Assessing Art Projects Aimed at Revitalization: the Case of the Koganechō Bazaar

Assessing Art Projects Aimed at Revitalization: the Case of the Koganechō Bazaar

Justin Jesty


This paper focuses on a single, mid-sized initiative whose main feature is a contemporary art festival that takes place every autumn in a neighborhood of Yokohama called Koganechō. Koganechō was long a center for illegal and gray-area activity, most (in)famously the sex trade, which by the early 2000s thoroughly dominated it. That changed in 2005 when police shut down the sex shops there, as part of a nationwide trend towards clamping down on sex work in urban entertainment districts (kanrakugai). The Koganechō Bazaar, as the festival is called, was conceived as a way to regenerate public life and change the image of the neighborhood in the aftermath. Although only one project, the Bazaar provides an opportunity to consider questions that perennially surface in comparing new public art and socially engaged art (as common terms in the North American context) with art projects (as the more common term in Japan). The paper begins by introducing the history of the area and the movements that emerged in the early 2000s which led to the first Bazaar in 2008. It then moves to an evaluation of the Bazaar on its own terms, which includes a discussion of artworks that were part of the Bazaar. It will then take a position outside the Bazaar’s sphere of meaning to assess critiques and shortcomings of the Bazaar. In this final section I am interested primarily in two issues: the role of revitalization (a goal shared by many though not all art projects), and the position and role of the project’s participant-subjects. It is in relation to these two issues that I argue art projects may diverge most from the expectations of socially engaged and new public art criticism in the U.S.[1]

As mentioned in a number of articles in this special issue, Japan’s art projects (āto purojekuto) are often tied to revitalization, and many people have criticized that connection.[2] In Japan, the most common criticism is that it is not good for art, subjecting it to middlebrow taste and tempting officials to claim “art” as a funding category for local boosterism.[3] As I argue further below, this line of critique is not convincing. It does not make its standards of judgment explicit and fails to address diversifying tastes. In the U.S. and Europe, revitalization is often criticized because of its link to class- and race-based exclusion in the form of gentrification. As I argue in the introduction to this issue, those assumptions usually do not fit conditions in Japan. But there are other points of concern to explore.[46]

On the first page of Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art, Suzanne Lacy writes that the book emerged from a series of lectures by artists “whose work addressed a particular constituency on specific issues but also stood as a prototype for a wider range of human concerns.”[5] This statement is not intended to be normative, yet Lacy captures an enduring expectation about socially engaged and new public art: that it address at least two audiences. While revitalization is clearly important to a “particular constituency,” does it address “a wider range of human concerns”? It might: what constitutes a wide range of human concerns is highly debatable. But revitalization may remain so centrally aligned with the needs of a particular constituency—down to its flinty interest in self and survival—that it deemphasizes broader concerns even when art is involved. As I argue below, the Koganechō Bazaar is a case where revitalization as a legitimate local concern has obscured the politics of the site and limited the potential of art to address “a wider range of human concerns,” the most glaring being the problem illegal sex work.

Moving to the second concern, discourses of socially engaged and new public art generally assume that the subjects of the work, by which I mean both the locus and the agent of social change, are otherwise disenfranchised. Grant Kester’s assessment of Dialogue provides an illustration. Dialogue is a small center run by a group of artists in a rural town in central India, who work with the local Adivasi people, particularly women and children. One of their projects redesigned the communal water pumps, which are used mainly by women and become sites of informal gathering and conversation. After a long process of observation, conversation, and negotiation, they built walls to partially enclose the pump areas. The enclosures mark out a separate women’s space by excluding men and shielding women from view, creating a “zone of cohesion, intimacy, and reconsolidation.”[6] In this instance, the Adivasi women are the subjects of the project: they are the people whose change (in situation, collective capacity, etc.) the project is most concerned with, and they are the people who make that change happen, in collaboration with the artists. The point is that their positionality prior to the project is as important to critical valuation as internally generated conversational practice. If the subjects of the project were the elders of the town patriarchy rather than the women, Dialogue’s work would not become a model, regardless of the qualities of their collaborative creativity. Although not always acknowledged explicitly, valuation of socially engaged and new public art hinges upon the clarity with which the critic can establish politically and ethically viable protagonists as the subjects of social change.

Art projects in Japan that are connected with redevelopment rarely present such a clear picture. Although there are exceptions, the usual subjects of change are (and are conceived to be) middle-class citizens: people who can be disenfranchised but are not typically thought of that way. The situation requires additional care in assessing their position. Marginality and enfranchisement are positional and intersectional. They rely on claims and testimony (or frameworks and narrative) to establish and are rarely stable. When the middle-class citizens of Koganechō establish themselves as the subject of the neighborhood’s revitalization, for example, that seems a legitimate claim when framed as a hard-won alternative to dominance by organized crime. But it raises concern if the same group uses its dominance to exclude voices less empowered than they are. The ambivalent middle-class subject of redevelopment-centered art projects in Japan thus do not conform to the usual expectations of socially engaged and new public art criticism.[7]

Pre-history of the Koganechō Bazaar

Koganechō is a small strip of low-rise city that hugs the concrete banks of the Ōka River, which flows into Yokohama’s harbor about half a mile downstream. It takes less than ten minutes to walk the neighborhood’s length and less than two minutes to cross it. Koganechō lies outside the bustle of the port area, but has always been connected to it by the river and, later, a train line and major road. After Yokohama’s harbor was designated a foreign concession port in the process of Japan “opening” to the West in the mid-nineteenth century, Koganechō developed as a center for wholesalers supplying ships at dock. These roots are still visible in the preponderance of small- to mid-size manufacturing and wholesaling businesses that line the neighborhood’s main road.

The events of the war and occupation also shaped the neighborhood. Koganechō and most of Yokohama were destroyed in 1945 in the U.S.’s urban bombing campaign. The elevated railroad tracks running the length of the neighborhood were among the few structures to survive, becoming shelter for those made homeless in the immediate aftermath. After Japan’s surrender, U.S. occupation forces built an airbase just across the river. Many of the small drinking dens that huddled under the tracks dealt in prostitution and drugs, supplying both occupying soldiers and the local black market. The bars were originally squats but the proprietors eventually made tenant contracts with the Keikyū railroad company and stayed. Koganechō’s identification with prostitution continued through the postwar period. In the neighborhood, however, the activity was localized and stable: the bars stayed under the tracks, while the area on either side of the tracks was occupied by small office and apartment buildings, individual residences, and some restaurants and retailers.

It was not until the late 1990s that that arrangement began to destabilize. First, the Keikyū railroad company began to plan a large-scale track reinforcement project following the Kōbe earthquake of 1995. The bars underneath the tracks were evicted and many of them moved out into the surrounding area. Second, the domestic sex tourism market flourished in the 1990s, fueled by specialist publications and internet review sites. Third, sex work internationalized. In a system dominated by organized crime, sex workers were brought to Koganechō from China, the Philippines, South East Asia, and South America. Starting in the late 1990s, hundreds of tiny sex shops sprung up in the area between the Keikyū tracks and the Ōka River. These shops appeared in spaces that had previously been residences or retailers. As people moved out, apartments and free standing houses were bought and divided up into smaller units to house more sex shops. The shops became purely commercial: workers staffed them on shifts while living elsewhere. As foreigners, sex workers became doubly visible, and with the rationalization of the industry many of the shops operated 24-hours a day, with sex workers standing in front of them to attract customers. By 2004, the shops had largely taken over the area between the Keikyū tracks and the river. Police estimate that there were approximately 250 of them, generating 400-500 million yen (4-5 million USD) annually for the organized crime groups that ran them.[8]

Starting in the early 2000s, residents of the area organized occasional safety patrols and garbage clean-up walks but had no means to stop the trade itself. As in many Japanese cities, there is no strict zoning between residential, commercial, and light industrial districts, so the sex market operated check-by-jowl with densely packed housing and other businesses. One of the most common complaints among residents was that elementary school students living across the river had to walk through the area to get to and from school every day. What brought an end to the Koganechō sex market was a police crackdown that began in early 2005 and shut down all of the sex shops over the next few months. The crackdown put an end to the sex trade, but turned the area into a ghost town of hundreds of tiny, shuttered shops. The problem facing the local community then became one of how to revitalize the area left empty by the sex market. Their efforts eventually led to the Koganechō Bazaar.

The Police Intervention and National Urban Development Policy

The area I am calling Koganechō is actually three neighborhoods: Koganechō, Hinodechō and Hatsunechō. It is part of Naka-ku (Central Ward), which is part of Yokohama City, which is part of Kanagawa Prefecture, which is part of the national government. All of these layers of governance have had a part in the revitalization project. The role of the two outermost layers, the national government and the police (which are a prefectural institution) can be seen most clearly in the closure of the sex market.

