Tokiwadai Residential City Story – 2

Tokiwadai – Garden City of Japan

Tokiwadai – Designed by Ministry of Home Affairs and Developed by Tobu Railway

Elegant Urban Design

Tokiwadai is the residential area of approximately 24ha, or 59.3ac, which expands in front of Tokiwadai station, Tojo Line, Tobu Railway, less than 10 minutes from Ikebukuro and 30 minitues from Marunouchi, Tokyo. The spacious station square holds tall Himalayan cedar and zelkova trees. It is called the city with ‘elegant urban design’, as Dr. Akira Kosizawa, famous scholar and the author of “City Planning of Tokyo” (Iwanami Publishing 1991), calls it.

Why such an elegant residential city was developed in Itabashi-ku, Tokyo? This chapter describes the short history of Tokiwadai. Like many what are called ‘upmarket’ residential areas in central, near, and suburban Tokyo, Tokiwadai has been and is under pressure of land plot fragmentations in the low-rise residential zone and constructions of high-rise structure buildings in the commercial zone, due to the significant increases in land prices. But it still maintains its fame as superior residential area due to its underlying graceful, unique, and eminent urban design. It is strong and resilient.

There were two major currents in residential town development, before the war, in Japan. One is railway company- or school corporation-driven and the other is residential inhabitant/landowner-driven. Tokiwadai is the former type and is compared with Denenchofu and Seijogakuen as high-quality residential area. Furthermore, Tokiwadai is unique in that it was developed as a joint effort of private and public bodies, i.e., Tobu Railway and the City Planning Bureau, the Ministry of Home Affairs. Because of its elegant yet solid infrastructure, Tokiwadai maintains its gracefulness despite various pressures of the time thereafter.

The person who designed Tokiwadai was Kenichi Komiya, young city planner, 23, who studied the latest urban development of the West at Tokyo Imperial University, and was assigned to the unit, in 1934.  

Tokiwadai, the first high quality residential real estate development by Tobu Railway

Tobu Railway, after the Kanto Earthquake in 1923, planned to develop residential area, in accordance with the rapid increase in housing demand, near and suburban Tokyo. It acquired the land property of 24.3ha, in Kamiitabashi Village, North Toshima County, in 1923. This is the area later became known as Tokiwadai, as the first residential area development along the lines by Tobu Railway. ‘Musashi Tokiwadai’, now Tokiwadai, was the station opened for the area. At the beginning, the surroundings were as a whole, rural plowed field and rough land.

The residential land development started just after the opening of Musashi Tokiwadai station.  The sales of land in lots, 591 in total (433 for residences, 58 for shops, 1 for school, parks, etc.), started in autumn in 1936. Approximately half were sold or leased through the spring in 1937.

The decision by Kaichiro Nezu, the top of the Tobu Railway, was the key to generate the unique urban design of Tokiwadai.

Tobu Railway started Tokiwadai’s 24ha development as the land readjustment project based on the Urban Planning Act. The initial design was the traditional grid pattern. Kaichiro Nezu, aiming to create unique and ideal residential city development, abandoned the initial plan and asked for full advice of the local unit of the City Planning Bureau of the Ministry of Home Affairs, including the design of the project.

The designer, as mentioned before, was Kenichi Komiya, young city planner, just graduated from School of Architecture, Tokyo Imperial University. Tokiwadai’s unique and elegant urban design is the product of Kaichiro Nezu, i.e., his decision to pursue unique, unprecedented city development.

Three principles of Tokiwadai’s development: 1) site scale, 2) circular tree‐lined walkway and parkland, and 3) road ratio (proportion of road area to total land area)

In designing Tokiwadai, the following three principles were shown to Kenichi Komiya by his bosses in the bureau. The first was the residential site scale should be around 100 tsubo or 330㎡ (395 yr²) per lot, while two so shop sites should be preserved within the area. The second was the construction of tree-lined walkway going round the area. In addition, approximately 3% of the total area allocated to parkland and schools. And the third was the road ratio should maintain about 20% of the whole. He designed Tokiwadai with reference to the recent examples and trend in the West. Tokiwadai Park, the largest in the area, was later provided free of charge to Tokyo City by Tobu Railway.

The distinct feature of Tokiwadai is the curvature urban design. It is typically demonstrated in the following four locations 1) The spacious rotary in front of the North Exit of Tokiwadai station, holding large Himalayan cedar and zelkova. 2) The promenade, or tree-lined street which goes round the area. 3) The cul-de-sacs, or the circular blind alleys with plantations in the middle. And 4) The three road bays, or leeway, along the promenade.

The tide of war against the Tokiwadai residential land development by Tobu Railway

In Tobu Railway’s Centennial History, published in 1998, Tokiwadai’s residential land development enterprise was referred to as ‘done the best it could under the unfavorable economic circumstances.’

In Tobu Railway’s Centennial History, published in 1998, Tokiwadai’s residential land development enterprise was referred to as ‘done the best it could under the unfavorable social, political and economic circumstances.’ It was the time when the world economy went into the deep depression with the market crash of New York Stock Exchange in October 1929. Furthermore, Japan’s regime was becoming increasingly on a war-footing, after Second Sino-Japanese War erupted in July 1937. Tokiwadai’s land sale in lots started in the autumn 1936. Should Tokiwadai’s development be a few years later, it could have been abandoned at all or at least altered and reduced significantly. Tokiwadai’s elegant urban design was created during the turbulent period, pursuing the development of unique and ideal residential city, in the last fraction of time when such a civil enterprise was allowed. It was the only public and private joint project even during the time when the Ministry of Home Affairs was directly involved in the city planning of Tokyo. It was the Local Bureau of the Ministry that had introduced the idea of the garden city of the West into Japan in the preceding period. Also, it was favored by the presence of young talent, Kenichi Komiya, who incidentally exercised his aptitude as designer. Indeed, Tokiwadai was the creation of exquisite unique and rare coincidence of several key factors. Tokiwadai’s land sale in lots started as ‘Kenko Jutakuchi’ (Healthy Residential Land) in the autumn of 1936.

Tobu Railway undertook residential land developments in Tokumrau, Itabashi-ku and Umeshima, Adachi-ku, after Tokiwadai, in Tokyo. Also, it leased its company-owned land in Utsunomiya, Horikiri and Kinugawa Onsen (hot spring) in Tochigi Prefecture. But none followed Tokiwadai’s urban design. Property development was created in March 1943, but abolished in less than two years in December 1943, because of the intensification of the wartime regime.

The business model of the land development for housing along the lines by the railway company was the creation of Ichizo Kobayashi, the head of the Mino-Arima Railway, now the Hankyu Railway. He undertook it even before the opening of the railway between Umeda and Takarazuka, to make the railway business viable. Besides, the development of Denenchofu by Denen Toshi Kaisha (Garden City Company), the predecessor of Tokyu Railway, took place about 10 years before Tokiwadai. Given the historical background, the ten-year difference mattered a lot for the real estate business of the two companies, thereafter.  

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