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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Living in a box: Danchi dwellers as the pioneers of the modern lifestyle in Japan in the 1950's

May 10, 2000 / 6.30 P.M.

Katja Schmidtpott, Ph.D. candidate at Bochum University

I want to address the issue of how modernization processes work at a micro-level. As a subject of my research, I have chosen the first generation of semi-governmental housing complexes (danchi) built by the Japan Housing Corporation (Nihon Jūtaku Kōdan) from 1955 to 1962. These were the forerunners of contemporary housing, in particular introducing new technical equipment into the household. I also see the danchi as a kind of social experiment, huge dark boxes in which their inhabitants were confronted with an unfamiliar technical and social environment labeled as “modern”. The main purpose of my research is to find out what problems the danchi-dwellers were facing in their new environment, and what strategies they developed to deal with those problems.

I will examine, among others, the following issues:

– The transition of the danchi-dwellers from their previous environments to the danchi apartments affected the following aspects of their lives: changes in the relationship between the family members, status of the housewife, gains in prestige as belonging to a privileged group, communication losses as compared to the more “public” character of their lives in their original environments

– Strategies employed to create a new local community, and the role of the planners of the Japan Housing Corporation in this process will be discussed in relation to the establishment of new matsuri, community centers, jichikai, PTAs etc.

My Ph.D. research is still in the phase of collecting relevant material and therefore I cannot present any definite results yet. However, I have developed strategies to be used in the examination of the subject and defined a theoretical basis of my thesis. I will present these together with an overview of my current research activities. I will also introduce some of the main sources I want to use for my thesis, including a film produced by the Japan Housing Corporation in 1960 for instructing the inhabitants how to use their apartments in a correct way. I also plan to interview some danchi-dwellers, and therefore I would appreciate any feedback regarding the methods of oral history.

**For those who would like to take a look at an early danchi that has barely changed over time, I recommend the Harajuku-danchi. Located near the Watari-Um Museum in Harajuku, it is a convenient place to visit. Address: Jingū-mae 3-37. Buildings are from 1957.