When the police moved to shut down the sex shops in January 2005 it represented a major policy change. Leaders of local citizen groups would like to think that their lead, and the risk it exposed them to, forced the police to step in.[9] That may be true, but the change should also be seen against a change in national policy. In the early 2000s, the Japanese government began to be subjected to international criticism for its failure to intervene in human trafficking. Two particularly damning reports came in 2004: the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report, and the International Labor Organization’s Human Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation in Japan. In response, the government changed laws surrounding the “entertainment” visa, made human trafficking (jinshin baibai) a crime, and in December 2004 issued an “Action Plan for Human Trafficking (Jinshin Torihiki Taisaku Kōdō Keikaku).”

A month later the Kanagawa police began their crackdown in Koganechō. A few months after that, the national government embarked on a policy explicitly linking crime reduction with urban development, targeting well known entertainment districts, such as Tokyo’s Roppongi and Kabukichō, and Osaka’s Minami. This national plan to “rebuild safe and secure cities through a joint engagement with crime prevention and community development (bōhan taisakutō to machizukuri no rentai kōdō ni yoru toshi no anzen anshin no saikōchiku),” was to be pioneered in fourteen designated areas around Japan.[10] Comprehensive Entertainment District Countermeasures Headquarters (Kanrakugai Sōgo Taisaku Suishin Honbu) were set up in prefectural police headquarters around the country, to lead the initiative to carrying out law enforcement through “softer” means. The Kanagawa Police set up a Branch Command Headquarters (Genchi Shiki Honbu) for Comprehensive Entertainment District Countermeasures in Koganechō in April 2005, three months after the initial crackdown.[11]

The timing of the police move in Koganechō, therefore, was clearly in concert with a new national policy clamping down on the visibility of the sex trade while linking crime reduction with urban renewal. As revealed in police policy journals, this shift was accompanied by an importation of American “zero tolerance policing,” which theorized that relatively minor lapses in public safety and morals created an environment conducive to more serious offenses.[12] Police became involved in maintaining a visually clean environment, such as enforcing bicycle parking and requiring businesses to leave their shades open to make things visible from outside. A flier distributed to businesses around Koganechō after the police crackdown lists the following regulations.

Please conduct your business so that it is visible from outside of your premises.

Please remove any awnings from above your premises that might be associated with illegal activity.

Please do not place air conditioning units or other articles outside your business on the curb, or leave bicycles or potted plants outside on the street.

Please follow the garbage disposal regulations and place your garbage at the appointed spots for pickup.

[Flyer of regulations distributed to businesses in Koganechō in 2008]

[Flyer of regulations distributed to businesses in Koganechō in 2008]

Consistent with the national policy of combining police enforcement with urban renewal, the flier bore the imprimatur of a local citizens’ Cleanup Promotion Council (discussed below), as well as the Ward Office, City Office, and the local Isezaki police station, with inquiries directed to the police station. However, the flier also demonstrates the tensions that arise when police power is combined with the more nebulous goals of urban revitalization. The second item refers to the awnings over the entrances of the sex shops that sex workers stood beneath. They had become a staple and a symbol of the sex market; their removal had become a symbol of the revitalization. The demand to remove them, however, had no clear legal basis, which raises the question of what role police had in enforcing it.

In terms of police policy, there are at least two sides to this issue. Japan’s 1956 Anti-prostitution Law bans the sale of sex, but only the pimp, not the sex worker or customer, can be charged in a crime. This was intended to protect sex workers from punishment but is difficult to enforce, especially since the internationalization of sex work makes potential witnesses even less likely to come forward for fear of deportation. Because of the legal framework, police usually use indirect means to target prostitution, especially immigration law or laws against solicitation. The police never released figures related to the Koganechō crackdown so it is impossible to know how many sex workers were actually arrested. What is more clear is that the campaign marked the beginning of a police enforcement environment that would be generally hostile to the sex trade: street patrols were massively stepped up and police became highly interventionist in monitoring local businesses.

On the other hand, closing down the sex trade in Koganechō did not address the existence of the sex trade itself, nor its connection with organized crime. Offices of the two organized crime syndicates that had run the sex market were still there in 2008 when the Bazaar began and one still remains there today. Given the limits of police powers, that might not be the fault of the police. But when comparing the Koganechō crackdown to others around Japan, the lack of information about arrests is interesting. In Osaka for example, the Comprehensive Entertainment District Revitalization Headquarters reported that there were 235 arrests for soliciting, 72 arrests for violation of child welfare laws, and 42 arrests of organized crime members as part of the cleanup.[13] In Koganechō by contrast, success has been measured by the number of sex shops closed down rather than arrests.[14] In other words, success has been measured in terms of the visibility of the sex trade, not infractions per se. This method of evaluation is in keeping with the emphasis of the initiative at the national level. The tactic also corresponds to the wishes of many of the residents I talked to in 2008, who often said that if the sex shops had been a little less public and noisy there would not have been a problem. Thus the local visibility of the sex trade is the direct target and continued surveillance remains the primary method of enforcement. It is generally thought that if the police were to leave, the shuttered shops would reopen as sex shops.[15] The longer term goal is to change the neighborhood enough that the sex market would not resurface even if police surveillance were stepped down.

Kogane-X and the Area Management Center

Within Koganechō itself, there are several civil society organizations that have been active since before the police intervention. The most important are the neighborhood associations (chōnaikai) and the PTA. Political scientist Robert Pekkanen has described neighborhood associations as “voluntary groups” that carry out activities “centered on the local community, ranging from cleaning up a local park and running neighborhood watch-type programs to organizing local athletic meets or children’s outings and running local festivals.”[16] Almost every neighborhood in Japan has one. It was the leaders of the area’s two neighborhood associations who began the residents’ movement against the sex trade. In 2003 they founded a group called the Hatsukō Hinodechō Kankyō Jōka Suishin Kyōgikai (Hatsunechō, Koganechō, Hinodechō Town Clean Up Promotion Council), which essentially combined the leadership of the two neighborhood associations with the PTA. For the two years until 2005, this group of residents carried out their activities unsupported by any government agency. One of the group’s leaders visited the Ward Office, the City Office, and the Office of Immigration during that period to urge them to take action, but was met with the answer that they could do nothing. He recalled that he did not even approach the police: he did not trust them because it seemed obvious they had no interest in intervening.[17]

After the police action, the Town Clean Up Promotion Council, which also goes by the name Kogane-X, led the efforts to revitalize the area. The sex shops had spread to cover a significant portion of the neighborhood. Their closure left a ghost town of shuttered shops. Revitalization was conceived as finding something that could fill the empty space and change the image of Koganechō in the public imagination. The group that undertook this was comprised of the Cleanup Promotion Council (aka Kogane-X), a professor of urban planning at Yokohama City University (SUZUKI Nobuharu) and his students, a small group of ward and city officials, and representatives from the police. I call this group “the Kogane-X group” because it did not have a formal organizational name until 2008, when it incorporated as an NPO called the Koganechō Area Management Center (Koganechō Eria Manejimento Senta).

Art was not the first thing the Kogane-X group turned to. Before the idea for an art festival surfaced, the group held outdoor events like lighting paper lanterns along the promenade at night and gathering to water the pavement together in the summer. These events were small, but carefully orchestrated to involve local media so that the new image of Koganechō got out to the public.[18] Introducing art to the redevelopment activities was not an obvious choice: the older leaders of the Cleanup Promotion Council (Kogane-X) did not understand how art would contribute.[19] What drew them in that direction was that art provided a way to get greater financial and organizational support from the city government. In 2004, Yokohama declared itself a creative city (sōzō toshi) which meant there was a large new budget for arts funding of various sorts.[20] By linking up with that node of funding and advisory support, Kogane-X was able to get much more involvement from the city than they otherwise would have. Yokohama’s young and dynamic mayor at the time, NAKADA Hiroshi, was an important booster of the project, making a number of public appearances in Koganechō. Thus for Kogane-X, art was initially a way of fitting Koganechō’s redevelopment into the (re)development picture of the city as a whole.

Although Kogane-X includes many active citizens from Koganechō, it would be a mistake to see them as representative of the entire community, or as offering the only ideas about what the community should be or become. Koganechō was originally a center for wholesalers. Small and medium size businesses still dot the Hirado-Sakuragi road, including a bulk laundry, a paper goods manufacturer, a toy and candy wholesaler, a maker of fiberglass products, a tea distributer, and more. There are some retailers and restaurants but those are concentrated much more in the neighboring Noge district. Residences include a few tall apartment buildings, but the area is dominated at street level by free-standing homes and older low-rise apartments. The leadership of Kogane-X is comprised primarily of medium-sized business owners. This results from the fact that Kogane-X is essentially a combination of two neighborhood associations and the PTA. Both organizations are informal and voluntarist, but in practice, leaders of neighborhood associations tend to be business leaders, local notables, former officials, and people with a family history in the area, while the PTA is made up of residents who have families with children.

