Japan took a very strange path towards modernization. After having successfully kept the country “closed” to the outside world for more than 200 years during Edo period (1603-1868) – allowing the Japanese to mature their own systems in politics, economy, and culture – the country drastically changed its policy, yielded to pressure from rapidly modernizing Western countries and “opened” its doors. This move prompted several decades of feverish modernization experiments, but as it was targeted at catching up with Western industrial and military powerhouses, modernization actually meant Westernization. One of the major experiments was in architecture, as houses and buildings help shape communities and society. Japan tried to adopt a well-established European method to modernize traditional communities, which were a collection of rather frail wooden buildings placed accommodating natural environmental setting and were open towards it. European architecture was supposed to bring in sturdy, a lot more efficient built environment. However, after recklessly giving up traditional Japanese ways in various areas including architecture, the effort failed devastatingly when Japan lost WWII (1941-1945). 1945 became a tectonic turning point, as Japanese were forced to admit that their modernization approach failed, and that they needed to do it differently this time in order to come back from a complete defeat.
But in the face of decisive power of Western technology and economy, Japan almost had no choice but to copy Western system (or rather American system, as the US led the occupation) even more aggressively. Pretty much everything traditional has been shelved as obsolete, from the way people governed, did business, educated children, and led life – at least superficially. Anything American or Western were “cool,” and people jumped on them to shake off physical/moral bankruptcy, get aspirations to survive post-war resource/rood shortage.
Probably one of the most drastic changes occurred in architecture and community development, as so many buildings, houses and communities were burned down due to extensive bombing. After modern architecture experiment came to a halt due to the war and post-war material shortage, Japanese suddenly faced an urgent need to re-build and transform destroyed communities into modern ones, and young architects in the 60’s took the challenge. They tried to define “modernism” through their own lens, not just copying Westernism, and tried to draw a blueprint of a “new” Japan that thrived on the foundation shaped by community development and architectural projects. One of them materialized as a bold movement called “metabolism.”