Over the past several decades, Tokyo’s most infamous nightlife district experienced a striking renaissance. Driven by metro government “clean up” efforts, changing demographics, and the breathless rush to the ill-fated 2020 Olympic games, the vibrant but seedy neighborhood of Kabukicho garnered global attention. Yet all was not bright: redevelopment efforts faced friction in this independent-minded corner of the capitol. This talk reflects on Kabukicho’s post-WWII history of diversity, its fitful rebranding as a “Cool Japan” tourist mecca, and more recently, ways the neighborhood contended with the pandemic. What does this cosmopolitan but decidedly marginal enclave in the heart of Tokyo portend for Japan’s future?
Nathaniel M. Smith is a cultural anthropologist with research interests centering on far-right political activism and urban studies. His current project on Kabukicho, Tokyo, was supported by the Japan Foundation from 2019-2020. Prior to his appointment to Ritsumeikan University’s College and Graduate School of International Relations in Kyoto, Smith was a member of the faculty at the University of Arizona, a postdoc at UC Santa Barbara, and held research affiliations at the University of Tokyo and Waseda University. He holds degrees from UC Riverside, Waseda University, and Yale University and is a member of the Mansfield Foundation’s US-Japan Network for the Future.