Although virtually no one I met in Koganechō criticized closing the sex market, there was less agreement regarding the revitalization movement as led by Kogane-X. In a survey of 27 local business owners I found that the majority were sympathetic to the effort to improve the neighborhood but pessimistic about its chances of success.[21] One believed it was a waste of taxpayer money, a few expressed no interest whatsoever. Others, although supportive, questioned why the ward and city favored funding new projects while not supporting established businesses. Therefore Kogane-X, and later the Koganechō Bazaar, was and is enabled by a grass-roots movement and does enjoy local support. But the people who are most active had already been in some position of community leadership before the festival and represent only a small portion of the community as a whole. In addition, when Kogane-X began to work with the city, they were entrusted with managing what was at first a small number of spaces around Koganechō, which invested them with official power not available to other citizens.

After the first Bazaar wrapped up successfully in 2008, the management group behind it formed an NPO to continue their project of “area revitalization through art.”[22] The Koganechō Area Management Center (AMC) brought together the Kogane-X group discussed so far and the artists, curators, and architects who had created the first Bazaar. Koganechō is similar to many other art projects in Japan, the majority of which have area/regional revitalization as their mission and many of which are run by NPOs that bring together residents, local government, and curators/arts managers. As KAWASHIMA Nobuko’s article in this issue shows, contemporary art has undergone a shift since the 1990s, one aspect of which is the growth of NPOs and a proliferation of public, semi-public, and private grant programs for artists and arts groups. One distinctive feature of the AMC is their emphasis on “safety and security (anzen anshin),” which makes it explicit that they stand for public order and lawfulness (and implicitly, against organized crime). The AMC continues to be the organizing body for the annual Bazaar and began an artist-in-residency program in 2009 that has steadily grown. Now there are approximately forty artists with studios and/or residences: a high density given the area’s size.

The Koganechō Bazaar

The major difference between previous Kogane-X activity and the later Bazaar and AMC initiatives is their scale and ambition. The first Bazaar was held between September 11 and November 30, 2008 and it has been held every autumn since. The first one consisted of thirty projects including shops, events, installed artworks, and ongoing participatory projects. About two dozen artists were involved, from a number of countries. Many of the participating artists stayed in Koganechō for extended periods, interacting with locals and visitors. The dates for the Bazaar were timed to coordinate with the Yokohama Triennale, held in the harbor area. Two new, modern spaces were built for the Bazaar underneath the Keikyū railroad tracks, to house most of the exhibitions and shops while the city continued its strategy of converting former sex shops to be managed as artist studios and exhibition spaces by the AMC.

The first Bazaar was planned and managed by a five-member planning board who worked in close contact with the Kogane-X group. The board consisted of the architects of the two new spaces, IIDA Yoshihiko and SOGABE Masashi, the then-director of a nearby art NPO, SOMA Chiaki, and two curators, AMANO Tarō and YAMANO Shingo. Of these, Yamano Shingo was the most deeply involved with the Koganechō community and the execution of the project. He moved into an apartment a few minutes’ walk from the program office, returning home to his native Fukuoka only irregularly. Since the beginning of his career, Yamano has been a pioneer in negotiating new social infrastructures for public art, most notably in the Museum City Tenjin project in Fukuoka, which is often cited as an early art project (āto purojekuto).[23] When the Austrian group WochenKlausur visited Fukuoka in 2000 for a three month project, he had many chances to watch them work and felt a great affinity for their ideas and approaches.[24]  Since 2008, Yamano has remained the single most important force shaping the Bazaar (serving as director or co-director of all 10 Bazaars) as well as the most important manager “on the ground.” He remains in constant negotiation with local residents and business owners, city and ward officials, police, and artists, aided by a small team of art managers who work in the office of the AMC.

The Bazaar has remained about the same scale since 2008. On Triennale years (2008, 2011, 2014, 2017) there are about 25 visiting artists, symposia, and guest co-curators, while in the other years there are about half the number of artists.[25]  Ongoing curation is carried out by Yamano. Ongoing programs of the AMC have expanded. They run a program of short-term courses called Koganechō Art School (Koganechō Geijutsu Gakkō). The studio and exhibition space under the train tracks has doubled since 2009, and the artist in residence program has grown to about 40 residencies. Having continued the strategy of taking back buildings that had housed sex shops, the AMC now manages about 90 rental spaces scattered around the neighborhood, something I return to in the next section.

How does the Bazaar conceive of the two audiences mentioned above? The local audience/participants are residents of Koganechō: one goal of the Bazaar was to provide a context for residents to enjoy cultural events within their neighborhood, as well as for them to get involved working with artists and each other. The problem of community apathy is noted prominently in the Bazaar’s own publicity literature.[26] Many of the artworks were designed with a low barrier to participation and to provide a pretext for conversation among as many people as possible. Ideally they could create or strengthen community bonds. In order to minimize the potential for problems and misunderstanding that might arise when trying to rebuild a community through forms that are unfamiliar to most of its residents, architects and artists are usually asked to visit Koganechō to present their work to community members before the Bazaar opens.

Another main audience was the world of public opinion. The Bazaar was undertaken to create a new public image for Koganechō and to create new reasons for outsiders to come to the area. In this sense the Bazaar was an attraction. The artworks and young artists were in dialog with trends in contemporary art, and the Bazaar was timed to coincide with the Triennale, so a good portion of this outside audience had some interest in contemporary art. The Bazaar also carried a message for another outside audience, that of organized crime. For that audience, the work of the AMC, including the Bazaar, was to demonstrate that the neighborhood was no longer theirs.[27] It was in balancing these audiences that some difficulties arose. But before addressing the controversies in the next section, let us look at some of the achievements.

One key feature of the design of the event is captured in its name, the Bazaar. The desire is that art and artists will function for the local residents in a sustainable way. Although the events of the Bazaar are limited to 2-3 months every autumn, artists remain in the neighborhood through the studio and residence program. A bazaar is an integral aspect of community life even though it is episodic, somewhere between the everyday and the festive. The spaces for the Bazaar, as well as individual works, bring people out into the open, especially onto the road along the Ōka River. People coming and going along the Bazaar’s axis create steady outdoor foot traffic, especially on weekends when the riverfront road is closed to motor vehicles. The visitors are as much a part of the Bazaar as the artists, but in a way that allows role differentiation.

A bazaar is defined by exchange, and relies on distributed productivity. A number of artworks involve exchanges of some sort and need participant production to realize. Actual shops are also prominent. A mixture of exhibition, studio, and retail spaces continues to characterize the AMC initiatives. Finally, a bazaar is a space of exchange that accommodates people from far and wide. The main goal of the Bazaar was to create a space that was attractive to both residents and visitors, and would continue to grow out of their interaction.

Accumulation and Duration: Unformal Conversation

Many of the participating artists stay in Koganechō for extended periods of time, and stay near/in their works when they are participating in the Bazaar. Their presence creates the possibility of residents forming lasting bonds with the artists, and of understanding them and their work better. In 2008, works where the artist was present as a participant were some of the most popular among local residents, and were particularly successful at creating opportunities for extended non-monetary exchange. ISHIGAKI Katsuko uses small scale handicrafts to create slowly expanding works of indefinite duration. In her work at the Bazaar Ishigaki provided hundreds of photographs of the sea and sky that she had taken in her native Okinawa. These photographs were cut up into strips about a centimeter wide and set out at a small table where six or seven people could sit. People contributed to the project by winding the strips together to form a ring the size of a bracelet. Each ring was connected to a tapestry of rings that Ishigaki hung over the large window at the rear of the studio. The tapestry slowly grew longer, covering the window and growing out over the floor.

[Ishigaki Katsuko, Workshop: Linking Ring (Tsunagaru wa), detail. Mixed media workshop and installation (2008, at the Koganechō Bazaar). © Ishigaki Katsuko]

[Ishigaki Katsuko, Workshop: Linking Ring (Tsunagaru wa), detail. Mixed media workshop and installation (2008, at the Koganechō Bazaar). © Ishigaki Katsuko]

The form of participation in this work is menial, but participation included more than the task itself. When a group of people gathered, the gathering itself brought more people. Ishigaki herself was often there at the table. On weekends, she was almost always surrounded by a small group of people chatting. According to Ishigaki it was everyday conversation which she did not guide or moderate. She had no agenda or particular goal: this was her first experience with a work that directly involved her presence.[28] Judging by the pattern of participation, it was this conversation rather than the handiwork which was the attraction: I do not recall anyone doing it alone. Ishigaki’s presence was so popular that she was asked to stay on for a few weeks longer than had originally been planned and she ended up working on-site for 60 of the 80 days of the festival.

