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Down with the Cities! By Tadashi Nakashima Characters: 17710

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

The Origin of the Cities

Just as the sun exists in the heavens, the cities exist on Earth. Just as there is water in the great oceans, there are the cities on land. Or at least this is what most people seem to believe. If one does not believe so, then it would probably be impossible to blithely make one's home in the city.

But sorry to say, the city is nothing at all like the sun or the oceans, for it has only the most tenuous, bubble-like existence.

The World before the Appearance of the City

No matter how grand an existence urbanites try to give the city, it is unfortunately nothing more than a phantom born a mere ten thousand years ago or less as the final bubble of human history - or as the explosive with which it will destroy itself. This is just like the Japanese Army, which, though it called itself the Imperial Army, and (believing that it had existed from the beginning of time) boasted of its own enduring existence, was wiped out in less than a hundred years. It would not be at all strange if, just as the Japanese Army (I am here distinguishing it from the Self Defense Forces) perished in only one hundred years, the cities perish after ten thousand. * * * Let us take a look at the origin of the city. At the time when human beings kept themselves alive by hunting, fishing, and gathering, it seems that there were no cities. And there were probably no cities even after the beginning of agriculture, when people made farm implements, clothing, and houses while tilling the soil. Why was it that way? It was because at that time people gathered their own food or produced it themselves, and in this kind of world there is no need for the cities.

In Japan this corresponds to the period of time from the latter half of the Jomon Period to the first half of the Yayoi Period (the first half of the Jomon Period and the time prior to that does not concern us here). During the Jomon Period, in which the economy was based on gathering, the resources in any one given area were limited, so that if the population increased this would cause a shortage. It was therefore impossible for people to concentrate in one place; they kept moving around so that there were always small numbers of people living scattered over the land (just as wild animals stake out their own territory). There was some cooperation in their life of hunting, fishing, and gathering, but for the most part each person took part in gathering, making religious offerings, and dividing up the food according to the customs of the group (Yazaki Takeo, The Developmental Process of Japanese Cities).

Under such an economic system it was impossible to store anything for a long time, so there were no rich and no poor. Since this was a society which had no written records, the people had to depend upon their rich knowledge of past experience for the methods by which they adapted to the extremities of Nature, and this was the reason that experienced elders were respected, and in positions of leadership as the heads of groups.

In those days each individual made all tools for gathering and for consumption, so that there was no one who specialized in handicraft, and thus no distinctions of social position. Even the head of a group did not step out of his bound, for the head of a group, while leading, did not exploit. [24]

The Yayoi culture came from the continent (China). Therefore the transition to the metal culture was not a natural development of the Jomon culture, but a revolutionary change that occurred suddenly as a result of the influence of the continental culture.

The technology of wet rice agriculture also came to Japan at this time. Rice became a staple food along with those things obtained by hunting and fishing. It became possible for people to live sedentary lives in the vicinity of their fields; communities increased their supportive power, and there appeared villages of several hundred families. People began to work together ever more closely, and there were divisions in social functions. On the whole, society took on a class structure that was based upon power.

Land, which was the principal means by which each family made its living, was not individually owned, but held in common by the village, and so it was necessary to tightly control the use of land and water, and the distribution of agricultural implements and labor. The headman succeeded to this position of authority.

One can sense that the birth of the city is nigh, but in the first part of the Yayoi Period people were still abiding by the law of Nature, which states that one must either gather or produce one's own food. Even the village headman still had to grow his own rice.

The City's Origins

When did the city make its appearance in Japan? We may say that it happened when the gods marked the human race for ruin. When a system made up of the dominators and the dominated, the exploiters and the exploited, became necessary, the city came into existence as none other than the mechanism of domination and exploitation (see note 24).

Whether it be Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, or whatever place where ancient civilizations arose, the city did most decidedly not arise as an instrument for the prosperity of civilization (or culture); it was without doubt a mechanism for idleness and gluttony set up by the dominators and their ilk, as well as those hangers on who hoped to profit, such as merchants and craftsmen. Urban civilization (culture) is nothing more than a means of achieving idleness and gluttony.

In Japan the city appeared in the latter part of the Yayoi Period. Technology (culture) developed, the scale of communities expanded, and the social organization became complicated. As a result the various regions took on distinctive cultures based on their respective functions, and there appeared villages which were groups of people specializing in the manufacture of clay, stone, or metal implements. Groups of people whose sole occupation was the manufacture of things - this was without a doubt the beginning of the city.

