modern forms of living. From its empirical analysis of sanctuaries in Tokyo, this book develops a theory about mega-cities, urban sociability and identity. Rebecca Litchfield finds that although the density of this text may not appeal to all readers, the book’s methodological approach should appeal to scholars across a broad spectrum of disciplines.
Sanctuaries of the City: Lessons from Tokyo. Anni Greve. Ashgate. August 2011.
Anni Greve‘s study of Tokyo offers a multi-layered approach not only to the city itself, but also to how we can learn from Tokyo and apply these lessons to future urban and sociological work. Greve carries three core notions through her work that lay the foundation for her exploration of the spaces in Tokyo and Japanese culture which offer a unique approach to the new conditions of modernity facing cities and their occupants. Through these notions, Greve argues we can gain an understanding of the “sanctuaries [that] offer a playground for coming to terms with modernity” and provide spaces of calm and hospitality in the city. These sanctuaries are found in a variety of city spaces, not simply those with sacred or religious connotations; for example tea houses and market places.
Greve opens her work with an explanation of the Japanese word “ma” which refers to an “in-between” space. She writes of the intrinsic importance of these realms, specifically the sanctuary spaces, where people can meet on equal terms. Within this sits the notion of hospitality for strangers, that provides the bedrock for a robust urban society. She also argues that Tokyo’s unique position within economic globalisation provides a perfect opportunity for a case study. Greve describes the city as having a “split personality.” Tokyo meets the demands of modern life and yet remains traditional, through a group orientated society that still places a great deal of importance on seasonal ceremonies that bring people together on an equal footing regardless of social class.
Underpinning Greve’s discussion of these sanctuary spaces and the rituals that define them is a methodology rooted predominantly in the ideas of Arendt, Durkheim and Foucault. She is particularly concerned with Arendt’s notion of “worldliness” and the idea of being “worldly.” Greve focuses on the idea within worldliness that freedom is located within the public sphere, where people meet on socially equal terms without rank; a fundamental aspect of life in Tokyo according to Greve, thus highlighting the lessons Tokyo can provide to help us cope “with the shock of social changes.” Within this Greve often roots her work with reference to Durkheim’s ideas about sanctuary and the individual in society with a recognition of the notions that cosmopolitanism is “the essential humanity we all share – not despite our differences, but by virtue of of them.”
Chapter 2: “Coming to Terms with Modernity” and Chapter 7: “The Jolly Good Market Place” provide a more detailed understanding of Greve’s thesis. The first of these helps ground the methodology and reasons behind the themes of the work, the second shows them in action using examples from Japanese rituals that are routed in the historically specific “in between” spaces of Tokyo. Greve’s second chapter begins to outline in more detail both the idea of ‘the sanctuary’ and her underlying methodology. She outlines the importance of Durkheim’s work in her own research, specifically his work on ritual, symbolism and the sacred, alongside his account of individual and collective representations. She argues that “the presence of sanctuaries, cultivated and returned to in rites and ceremonies, is itself an indication of […] vital societies within the modern city” and are therefore a way of studying collective representation. Like Durkheim, Greve believes that in times of struggle and change, individuals need societies. Hence the need for ritual and sanctuary spaces; tradition and ceremony. Here we find Greve’s core idea, the notion that these sanctuary spaces offer comfort and “a playground for coming to terms with modernity and for teaching people how to make a life with those who are not like themselves.” The spaces she talks about show ways of becoming cosmopolitan and worldly by coping with difference through hospitality for the stranger.
In ‘The Jolly Good Market Place’, Greve offers a detailed study of what she believes to be a sanctuary space throughout the growth of Tokyo. She explains that as the city grew the occupants had to cope with the “many unexpected problems that had arisen during the era of unparalleled urbanisation” and one of the places that helped them cope with this was the market place. The market place provided a space “of transformation” where commodities and information were exchanged and people interacted with less regard for status and rank. Greve extends this study with a look at another sanctuary space that offers hospitality for the “stranger”: the tea house, where ceremony and ritual remove the rank and status from a visitor, therefore offering a place in which people could meet on a level playing field, leading to worldliness and cosmopolitanism.
Greve concludes her work with a return to how she interprets Arendt and her believe that “a large urban society at the limits of our imagination can contribute with clarifying insight into the ways by which the world as an emergent reality become thinkable and possible” and therefore provide lessons as to how to cope with the onslaught of modernity.
Greve’s study is an highly theorised exploration of not only Tokyo as an emergent globalised city, but of how it grew into one of the most liveable places in the world. She also touches on the mechanisms that have made this possible in such a large urban environment. It will be interesting to see where Greve can take this study next, perhaps a less highly theorised examination of potential sanctuary spaces in other cities and societies that would appeal to a broader audience, or indeed a follow up on how the mechanisms of these spaces can be carried into new urban developments. Greve offers a fascinating starting point for ongoing debate and study. This would be an excellent work for those interested in not only city theory, but also anthropology, sociology and Japan. Although the density of the theory may not appeal to all readers, the methodological approach of her writing will appeal to scholars across a broad spectrum of disciplines. Greve’s work would also provide an interesting teaching tool to demonstrate the direct application of the theories of those such as Durkheim, Arendt and Foucault to urban theory.
Dr Rebecca Litchfield began her academic career in American Literature at Warwick Univerisity, before moving towards urban and architectural theory at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. Her thesis combined her passion for both subjects and explored the notion of “psychotopography” in the works of American writer Steve Erickson. In 2011 she took a step back from academia to start her own artisan preserves company. She now juggles days in the kitchen with freelance food writing, whilst continuing her academic passions through research, editing and review work. Read more reviews by Rebecca.