The resulting tapestry is an accumulation of shared time and labor. The moments captured so easily in photographs have been reworked by many hands, winding great temporal and spatial depth into the tapestry. Ishigaki sees the tapestry as a monument to the shared time of the conversations. But its outward appearance is flat. It is a simple object, which does not transport one as a photograph can, and which as a curtain might be insulating rather than opening. Photographs are treated as a mundane material: not a testament to a specific there and then but a storehouse of anonymous and transient labor which itself is merely the by-product of more compelling and ephemeral enjoyments that are no longer available—an absence that is much more complete than the absent-yet-visible things of photographs. Connection is a significant theme for Ishigaki: the connection between sea and sky, in conversation, and in the links in the final piece among different moments of the work.[29]

Another work along these lines was Wit Pimkanchanapong’s Fruits (2008). This work took the form of a fruit stand inside the exhibition space. To participate, one bought a flat sheet of thick paper that, if cut out, folded, and glued correctly would make a fruit. Assembling the fruit properly could take 20-30 minutes. The small tables set out in front of the stall were often surrounded by people assembling their fruit. The paper fruit could be traded for a real fruit, replaced by the paper one on the fruit stand. This installation became a hang-out for the local volunteers and one of the prime spots where locals met and talked with visitors. Finally, one of the most popular places for children was the sewing workshop of ABE Taisuke. The entire studio was set up as a kind of play area for children, who were free to come and go as they pleased, often stopping in on their way home from school. Abe, KOYANAGI Sawa, and other helpers worked at sewing machines there almost every day, producing large numbers of small, unique objects (mainly stuffed animals) that repurposed old clothes donated by people in the neighborhood. The workshop was a stage for numerous activities, including one where Abe and his helpers sewed stuffed toys for children in a shape the child had designed.

[For image of Fruits visit http://www.Koganechō.net/Koganechō2008/exhibitor_09.html]

[For image of Abe Taisuke’s work see, https://www.Koganechō.net/contents/event-exhibition/event-exhibition-96.html]

A common feature in these works is that the conversation they seed is completely unguided. The content and progress of conversation is not in itself an engine of change. The internal dynamics are not expected to have a particular directionality and they are generic when compared to the unique conceptual and material form of the artwork: although Ishigaki and Pimkanchanapong’s works are different, they are not expected to create correspondingly different kinds of conversation. To the extent that there is a goal of qualitative social transformation, it is something that will be achieved by accumulating a quantitative critical mass over time, not by a specific group of people talking a problem through. The generic form of conversation (not its content, intent, or structure) makes it the medium (not the tool) of change in these pieces. The installations index the conversations, but in the form of understated markers. Paper fruits and small stuffed animals are not compelling in themselves. The person who makes the item has a special bond to it and possibly to the experience of making it. But to the outer public, their effect is quantitative and cumulative, their presence indicating an accumulation of small, constant investments of care.

Multiple Fictions

Many of the site specific works at the Bazaar encourage playful looking and exploration: orientations that could reopen the neighborhood, in people’s movement and in a new mindset that did not recognize the domination of the sex market. Craig Walsh’s outdoor installation Classification Pending (2008), projected dim, fleeting shadows on the surface of the Ōka River that made it seem there was an unidentifiable sea creature swimming in it. The viewer had to wait and watch carefully to catch a glimpse of what looked like something massive sliding by below the surface of the water. It disappeared too quickly to point out: each person had to see it for themselves.

In another example, KIMURA Ryōko created a choose-your-own-adventure style romantic simulation that required participants to make choices in order to drive the narrative’s plot, and move to different spots around Koganechō accordingly to find the next chapter in the story. Titled Be My Model (2014), the game was premised on a female erotic gaze. The participant was in pursuit of one of four handsome young artists living in Koganechō, who Kimura depicted at various scales at different stages of the narrative. The largest, near-life-sized, were at the opening of the story, the smallest appeared at the story’s close, as portraits on the pages of a book. The depictions and stories abound with sly humor, and the piece does serious work in flipping the expectation that visualization of a sexual gaze (in art or in a sex market) must be organized from a male perspective.

[Kimura Ryōko, Be My Model, Stage 1 (2014, installed at Koganechō Bazaar), ©RyokoKimura]

[Kimura Ryōko, Be My Model, Stage 1 (2014, installed at Koganechō Bazaar), ©RyokoKimura]

[Left: Kimura Ryōko, Be My Model, Stage 2. Japanese pigments, silver leaf, on cedar board (2014, installed at Koganechō Bazaar), ©RyokoKimura. Text reads: “I think of nothing but you when I am carving.”]

[Kimura Ryōko, Be My Model, Stage 2. Japanese pigments, silver leaf, on cedar board (2014, installed at Koganechō Bazaar), ©RyokoKimura. Text reads: “I think of nothing but you when I am carving.”]

[Right: Kimura Ryōko, Be My Model, Stage 2. Japanese pigments, silver leaf, on washi paper (2014, installed at Koganechō Bazaar), ©RyokoKimura. Text reads: “I want to sublimate your beauty, the very warmth of your body into the beauty of my painting.”]

[Kimura Ryōko, Be My Model, Stage 2. Japanese pigments, silver leaf, on washi paper (2014, installed at Koganechō Bazaar), ©RyokoKimura. Text reads: “I want to sublimate your beauty, the very warmth of your body into the beauty of my painting.”]































Other examples abound, from murals to maps to comic books set in the neighborhood, that use fictional projection as a trigger for curiosity. “Fiction” is a recurring term in Yamano Shingo’s writing. His catch phrase for the 2008 Bazaar was “true like fiction (uso no yōna hontō no hanashi),” while the title of the 2014 Bazaar was “Fictive Communities Asia.”[30] Building a new community required engaging in shared fictionalizing in the present, which would not necessarily indicate where the community should go, but that it could get there. Rather than art responding directly to particular needs, and rather than art becoming a process or vehicle for the voice of the community, the artworks of the Bazaar draw people into performances that are fictional in the sense that their figuration is not taken to exert substantive, normative visions of the future (i.e., the artworks are not prototypes), but whose fictional pretexts seed actual collectives in actual places, induce actual patterns of place-making behavior and expectation, and encourage playful forms of looking and exploration, all of which are understood to have been stunted by the dominance of the illegal sex market. As with the pieces discussed above, we see that the event of participation is not teleological in itself—it is not necessarily transformational, but rather a medium of social change. The change proceeds through that medium, but cumulatively rather than narratively.

The Past as Absence

Because part of the Bazaar’s mission was to change the image of Koganechō in the public imagination, its past as an entertainment district has never been a major emphasis. But it is not invisible. A number of works have referenced the sex trade and other aspects of the area’s history over the years, the condition being that the past must remain in the past. Sex work must be framed as absent.

One of the most powerful installation works at the 2008 Bazaar was KITAGAWA Takayoshi’s aftersensation before sleep. It was the largest in scale and one of the most talked-about. The site was a two-story building, a single-family residence later split into two sex shops. Koganechō’s sex shops were narrow, deep, two story units. The first floor, set up like a tiny bar, was where the worker waited for customers. Upstairs was a bed or mattress. Under the stairs, behind the bar area was a shower stall. Kitagawa left that structure intact but opened holes in the walls to rejoin the two units. Visitors entered through one door, went upstairs, through the bedrooms, down a different set of stairs, and exited by a different door. Pressed board was fixed along all the interior walls, and was drilled with regularly spaced, quarter-sized holes. Kitagawa installed lights on dimmers and timers between the original walls and the perforated walls. They brightened and dimmed slowly, in a rhythm like deep breathing. Each room upstairs had a tightly made bed with starched white sheets but no blankets and no other furniture. Small pieces of plastic tubing sprung out of the beds and slowly dripped water into stainless steel orifices also installed in the surfaces of the beds. On the first floor, the shower room near the exit was rigged with half a dozen shower heads whose hoses snaked out over the ceiling and behind the walls. These were also on a timer so that water surged and subsided at long, slightly irregular intervals. This sound could be heard throughout the interior but could not be identified until just before the exit. Although gothic and rhythmic, the execution was clean, sparse, and hard-edged.