Just as I stated in Chapter I, the city is the base of the secondary and tertiary industries, or the place which is home to those employed by those industries; it is none other than the organization of idleness and gluttony. If there are even a few people who, finding their sole employment in the secondary and tertiary industries, make their living at it (or if there is the possibility of such), then we must consider this the beginning of the city. Scholars believe that in the latter part of the Yayoi Period there were people whose sole occupation was the manufacture of things, and this means that the city came into being at that time.

There is no proof that in the later Yayoi the group heads - that is, the dominators - grew no food but were engaged solely in politics. But judging from the general conditions in late Yayoi society (particularly the considerable advances in technology, and the furthering of functional divisions in the economy), it is possible that there were a few group heads who filled their bellies by engaging solely in politics (in the Tomb Period there were countless such people). It is here that I see the origin of the city.

And if we agree with those who say that the city was created by merchants, then, whether they dealt in necessities or luxuries, with the appearance of even a small-scale place where the merchants work (i.e., the market), we must again consider this the birth of the city. In the late Yayoi there was of course bartering, but there is no evidence that this was conducted by those who did nothing but barter (perhaps full-time merchants did not make their appearance until the Nara Period). In addition we find there were Buddhist monks and Shinto priests, as well as soldiers and bureaucrats, who are the very models of idleness and gluttony, and they came in droves to the early cities.

From the continent came Buddhism, and from the Tomb Period to the Nara Period, the number of monks increased steadily; it is said that in the 32nd year of Empress Suiko's reign [623] there were 46 temples and 1,385 monks and nuns. Public officials and soldiers no doubt showed a similar increase. There were 12 gates surrounding Itabuki Palace of Empress Kogyoku [reigned 642-645] in Asuka, and there were guards posted at each one of them.

In the fifth century the Yamato state unified the land, establishing the Jingikan and the Daijokan departments in the central government; in the Daijokan there was a Prime Minister, as well as others like a Minister of the Left, and a Minister of the Right. Under them there were eight ministries, which handled all the business of the state, and a system of officials. The land was divided up into Kinai, and seven Regions, and the seven Regions were further divided in

to over sixty locally governed provinces. These were further divided into smaller districts and villages. And to govern all of these the state appointed provincial governors, district governors, village heads, and so on.

When the capital was based in Nara there were, among those assembled in the city, over 130 persons who were what we may call the aristocracy, and the officials, including those down to the lowest ranks, numbered about ten thousand (the population of Nara at that time was 200,000). And since these officials, monks, and priests had their attendants, assistants, concubines, servants, errand boys, and slaves, it would seem that the greater part of the 200,000 people living in Nara in some way or another belonged to the temples, shrines, and the palace.

The City as a Means of Supporting Idleness and Gluttony

In this way the city came into being, underwent transformation, and developed. To put it more simply, politics brought the city into being as a place for domination (exploitation). Those who wished to fill their bellies under the wing of the rulers gathered in the same place, thus causing the growth of the city as an organ of exploitation.

Now let us take a jump into the future.

The city as a political entity has a 5,000-year history, but it is said that the industrial city has at best a 200-year history. According to Toshi Mondai no Kiso Chishiki ["Basic Knowledge of Urban Problems"], "Ancient cities were by and large organs of exploitation built upon a ruler, the priesthood, and the military, but with the advancement of industrialization, exchange and division of labor became the principal means of control in the social organization, and when that happened the scale and form of the city changed fundamentally. [25] These phenomena, known as industrialization, and urbanization in the age of industrialization, transcend the differences between capitalist and socialist states, as well as the differences between developed and undeveloped nations. [26] These are, we may say, phenomena which represent a change common to the whole world."

In this quote the author is describing the limitless expansion of the modern city that I spoke of in Chapter I, "Urban Sprawl." This is the problem that we must concern ourselves with solely; what I wanted to get a general idea of here was whether or not it is historical fact that the ancient city, which is the ancestor of the modern city, came into being as a system (even on a small scale) made up of the dominators and the dominated, and the exploiters and the exploited, and if it arose in order to establish a World of Laws [27] (a society based upon laws devised by human beings) for idleness and gluttony. And I also wanted to know if the city, which now stands before us like the Rock of Gibraltar, was really born long ago as humanity's golden banner, and if, in a Natural World (a world governed by the laws of Nature), it is a necessity.

I wonder if it was really the wish of Nature that the city come into being?

