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Archinect: For Los Angeles’ Future, See Tokyo’s Present

On the very first morning of my life in Los Angeles, I went to Little Tokyo. With its Japanese bookstores, its undigested chunks of 1980s architecture, and its late-night East-Meets west diners, the neighborhood had done much to draw my attention to the southern Californian metropolis in the first place. Los Angeles, a banner at its airport once proclaimed, is “a World in Itself,” and indeed, it held out to me not just the promise of the city, but of elements of the East Asian city as well. After a few years in Los Angeles I moved to Asia itself, from Koreatown to Korea, but even living on the other side of the Pacific I haven’t stopped thinking about Los Angeles. Nor have I stopped chiseling away, albeit remotely, at the exhilaratingly hopeless task of figuring the city-that’s-a-world-in-itself out. 

Not that I make it to Los Angeles much these days; I’ve been seeing far less of Little Tokyo than I have of the original Tokyo. When I first moved to Los Angeles I’d never set foot in Japan, but when I made my first visit back to Los Angeles, it brought the Japanese capital immediately and vividly to mind. Or rather, one particular Los Angeles vista did: the city as seen from the 70th floor of the InterContinental Hotel downtown. My attempts to master Los Angeles while living there included seeing it laid out from every high-elevation viewpoint I could: the Griffith Observatory, the Getty Center, the Bonaventure Hotel. But I left town before the opening of the Wilshire Grand Center, now the tallest building in the city — at least technically, thanks to the thin spike on top  — and the one whose 70th floor the InterContinental’s panoramic “Sky Lobby” occupies.

This view, a clearer and more expansive one than I’d ever thought possible of Los Angeles, took me back to the observation deck of Tokyo Tower. Originally built in 1958 as a broadcasting antenna (with the dual function of signaling to the world Japan’s rapid rise from wartime devastation), Tokyo Tower is downright venerable compared to the Wilshire Grand Center. But whatever the historical and architectural differences between the two structures — to say nothing of the cities that spread out below them — as vantage points they felt unexpectedly similar. The visit, my first to anywhere touristic in Tokyo after half a dozen trips there, simultaneously indulged my love of all things of the mid- to late Shōwa era (the reign of Emperor Hirohito, which lasted from 1926 to 1989) and my desire to grasp the structure of Tokyo. But it also made me realize that, by comparison to all the cities one could try to understand, Tokyo and Los Angeles aren’t entirely different endeavors.

Read the whole thing at Archinect.