[Kitagawa Takayoshi, aftersensation before sleep, details. Multi-media installation (2008, installed at Koganechō Bazaar). © Kitagawa Takayoshi]

[Kitagawa Takayoshi, aftersensation before sleep, details. Multi-media installation (2008, installed at Koganechō Bazaar). © Kitagawa Takayoshi]





[Kitagawa Takayoshi, aftersensation before sleep, details. Multi-media installation (2008, installed at Koganechō Bazaar). © Kitagawa Takayoshi]

[Kitagawa Takayoshi, aftersensation before sleep, details. Multi-media installation (2008, installed at Koganechō Bazaar). © Kitagawa Takayoshi]


































The elements can be read allegorically: the breathing of the beast behind the walls, fluids exchanged in mechanical fashion, drips and rhythms suggesting the intractability of work and erosion, private space pierced by peepholes. Yet the space was obliquely suggestive rather than insistent, allowing the imagination to play by preventing it from settling on the symbolism of any one element. The consistency and reticence of the design created an immersive yet open-ended environment like walking through someone else’s memory or the self-estrangement at the edge of sleep. Elements like the beds placed so sparely against the walls were slightly less than what one had in mind, but approximations of things that were once more specific. They themselves were shadows whose presence, like the actual lights and shadows, slid away from definitive identification. The poise of the installation brought imagination and sympathy out of a process of self-estrangement without showing where that projection of feeling should be bound.

[Kitagawa Takayoshi, aftersensation before sleep, detail. Multi-media installation (2008, installed at Koganechō Bazaar). © Kitagawa Takayoshi]

[Kitagawa Takayoshi, aftersensation before sleep, detail. Multi-media installation (2008, installed at Koganechō Bazaar). © Kitagawa Takayoshi]

























By 2008 sex work had been gone from Koganechō for nearly three years and the fate of the sex workers remains a mystery. We do not know how many were arrested and how many moved on to other places. Kitagawa’s installation opened the question of their ghostly yet weighty absence and, in a non-confrontational manner, drew out some emotional relation to what was no longer there. A college student I met who had grown up in the house behind the site told me he had come through the installation many times. He found it moving—a space that made him remember how he had felt in the past, when he could hear voices from inside the building but could not see. I myself felt sadness and regret, directed towards the past, as if it were part of a memory that had been lying dormant. My feelings however, may well have been precious and poorly grounded. The work provided a space within the Bazaar that encouraged expanded sensitivity, but framed it around absence in the present: an accommodating if uncanny form of otherness. Thus aftersensation before sleep’s success at creating a space for contemplation worked by delineating a site of privilege—at least in my case.

Works that invoked the sex trade as something potentially present were problematic, particularly for the Kogane-X group. To my knowledge there are three works that ran afoul of this unwritten rule that I discuss in the next section. There are also artists who have appeared in the Bazaar while being controversial. Kimuratoshirōjinjin is one such artist. Kimura is a trained ceramicist and an accomplished drag queen performer. His practice consists of a single scenario titled Nodate—a ceramics workshop followed by an outdoor tea ceremony (known traditionally as nodate) that he holds in different outdoor locations, while dressed in full drag and makeup. He uses a small kiln of his own design that is attached to a wheeled cart he can push by himself from place to place. Kimuratoshirōjinjin’s presence creates a carnival-like scene, theatrically transforming the space into an event by the glory of the impeccable drag persona, together with the incongruous peddler’s cart which has its own colorful umbrella perched above it. Kimura never repeats Nodate in the same place or with the same outfit. Compared to Kimuratoshirōjinjin’s theatrical presence, participation in the ceramics workshop is low-key and loosely conversational. Participants are provided an unglazed tea mug which they decorate as they please with glazes. Jinjin fires the pieces in the kiln, transforming the milky glaze into unexpected colors. Finally the tea ceremony lifts the attention from the worktable to the other participants, and provides and easy entre to conversation in the form of others’ work.

[For images visit:]

Kimura held seven Nodate events at the 2008 Bazaar, but a number of people involved in the Bazaar shared with me that the events were controversial among the organizers. His flamboyant drag figure was taken as a visual reference to sex work. Clubs that feature transvestite and transsexual hosts are not uncommon in Japan or Yokohama. For his part, Kimura was openly critical of the Bazaar’s discriminatory attitude towards sex workers and willingly engaged others in conversation about it. He came of age artistically in the early 1990s and was involved in AIDS activism at the time. The discourse sometimes used by the Kogane-X group, which linked foreignness, AIDS, crime, and sex work to mark the sex workers as others, was all too familiar. He participated in the Bazaar to make a statement.[31] On one occasion when Nodate was held on the heavily policed promenade, he wore a drag version of a policeman’s uniform.

In summary, the Bazaar does include locally focused historical and ethnographic works, but it does not give them any special emphasis. Its general curatorial direction is unmistakably future- and outer-oriented. Perhaps its greatest curatorial achievement over its ten years of operation has been in supporting a new generation of Asian artists and in building strong connections with art spaces and networks in East and Southeast Asia. Koganechō may come to be known as a stopping point or an incubator for young artists. That is not something to criticize, but it illustrates how the Bazaar has not been conceived to deal explicitly with the area’s past. Although the Bazaar’s curation was not directly related to police policy, the irrelevance of the area’s past to the curation is arguably connected to the totality of the police crackdown, which left Koganechō a blank slate of sorts, “a ghost town” according to the most common phrasing. The area’s history did not have an embodied presence in post-2005 Koganechō. It was available as a reference for artists, but one that was essentially arbitrary to what the Bazaar was trying to do.

Based on its own standards and framing, I would judge the Bazaar a moderate success. It is not yet clear that artist studios and an annual art event will generate a viable new direction for the area’s economy. As the years pass, it seems less likely the area will revert to a sex market, but the majority of narrow store fronts remain shuttered and the back streets are deserted when the Bazaar is not running. The cumulative logic that underlies the project is labor intensive and it is hard to see it generating enduring forms of common life without greater integration into people’s daily wants and needs. Nonetheless it has served as a flexible structure for community involvement: although the group of citizens actively engaged in the planning is quite small, there is general goodwill towards the Bazaar. It has introduced a new identity to the area and provided many new contexts for people both inside and outside to enjoy spending time there.

The subjects of the Koganechō Bazaar—the loci and agents of social change—are middle class citizens, almost like burghers in the sense that they are between being “just residents” and being invested with official power. If we accommodate ourselves to that fact, the management of the Bazaar is a masterpiece of collaboration between the local subjects and the director Yamano, who has invested ten years of work in the project, living a few minutes walk from Koganechō for about half the year. He has developed a deep understanding of the entire neighborhood and gained the confidence of the representatives of the community in the process of meeting with them formally and informally on an almost daily basis. That kind of understanding, along with the continuity in curation and project management, would not have been possible as a one-off event or, indeed, if the curator were less welcoming and able to listen to what people have to say.[32]

Evaluating the Koganechō Bazaar

The Bazaar, and the AMC’s revitalization project more widely, have been controversial. In Japan that controversy has focused primarily on the question of artistic freedom, with the Bazaar illustrating the artistic pitfalls of community revitalization projects. The close involvement of local leaders and the prominence of “safety and security” and “town clean up (jōka)” in the project’s goals have led many to dismiss it as a tool of social administration (gyōsei). The normative assumption of this critique is that art must fundamentally embody free expression that is exercised with no reference to surrounding community demands, or, more aggressively, must actively destabilize everyday values.[33] As noted in my introduction, these critiques are not from the perspective of socially engaged or new public art criticism: their target is not social administration per se but its proximity to art. Even accepting that standpoint, however, the critique has little basis.

The Bazaar is undeniably subject to the local context: that is part of its concept. All of the artworks must be at least tacitly acceptable to the stakeholders in the Area Management Center: representatives from the neighborhood associations, PTA, ward and city offices, and the police, in addition to the architects, curators, and artists. That limits the kind of artwork that can be displayed. But this kind of limitation is no different from what is encountered in other thematically curated exhibitions. Only open submission Independent-style exhibitions can avoid the critique that they limit free expression. Yamano and a small group of curators judge the proposals submitted in response to annual open calls, rejecting some of them because they are not appropriate to the exhibition, as would any curator.

