City Hall



by Setsuko Adachi

May 2015, Tokyo.

All characters and events in this vignette — even those based on real people — are entirely fictional. [1]


At the City Hall, two women, a mother and daughter, were there to renew the latter’s passport. They got there at quarter to nine. The homepage for the City Hall Passport Center said their business hours began at nine. A parent or guardian was needed to sign the documents in the case of minors. The daughter was nineteen, making her eight months short.

Stupidly enough, the entrance to the City Hall buildings also opened at nine. They didn’t want to wait there. Bicycles and pedestrians on the sidewalk. Cars, trucks and bikes on the big road. The traffic stress was a bit too much. A wide passage next to the entrance was calling, so through they went. And voilà: they found themselves in the serene courtyard of the City Hall, tomin hiroba, the Citizens’ Plaza. The architect’s calculation had served its purpose.

The City Hall complex, comprising two skyscrapers and a seven-storeyed assembly building, is pronounced as “postmodern” by the world-renowned architect, Kenzo Tange, or, as the Towers of Bubble. One skyscraper is crowned with two towers, one of which is 48 stories, 243 metres above ground; and the other, 44 stories, or something like that. Across from it is the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly building — 7 storeys, 41 metres. One must not forget that there is yet another skyscraper — 34 storeys, 163 metres whose rooftop is like the back of a stegosaurus.

The Bubble Towers, smack-bang in the centre of Tokyo, embody the technical and economic victory of the 1980s. The Bubble Towers were a homage to the ethos of the salarymen: formed, pressured and united for the nation, to catch up and beat them, to also build Japan as Number 1. Their ethos constituted what it meant to be a good Japanese. When you were awake, you needed to be at your workplace, and/or with workpeople. The work-centric psyche had to use the word family service to justify time with the family. They should be at work if they had the energy. Home is where you recuperate for work. Families are to care for workers. A good family person worked — always.

Then a rebellious species appeared: the ’80s named them shinjinrui (新人類), new humans. Shinjinruis wanted life to themselves, to spend money and have a good time. They were incomprehensible and unacceptable, not identifiable as Japanese — which ironically earned them the name humans. Condemnations were along the lines of “self-centred pricks,” “disrespectful of elders’ achievements,” “not thinking about family.” And the new humans’ thing was all about their individual egocentric happiness and not to be enslaved to work. The rebellion left mixed consequences: for they are the prototypes of otakuhikikomori, and neet, those who “have no desire to make any effort to work” in Japan.

The two-towered skyscraper and the assembly building were designed in such a manner that a circular space is created in between the two of them. When the mother and daughter stepped into that circular space, it was peaceful. The commotion and hustle and bustle of the busy Shinjuku streets were blocked by the two skyscrapers.

The Citizens’ Plaza presented a perfect place to enjoy the beautiful Thursday morning in May: it was slow and peaceful, with only a solitary guard standing at the entrance, and a hunchbacked lady in a cleaning crew uniform in view. Spending fifteen minutes here — they didn’t mind that, not at all.

Soon, they walked toward a bench across from the entrance nearest to the Passport Center. “Not for sitting” the small sign read but they didn’t take heed. The sign is probably for the occasions when there is a crowd.

The Citizens’ Plaza became visibly busier every minute with people clad in their salarymen business suits. Hurrying across to their offices, leaving the sounds of footsteps behind, no word uttered, eyes down, they were repeating their routine commute.

“You can’t sit there, can’t you see the sign?”

It was the guard. He must have waited three minutes to see if they would leave the bench. And since they didn’t, he came over to do his duty. Oh… He went back to take his position in front of the entrance and the two went over to the steps nobody was using. And sat. “Do not sit on the ground please.” Oh… so they stood and waited across from the guard for the door to open.

The daughter felt sad and bad that the guard’s job was to make sure nobody sits at the Citizens’ Plaza. As for the Mother, she was not happy: “No sitting” on a bench at a plaza for citizens? What was the need of this prohibition? These things could get her really worked up. Especially because she was disturbed by an unease which told her to succumb to the sense that said it was she that was bad, that she had done something she should not have.

A little before nine, the guard moved sideways and said “dozo”— please — and let them in. They went to the Passport Center, filled out the application forms, and handed them in. Everything went very smoothly.

They left from another entrance, closer to the station. At an underpass they noticed an inconspicuous path that led to the City Hall parking lot. The mother’s eyes caught rows of cardboard houses, dwellings of homeless people along the path in one of the richest nations in the world. Making it visibly clear that citizen meant working walking workers. And the mother knew they had been evicted physically and psychologically for the desire to enjoy non-working time. We didn’t have to take that. Painful is the grip of “them,” that instilled in her to feel that it was she that was bad.

Mother made it to work, another work-occupied day kept her thoughts and observations from the morning unsaid; memories destined to be forgotten. They would be quickly swallowed by the demands of the bureaucratic workplace, a private university, which left her no time to think. She let them and herself take it.

The guard evicts. No occupation allowed.

Images by Jorge Gonzalez and moominsean.


[1] Based on South Park’s disclaimer.