By looking into the past we have been able to get an idea, however vague, of the process by which the city came into being, and just as we thought, it came into being at the hands of master politicos and men of the cloth as a means of abandoning agricultural labor, skillfully plundering the fruits of the farmers' labor, and achieving idleness and gluttony. To put it even more tersely, the city came into being the moment such activities began. It is virtually impossible for the city to come into being any other way. According to the previous quote, the ancient city was an organ of exploitation, and this is the essence of the modern city as well. The only difference is that the modern city has made it possible to plunder more skillfully, in a more complex manner, and in greater amounts. To put it another way, it was not the desire of the farmers (the country, that is, the Natural World) that the city came into being. It is true that many farmers helped to build the palaces, but this was corvee labor exacted at the request (or rather the command) of the city. I am quite sure that an examination of history will show that the farmers did not willingly have anything to do with the establishment of the city. The city, in other words, was brought into existence by the urban ego itself, and not at the request of the Natural World or the country; it was not born as the golden banner under which all are to gather naturally.

The city is therefore a foreign body borne by the World of Laws; its existence is merely temporary, and we would be better off without it.

The city: Is it not the crystallization of human greed and wickedness? (Convenience and extravagance and ease. Trinkets and gewgaws and amusement. Progress and change and expansion. Plundering and destruction and contamination…)

Therefore we should not feel a sense of loss at the disappearance of the city. It will, in the near future, perish anyway because of dwindling natural resources and nuclear war. So we must realize that it would not be such a terrible thing to get rid of the cities.

Supplementary Remarks

In just the last 5,000 years human beings have achieved rapid progress. Even the Jomon Period was a mere 10,000 years ago. When we consider it in the light of the millions of years since humanity appeared, 10,000 years is only the most recent few moments of our existence.

It is extremely unusual that we should have achieved such fatal development in this short a time. Perhaps we should assume that the gods have, during this short time, allowed humanity this rapid progress. Let us note the fact that wild animals have shown no progress in millions of years, for foxes and raccoons are still living the same lives as foxes and raccoons. The rapid changes, increasing complexity of social structure, and urbanization achieved by humanity in the last 5,000 years must seem extremely unusual when considered in the light of Nature's timeless cycle. The city: the final, transient bubble of human history. It would not be strange at all if the gods had chosen the city as the means to destroy humanity.

The city is the explosive that will bring about the ruin of humanity. If we assume that in order to cause the manufacture of that explosive, Nature took the unusual step of allowing us a single great leap in progress in a short period of time, then this was either done on a whim of Nature (the gods) or a severe test by the laws of evolution (yes, I will say evolution here).

The gods gave human beings wisdom (by means of evolution), and that wisdom built the city. The city has visited us with a crisis. When the laws of evolution led to wisdom, the gods perhaps decided to use humanity in an experiment to see what would happen. The gods are no doubt grinning and watching to see what happens to the human beings who think themselves so clever since they have invented jet planes and computers, recombined genes, and made nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants. [28]

To the gods: You granted humanity wisdom, but I don't believe you meant that wisdom to be used in vain for progress, expansion, and prosperity.

To the people: How about giving up the use of this wisdom for the attainment of convenience and development, and using it instead now for regression and austerity? And how about, if not eradicating the cities, at least resolving to shrink the cities?

Let us get rid of nuclear weapons. And while we're at it, let's tear down the nuclear reactors. Let's remove escalators and automatic doors. Let's drastically reduce the numbers of jets and automobiles. Let's give up traveling abroad (and that goes for trips within the country as well - being one with the land also means that we remain stationary). Let's cancel the construction of airports. Stop using moving walkways and walk with your legs instead. Stop using pulp to make idiotic comic books, handbills, and wrapping paper. Let's stop the manufacture of cigarettes, detergents, and food additives. Let's stop taking so much medicine. Reduce further the amounts of agricultural chemicals and chemical fertilizers. Let's stop building so many roads. Let's leave the seashore in its natural state. In order to shrink the cities let's send the extra labor to the farms. Let's promote the redistribution and further division of land. Let's all work hard for the production of food that isn't poisoned. Weed the fields and gardens by hand, and return compost to the soil.

There is no limit to that which we must do for scaling down, regression, and austerity. It is for these things that humanity must use the gift of the gods (wisdom) to its fullest extent.

People! (Assuming that the gods are even a little bit good), they know that wisdom is a double edged sword, and they are testing us to see how we will use it.

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