Beyond this, there is one case where the community demanded an artwork be altered after it was installed, as well as cases where projects of invited artists were rejected by the community at the proposal stage. The work that had to be altered was WADA Mitsuhito’s Behind Blue Light Yokohama (2009), organized by BankART (not the Bazaar). The artist installed colored film over windows and glass doorways in a handful of buildings around Yokohama, making the buildings glow from within when the lights were turned on at night. For the building in Koganechō, Wada chose magenta (essentially deep pink). Soon after the installation went up, the Cleanup Promotion Council issued a complaint and requested a meeting with Wada and IKEDA Osamu, the director of BankART, where they settled on the solution of changing the color to blue. There is no evidence Wada intended any message in his color choice and there was no accusation that he had. Rather, the Cleanup Promotion Council objected that it stirred up negative feelings by reminding them of the sex shops that had been there before. They were also concerned that the work showed disrespect to the police: the BankART-managed building that was emitting a deep pink glow was located right next to a new neighborhood police sub-station (kōban). Finally, they argued that public safety was still extremely fragile, so that even such a small thing (ari no ikketsu) might be the thin end of a wedge that would crack it.[34]

A similar problem lies behind two works by invited artists that never made it into the first Bazaar in 2008. The first was submitted by a photographer who eventually took part in the Bazaar after he submitted a different proposal. His original proposal involved overt reference to popular photography of sex workers such as pornographic film posters and profile photos displayed outside massage parlors and sex shops. According to the photographer his proposal was not actually rejected: after a few weeks of not hearing back from the the curators (Yamano and Amano Tarō), he submitted another proposal that was accepted.[35] In the second instance, the proposal was rejected not by the curators but by the Kogane-X group. This work was to involve the awnings which had become a symbol for the sex trade.[36] The artist discussed the work with local leaders but in the end the artist withdrew.

What these works share is that they invoke past visual proxies of the sex trade and bring them back to public life in the present. Reference to the sex trade as something past is acceptable. Most AMC and Bazaar publicity materials mention the area’s past. The guidebook to the 2008 Bazaar has the word “textbook (dokuhon)” in its title as an indicator of how much contextual information it includes. As discussed above, a number of works at the Bazaar have referenced the sex trade, though they are not advertised as doing so. Critiques of the Bazaar itself appear occasionally in its own publications. In 2012, FUTOYU Masaharu installed Machizukuri no tame no purojekuto / Koganechō (Project for community renovation / Koganechō) in which he paid a day laborer to live inside a hut he had built from wood scraps inside the exhibition space (a storefront that opened onto the street). The space (and the worker’s life) was monitored 24/7 on a closed circuit camera. The work is open to interpretation (parodying the heavy police surveillance, calling attention to the invisibility of certain classes of labor, bringing the people ejected from Koganechō back, etc.), but its title clearly invites reflexive awareness of the Bazaar itself. A number of critics have praised the work, some interpreting it as a provocation that disrobed the Bazaar, revealing what it was trying to hide.[37] Nevertheless, Futoyu was invited to participate again in 2014. Given these cases, it is difficult to say that the Bazaar is generally hostile to artistic freedom or even reference to sex work, so long as it is framed as something past.

[For images of Futoyu Masaharu’s work visit]

The critique of artistic freedom is therefore weak on its own terms. Such critiques are not primarily concerned with inclusion, access, and diversity of participation, as socially engaged and new public art criticism would be. It is by those standards that the Koganechō Bazaar has structural shortcomings. I introduce two.

The first involves the tightly defined local control of the AMC and the Bazaar. While it is true that the local leaders who began their movement in the early 2000s are not public officials, they work so closely with local government and the police that there seems to be little effective difference, especially to those on the outside of the structure. The consistent presence of about a dozen community leaders over the past decade indicates that there is little change in leadership.

Concomitant to this, the strategy of the AMC is focused on direct control of space rather than exploring and fostering diverse connections. One of the AMC’s main functions as an NPO is to manage buildings and spaces in the area. Because they see the shuttered former sex shops as a form of blight, regeneration means getting control of them and reopening them as rentable offices, residences, studios, meeting, or exhibition spaces. The AMC manages 90 such spaces, many of which are used in the artist-in-residence program, and has a section on its website inviting people with an unused space to contact them about managing it.[38] The primary model is one of reoccupying the neighborhood, one space at a time. That strategy is clearly antithetical to the ethics of conversation and collaboration as a way to bridge difficult divides.

Grant Kester’s analysis of the Adivasi is interesting for showing how claiming space is a tactical necessity in some situations. In Koganechō we might say that the AMC is justified in reclaiming space from organized crime gangs but the situation is not that simple: many of the actors in Koganechō are neither. And there is evidence that the AMC and the Bazaar have had trouble building common cause with those outside their leadership. In 2007, before the Koganechō Bazaar began, there was was a small group of people who had different ideas about the shape of the imagined public that might fill the space left by the closure of the sex market. This group, at first only three people, did not hail from Koganechō but they heard about the police crackdown because it was covered in the media. Their motivation to come to the area sprung from a certain nostalgia. One member described that he had grown up in a nondescript suburb and areas like Koganechō had always held a “mystique (miryoku).”[39] He describes Koganechō as “deep (dīpu),” meaning that it has a complexly sedimented history and associations with low class urban neighborhoods left relatively untouched by urban renewal since the 1960s.

The group called themselves the Koganechō Project (Koganechō Purojekuto), and rented a storefront in Koganechō to hold meetings about what could be done to bring the neighborhood back to life. A dozen or so volunteers became involved; their vision formed around the idea of excavating and memorializing its lost “deep” character. They published one issue of zine, Koganechō Rasshu, which carried a round-table discussion among three madams from local pubs (sunakku) who had lived and worked in the area most of their lives, and a conversation between photographer MORI Hideo and filmmaker NAKAMURA Takayuki, whose main subject was an aging madam from Yokohama.[40] The Koganechō project was interested in creating a public image for Koganechō where the memory of the informal drinking establishments and the sex trade was preserved as a locus of nostalgic attachment and focus of research. That vision was at odds with the Kogane-X desire to wipe Koganechō’s image clean. The composition of the two groups also contrast: the Kogane-X group was made up of community and business leaders, local officials, and people with families, while the Koganechō Project was made up of young outsiders who were interested in connecting with the small bar and restaurant owners.

The Koganechō Project officially disbanded at the end of 2007, about a year before the first Bazaar. This was partly because the aging owner of a local movie theater recruited the group to take it over and run it as an art space and independent theater. That work began to pull them away from Koganechō. But there was also some push. My conversations with city officials revealed that Kogane-X did not like the Koganechō Project: their work was taken to be romanticizing the sex trade. The disagreement did not come out into the open: there were no direct confrontations. Indeed, it was city officials who mediated the friction, making it clear to the Koganechō Project that residents had negative feelings towards their work. The opportunity to take over the movie theater in the neighborhood just across the river, presented a satisfactory outlet to resolve the disagreement. But at least one member of the group felt that they had been pressured to end the project.[41] The incident shows how the Kogane-X group’s vision came to turf out those with different ones.

There are many anecdotes along similar lines. An older man in the neighborhood told me how he had proposed a number of ideas including a jazz spot to the Kogane-X group and the city, but had been rebuffed at every turn.[42] Managers of small cafes and bars in the area that are not under the Kogane-X umbrella report invasive police practices. One recalled being stopped by police on suspicion of improper garbage disposal when he was carrying a bag of garbage to the designated pickup spot. He was taken to the police station, fingerprinted, questioned, and released without charge.[43] Independent writer DANBARA Terukazu reports similar incidents.[44] People outside the small group of local leaders receive no help from the city or ward and sometimes face antagonism. Their structured exclusion from the conversation of how to rebuild Koganechō’s commerce and culture is not defensible from a perspective that values inclusion. When the subjects of the project are middle class citizens who enjoy local power, the enclosure acts that may be warranted in other cases are not justifiable, and may be counterproductive even from a redevelopment perspective because it creates an inhospitable environment for legitimate businesses.

I turn finally to the question of whether redevelopment may be constitutionally ill-fitted to addressing a wider scope of human concerns. As discussed above, the curation of the Bazaar as a whole has been successful in its aims of creating community self-awareness and beginning to change Koganechō’s image in the public mind. But does the Bazaar provide a prototype for considering issues beyond the community’s own interests? Perhaps urban revitalization itself is a generalizable context. There are any number of researchers in architecture, urban design, and sociology who study such projects, and public officials share information to develop best practices. But while recognizing the sphere of experts and public servants and the value of information exchange within it, one cannot confuse this sphere with the public at large. It is a common feature of collective life for people to want to protect or improve their surroundings, but the majority of people lack the power and resources to do that. One example would be the Cleanup Promotion Council’s position before the police crackdown. They were forced by the contradictions of Japan’s laws and customs regarding sex work, to live in an area where both sexual and economic greed dominated public space. The economy of the sex market cohered through violence and inequity and left no room for a different public. Though they bravely tried to project a different idea of the community, they had no power to make it stick.

That power came through the involvement of the police, ward, and city. This is of undeniable value to the residents of Koganechō, but how generalizable is their experience? The broader question, one that is shared by more people, is the question of how communities can begin to gain some control over their public image and lived conditions at all. The question faced by the Bazaar, however, was that of how to shape public image and lived space once the power to do so was granted. This is a question that few communities in Japan, and far fewer worldwide, have the benefit of facing, and is the reason that I argue the Bazaar provides little insight into how communities that lack the means of expression might come to grips with the problems they face through collaborative work with artists. This lack of issue-oriented focus may also relate to the cumulative logic of many pieces.

