Après moi viendra un autre encore plus puissant que moi

Japan's first Western-style (Western-designed, even) skyscraper was called the Ryōunkaku (凌雲閣, "Best-the-clouds Tower"), a.k.a. the Juunikai, which translates to "Twelve-storeys" and should give you an idea of the scale a tower had to be in 1890s Japan to qualify as skyscraping. On the other hand, since the rest of Tokyo was still built so low, the view was impressive (if black-and-white). At night, it looked like an evil lighthouse.

Its red bricks grew dirtier and dirtier as the years passed and Japan continued to modernize until it was finally dealt a critical blow by the Great Kantō Earthquake. It didn't collapse in the quake, but its injuries were so severe that the decision was made not to rebuild. TERADA Terahiko went to watch the dynamite mop-up, and likened the events to the standing suicide of a giant, the last defender of the red-brick Meiji era falling before the tide of reinforced concrete, talkies, jazz, and proletarian literature.

A pre-Earthquake English account by the mysterious T. FUJIMOTO (more about whose book The Nightside of Japan I will blog before long) reads:

You step up to the top of the tower by spiral steppings and, in rooms of each story, various kinds of toys and other articles are sold, or fine pictures and photographs are hung against walls. In 1911, one winter night at about eleven, a young man jumped down over the balcony of the eleventh story of the tower and killed himself, crushing his body upon the ground. After this event the windows and balconies above ten story are entirely covered with wire-nets.

Fujimoto also mentions the 15-horsepower electric elevator -- Japan's first -- which ran from the first floor to the eighth. For about half a year, anyway:

When the tower was first built the elevator was furnished for visitors; but shortly afterwards as there happened an unfortunate event, owing to incomplete adjustments of the machine, it was abolished by order.

I cannot find details of this alleged "unfortunate event" online; most sites simply say that the elevator didn't work properly, required maintenance too frequently, or something along those lines. The Japan Elevator Association even claim that the shutdown was straight-up anti-elevator hysteria, scandalously encouraged by the authorities of that benighted age "when elevators were poorly understood". They certainly exhibit no Ryōunkaku-related shame, having adopted the date of its opening (November 10th) as Elevator Day.

The word ryōun, by the way, had been used for over a thousand years in Japan alone, and no doubt much longer in China, before being applied to this tower -- most notably in the Ryōun Shū, a collection of Japanese-authored Chinese poems compiled in 814 on the orders of Emperor Saga.

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funny coincidence: I'm reading Kawabata's "Scarlet Gang of Asakusa" at the moment, where the 12 story tower is featured prominently. Great book, so far.

(And interesting blog, by the way. Have been lurking around for a while now.)



Thanks! I've been meaning to check that book out. Does it mention... an INCIDENT?

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