The Aesthetics of Tokyo: City Design and Culture with Rafael Balboa - Context Travel

The Aesthetics of Tokyo: City Design and Culture with Rafael Balboa


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More than in most Western cultures, aesthetics have played a critical role in the shaping of Japanese social life, cultural ideals, and urban landscapes. Tokyo 'as Japan's capital and center of design' is the country's best example of aesthetics writ large, with the architecture and physical forms of the city itself offering unique insights into the inner workings of its people, art, and politics.

During his 1966 visit to the Japanese capital, Roland Barthes famously described the city as one that " ... does possess a center, but this center is empty." These intersecting ideas of asymmetry and emptiness have long been central to various aspects of Tokyo, from urban planning to personal interactions.

We'll consider these two elements of Japanese aesthetics from a variety of viewpoints, including the organization of Tokyo as a city, Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples, Zen and its relationship to the concept of "mu" (emptiness), the 'bowl of rice' metaphor for Japanese society, and Kawaii's "cute-ification" of contemporary culture.

Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, this interactive seminar will explore the aesthetics of Japan as a unique organizing principle for Japanese culture and public life. Led by architect, journalist, and longtime Tokyo resident Rafael Balboa.

Architect, Ph.D. Rafael is currently a correspondent for Italian architecture magazine Domus based in Japan and has lived in Tokyo for over 13 years. He received his Master's degree and Ph.D. from the University of Tokyo under the guidance of Prof. Kengo Kuma. He is currently a Senior Guest Researcher at The University of Tokyo (Kuma Kengo Laboratory) and guest researcher at Keio University, besides visiting lecturer in other architecture institutions in Japan and abroad. Member of the JIA (Japan Institute of Architects), he co-founded and runs his architecture and urban design practice STUDIO WASABI since 2013. From 2017 he became Director of Casa Nano, an art residency in Tokyo part of Casa Wabi Foundation in Mexico. An avid toy collector, he has a keen interest in the ludic-cultural aspects between people and their cities.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.