Further, this limitation inhering in the institutionalization of the Bazaar resulted in a substantive opportunity being missed. The community of Koganechō was undeniably victimized by the growth and rationalization of the illegal sex trade. Unenforceable laws, inconsistent police enforcement, and a lack of political will all contributed to a flourishing sex trade dominated by organized crime. The public is generally unconcerned with the sex trade unless it impinges on daily life. Areas that end up as the dumping grounds for these contradictions suffer the consequences but remain powerless to change the situation. The Bazaar—for being held in Koganechō—offered a unique opportunity for these problems to become public in a new way. But rather than the Bazaar becoming the space for a voice that is rarely heard in Japan, it became a way of publicly disowning that experience. Though we can understand why the AMC might not want to dwell on an unpleasant chapter in the neighborhood’s history, what was lost in the urge to imagine a new Koganechō was any consideration of a larger social problem that would continue to wreak violence.

Finally there is the question of the sex workers themselves. Although they did not live in the shops where they worked, the police crackdown on their workplaces likely displaced them to other locations in Japan or led to their deportation, in cases where they had been arrested. The Kogane-X group, the Bazaar, and the AMC bear no direct responsibility for that eviction. But it is also undeniable that the eviction of the sex workers has largely fulfilled their definition of a “clean” environment. With the sex workers gone, the confrontation between Kogane-X and organized crime was also mostly defused.[45] Although there are citizen’s movements in Japan which have directly confronted organized crime, the Kogane-X group and AMC did not. “Cleaning up” the neighborhood has essentially been synonymous with the forcible removal of the neighborhood’s weakest and least enfranchised members. Though the sex workers were the most visible manifestation of the sex trade in the public space of Koganechō, they were also the least responsible for its existence. More than the residents, they were subject to its dangers. There is no evidence that the plight of sex workers was ever part of discussions among the Kogane-X group. To the contrary, the discourse of some local leaders often reflects a lack of empathy for sex workers, emphasizing their foreignness, their lack of ability to fit in, and their association with AIDS.

From the perspective of business-owning or land-owning residents of the area, that position is common sense. But it is in altering such common sense that socially engaged art has the most important role to play. Can we imagine a space where the experiences of the victims of the illegal sex trade—Koganechō residents and sex workers—could be recognized and take some public shape? It might seem impossible, but it is in relation to these impossible situations that new public art has its most important work. It is in missing the opportunity to move beyond common sense and to work through, if only provisionally, the global problems of illegal sex work, that the Koganechō Bazaar had its greatest failure. Not only did the Bazaar refuse to allow public consideration of the ongoing contradictions of illegal sex work, but seemed to accommodate itself to the most superficial engagement with the damage to people and communities it could cause, one which demanded only that it not happen around here, within view.

Concluding Thoughts

The Koganechō Bazaar is typical of Japan’s revitalization-linked art projects in that it forms a complicated object of study, fractured by expectations attending different disciplines and scales of analysis. As I have argued, the Bazaar as a whole is not entirely successful as socially engaged or new public art, to the extent that the subjects of the project are empowered middle-class citizens and that it does not demonstrate how art can address a pressing, broadly shared human concern.

That does not mean, however, that none of the 100+ artworks that have appeared in the Bazaar over the last decade have failed on those counts. Many examples could be approached as successful works: Lifepatch studied the ecology of the Ōka River together with people they met along the riverside (2014); YEH Chen Yu gathered recipes from immigrants living in Koganechō and held workshops, meals, and exhibitions linked to them (2014); JUN Bokyung created a video work together with a local artisinal maker of traditional snacks, TANIGUCHI Yasutoshi, in which Taniguchi performed highly stylized versions of the bodily practices involved in his work (2017). At the scale of individual artworks or projects there are many different terms and trajectories of success.

It also does not mean that the quality of collaboration among artists, art directors, and the Bazaar’s subjects was faulty or in bad faith. The internal practices of the Bazaar are a model of long-running collaboration, held together over ten years by a small group of active local leaders and Yamano Shingo, who have struggled with ever-changing levels of support from the city. In this collaboration, it is difficult to say the local people have been closed-minded in a general sense. Given that they started with no knowledge of contemporary art and have worked with artists from many countries on a range of projects, they have not unilaterally deployed artists without themselves changing in the process. Nor does the Koganechō Bazaar fail by prescribing a definite goal: other than sex work, the future is open to just about anything. It is difficult to see major shortcomings from within the horizon of the project itself.

Shortcomings appear only when one steps outside it. From that perspective, it seems that art has come to stand in for diversity and change, rather than to incite it more broadly. Rather than art rippling out into a more general expansiveness towards others and towards the future, art is invested as the privileged site and form of that expansiveness. In her defense of government sponsored creativity, Doris Sommer distinguishes between the “auteur model” and “chorus effect” of fascist-sponsored art and the “democratic form” and “ripple effect” of democratically-sponsored art.[46] The Koganechō Bazaar does not remotely look fascist: its extreme variety and lack of visual, tonal, or thematic unity hardly create a “chorus effect.” It is expansive in its concept of art, giving special emphasis to approachable participatory forms, support for emerging artists, and local creativity in approved guises. But its administration has elements of an auteur model. It controls the spaces where the art happens and is indifferent to local creative endeavors that it cannot link into its power structure. It is “open to all,” but only within the spaces it can control. There is thus a mismatch between the democratic impulse of its arts and the control-focused orientation of its administration.

The effect of the mismatch is to limit the possible ripple effects of the artworks. Rather than activating everyone to reconsider their surroundings and situated actions, the Bazaar invites visitors and potential participants to contribute to a context which is already partially bounded and thus distanced from the less orderly and predictable context of everyday life. Sommer shows how, during Antanas Mockus’ term as mayor in Bogota, artistic intervention became a mode of engaged citizenship, interrupting habits of lawlessness and complacency and allowing new ones to develop through real-world play. But art in Koganechō was never asked to interrupt an ongoing problem: that had already been done by the police. The Bazaar’s task was to fill the artificial void left by the police’s use of force, but without reference to the root problem of organized crime and illegal sex work. That gap between the social conditions of the site and the role of art creates an insulating layer between art and life. The civic ripple effects that Sommer invokes cannot propagate in a vacuum. But in Koganechō, art has been asked to seed new forms of sociality in a space that is taken to be socially empty. While individual artists and artworks have engaged people in the neighborhood, individual projects are relatively short-lived and are not curated to engage directly with the operating power structures in the area. Without such a focus, even participation, conversation, and collaboration come to function as generic form, as the scenery of a civic life to come rather than techniques of civic change in themselves.

Justin Jesty is assistant professor of Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Washington, where he researches the relationship between visual arts and social movements in postwar Japan. His book Art and Engagement in Early Postwar Japan, is expected out in fall 2018 from Cornell University Press. He has published articles on the realism debate in the arts in the late 1940s, photographer Hamaya Hiroshi’s documentation of the 1960 Anpo protests, and the Minamata documentaries of Tsuchimoto Noriaki.

• The author would like to thank all those who cooperated in this research and to recognize the Hōsei University International Fellows program for their support of research in Japan in 2008-09, as well as the Japan Program at the University of Washington and the Association for Asian Studies’ Northeast Asia Council for their support of research in 2014 and 2017. I also thank participants in the 2017 Japan Arts and Globalization Works-in-Progress Retreat held at UCLA/Lake Arrowhead for valuable input and Adrian Favell for advice during rewriting.

Thumbnail image: Kimura Ryōko, Be My Model, detail (2014), ©RyokoKimura

1. My research consists of 53 interviews with artists, organizers, volunteers, residents, and visitors, over approximately 50 site visits (mostly in 2008-09, but also in 2014 and 2017). Information about the Bazaar is available on the Koganechō Area Management Center website ( and in annual documentary reports and guidebooks: Suzuki Nobuharu, ed., Koganecho Bazaar Guidebook and Textbook (Yokohama: Koganechō Bazāru Jikkōiinkai, 2008); Koganechō Bazaar Office, ed., Koganecho Bazaar Report (Yokohama: The Organizing Committee for the Koganechō Bazaar, 2009); momoko johansson, ed., Obake Puresu Koganechō Bazāru 2013 Tokubetsugō (Obake Press Koganechō Bazaar 2013 Special Edition) (Yokohama: Obake Puresu Studio, 2013); Suzuki Nobuharu, ed., Koganechō Dokuhon (All About Koganecho) (Yokohama City University, 2014); and, all edited and published by the Koganechō Area Management Center: Koganecho Annual Report 2009 (2011); Koganecho Annual Report 2010 (2012); Koganecho Annual Report 2011 (2012); Koganecho Bazaar 2012 Documents (2013); Koganecho Bazaar 2015: Art Together with the Town Documentary Videos (2015); Fictive Communities Asia—Koganecho Bazaar 2014 Documents (2016).

2. KAJIYA Kenji, “Japanese Art Projects in History,” FIELD 7 (Spring 2017); KAWASHIMA Nobuko, “The Development of Art Projects in Japan: Policy and Economic Perspectives,” FIELD 8 (Fall 2017); Adrian Favell, “Socially Engaged Art in Japan: Mapping the Pioneers,” FIELD 7 (Spring 2017).

3. FUJITA Naoya, “Zen’ei no zonbitachi: chiiki āto no shomondai (Zombies of the Avant-garde: the Problems with Regional Art), in Chiiki āto: bigaku/seido/Nihon (Regional Art: Aesthetics/Institutions/Japan) (Tokyo: Horinouchi, 2015), pp.11-44.

4. It has been argued that gentrification is relevant to the Koganechō Bazaar but there is little evidence of that yet. In the 10 years since the Bazaar opened and 13 years since the closing of the sex market, there has been relatively little change in the neighborhood, with the exception of one large apartment building at the tip of the neighborhood closest to the harbor. Two or three other modest buildings have gone up but overall the area’s character and resident profile remains the same as a decade ago. See also FUKUZUMI Ren, “Sōzōryoku to iu riro: ‘Koganechō Bazaru’ to toshi saikaihatsu o megutte (The logic of imagination: on the Koganechō Bazaar and urban redevelopment),” 10+1 (July 2013). Available at

5. Suzanne Lacy, ed., Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art (Seattle: Bay Press, 1995), p. 11.

6. Grant H. Kester, The One and the Many: Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), p.81.

7. It is important to emphasize that Japan’s art projects are not all centered on development. Many are not, and have less ambivalent subjects. Examples can be found in UEDA Kanayo and TAKEHISA Yuu’s articles in the previous issue of FIELD (see “Isolation and Neighboring Relations in Osaka’s Kamagasaki,” FIELD 7 (Spring 2017) and “After the Exhibition Artists and the Disaster,” FIELD 7 (Spring 2017); the eight projects featured in Arts Maebashi’s Forest of Expression: Art as a Communal Act exhibition (see; as well as projects with immigrant and minority communities such as those documented at Immigration Museum Tokyo ( and in Dokyumento YAKINIKU: Ātisuto akushon in Edagawa (Document Yakiniku: Artist Action in Edagawa) (Tokyo: Artist Action, 2013).

8. HAYAKAWA Masayuki, “Kanagawa keisatsu ni okeru kanrakugai sōgō taisaku (“Comprehensive entertainment district revitalization in the Kanagawa Police”), Keisatsu kōron (Police review) 61, no. 9 (September 2006), pp.39-40.

9. Interview with local leader conducted on May 14, 2009.

10. This national plan was settled on at a joint meeting of the Cabinet Council on Crime Prevention (Hanzai Taisaku Kakuryō Kaiji) and the National Headquarters for Urban Revitalization (Toshi Saisei Honbu) in June 2005. The Cabinet Council on Crime Prevention issued the “National Development Plan for Safe and Secure Community Development (Anzen anshinna machizukuri zenkoku tenkai puran),” while the National Headquarters for Urban Revitalization included their initiative in the wider “Urban Revitalization Project (Toshi Saisei Purojekuto).” See Toshi Saisei REPORT no.6 (July 20, 2005).

11. Kogancehō Area Management Website, (Accessed November 2017).

12. TAKEHANA Yutaka, “Hankagai taisaku no seikō wa chian kaifuku no shōchō (The success of amusement area revitalization is a symbol of regaining security”), Keisatsu Kōron (Police review) 61, no.9 (September 2006), p.13.

13. TAKASHIMA Hideki, “‘Minami chiku’ kanrakugai sōgō taisaku no suishin jōkyō to kongo no taiō (“Progress to date and future response under the comprehensive entertainment district revitalization in the ‘Minami area’”), Keisatsu Kōron (Police review) 61, no.9 (September 2006), p.24.

14. Interview with Kanagawa Police, July 30, 2009. Also see Hayakawa (note 9).

15. The ownership of these shuttered premises is shadowy and complex. Landlords profited by being able to charge high rents for the sex shops, and it is assumed that they would be happy to see them reopen. NHK News broadcast, July 22, 2009.

16 . Robert Pekkanen, Japan’s Dual Civil Society: Members Without Advocates (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2006), p.87.

17. Interview conducted on May 14, 2009.

18. The Cleanup Promotion Council (Kogane-X) included a publicity section and government officials emphasized the importance of media attention. Interview with Yokohama city officials, March 1, 2009.

19. Interviews with members, June 4, 2009, and with city officials, March 1, 2009.

20. For an analysis of Koganechō in the context of the creative city initiative see Hideaki SASAJIMA, “From red light district to art district: Creative city projects in Yokohama’s Kogane-cho neighborhood,” Cities 33 (Aug. 2013): pp.77-85.

21. Interviews conducted October-November, 2008. Twenty-four of these were conducted November 25-27, 2008 with owners of businesses along the Hirado-Sakuragi Road. Two were with cafe/bar owners. One was with a former owner of shops underneath the elevated train tracks.

22. Area Management Center Website, http://www.Koganechō.net/info/index.html.

23. See Yamano Shingo, MIYAMOTO Hatsune, KURODA Raiji, eds., Museum City Project 1990-200X (Fukuoka: Museum City Project Publishing, 2003).

24. Interview with Yamano, 2009. Also see Museum City Project, ed., Public Discussion: WochenKlausur suggests new relationship between art and society (Fukuoka: Museum City Project, 2000).

25. Amano Tarō in 2008, Makiko HARA in 2014, and KUBOTA Kenji in 2017.

26. Suzuki Nobuharu, “Why the Koganechō Bazaar?,” in Koganechō Bazaar Guidebook and Textbook, pp.14-15.

27. Author interview with city officials, March 1, 2009.

28. Interview with artist, Nov. 2008; email interview, Dec. 19, 2008.

29. Ibid. The piece also can be interpreted as a critique of mainland relations with Okinawa but that is not the artist’s interpretation.

30. Yamano Shingo, “An Unbelievable True Story,” in Koganechō Bazaar Guidebook and Textbook, pp.78-79.

31. Interview with artist, Dec. 1, 2008.

32. This is primarily my own judgment but others voice similar views. Notably, the independent non-fiction writer Danbara Terukazu, who is otherwise highly critical of the Koganechō redevelopment initiatives, makes a point of saying how open and considerate Yamano is. Koganechō kuronikuru (Koganechō Chronicle), 2014.

33. Fujita Naoya (see note 3).

34. A letter titled “BankART Sakurasō sakuhin tekkyo no ketsugisho (Resolution that BankART Sakurasō remove their artwork),” was submitted to BankART by the Hatsukō Hinodechō Kankyō Jōka Suishin Kyōgikai (Town Cleanup Promotion Council) on Oct. 31, 2009. There are minutes from a meeting “Sakurasō no tenji sakuhin ni tsuite (About the work displayed at Sakurasō),” held at the Yokohama City Creative City Promotion Section on Nov. 2, 2009.

35. Interview conducted on December 16, 2008.

36. I have not been able to contact the artist and so cannot fully describe the proposal, but the artist wanted to paint the awnings white.

37. SAITO Makoto, “Anshin, anzen, oshare kūkan to haijo no kōzō: Koganechō ni okeru Futoyu Masaharu no āto wāku (Safe, secure, stylish space and the structure of exclusion: the artwork of Futoyu Masaharu in Koganechō),” in Futoyu Masaharu, ed., Machizukuri no tame no purojekuto / Koganechō (Project for community renovation / Koganechō), n.d.

38. http://www.Koganechō.net/contents/town-planning.html#t02

39. Interview with Koganechō Project member, December 8, 2008.

40. Mori Hideo, Hama no Merī-san (‘Hama Mary) (Hatogaya: Sōjinsha, 2006); Nakamura Takayuki, dir., Yokohama Merī (Yokohama Mary) (2005).

41. Interviews with Koganechō Project members, conducted December 8, 2008, and July 16, 2009.

42. Interview. Nov. 28, 2008.

43. Interview with business owner, November 28, 2008. Unconfirmed by police.

44. See note 33.

45. There have, however, been instances of violence and vandalism directed against the AMC. Yamano was threatened at knifepoint once. The windows of the AMC have been broken a few times, and bicycle tires are sometimes punctured. Interview with Yamano, August 2017.

46. Doris Sommer, The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and Public Humanities (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014), pp.30-31.