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Dammit, I can smell the rooms in your pictures, Roy
May 8, 2010 10:36 AM   Subscribe

Yoshida-ryo: Dilapidated, decrepit and downright dirty. A photo essay about a Kyoto University dormitory first built in 1913 that still houses student squatters for the ultra low price of ¥2,500 (about USD$25) a month. No wonder it looks like this

Roy Berman, founder of the consistently excellent Japan-focused blog, Mutant Frog Travelogue, provides some background about the CNN assignment:

Little known outside of Kyoto is the fact that Kyoto University has the last remaining truly old style dormitory, constructed in the late Meiji era timber construction style. Opened in 1913, Yoshida-ryo (吉田寮) still exists nearly 100 years later despite decades of attempts by the school to raze it and replace it with a less scummy and earthquake-unsafe bland concrete box. A relic in both architectural and social terms, it exists today in a weird nebulous state somewhere between an official school dormitory and a giant squat-house.

CNN Go is edited by David Marx (aka Marxy), who is a founder of another excellent online journal, Neojaponisme; MeFi's own No-sword is a contributor.
posted by KokuRyu (34 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
I bet that place would look a lot nicer if someone just straightened up all the clutter / picked up garbage. Also, I bet it's a pretty awesome place to live for a college student.
posted by ghharr at 10:43 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Somehow, despite reading both blogs I'd never heard of CNN Go... I wonder if they'll write about other Kyoto University hijinks like the persistently vandalized sculpture or the squatter cafe. Anyway, great post!
posted by shii at 10:44 AM on May 8, 2010


I'm pretty amazed. Yeah the building is pretty decrepit, but not as much as one would expect from a 100 year old building occupied by students, especially considering that it has had no university upkeep for something like 30 years....
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:45 AM on May 8, 2010


This is great, but I was surprised at first to see a travel article reviewing a dump of a dormitory and suggesting you camp on the floor. What's next, I thought, a review of the accommodations in Denbigh Hall by that one guy Steve who slept on the couch in the back-smoker room and left a sticky puddle on it?

Nonetheless, I might even be tempted to try this place if I were traveling light enough. All the arts activity suggests it is, or is going to be, a Scene, the kind of place that everyone is already claiming is totally over, and will later say, "oh man, that place is totally over now, you should have been there in 2010."
posted by Countess Elena at 10:48 AM on May 8, 2010


Played a gig a few years back at what I think might've been a part of this place, or near it, or anyway associated with it. It was with a band called Soul Flower Union, who were favorites of the J-hippie scene. It was in the winter, and the place was freezing - the few gas stove heaters just weren't enough to really warm the place. But there was that camaraderie that squats and squat-like scenes often have, and the vibe was good.

Kyoto is a good town for J-hippies, actually: with the mellow, earthy vibe and lower rents, a more casual, less workaday lifestyle is easier to maintain than in Tokyo.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:51 AM on May 8, 2010


College students building robots in the cafeteria of a century-old decrepit Japanese dormitory is a scene that should be in a William Gibson novel.

And it really does look like that.
posted by Artw at 10:55 AM on May 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


I've paid more for worse.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:03 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I bet that place would look a lot nicer if someone just straightened up all the clutter / picked up garbage.

This is the exact thing that I thought.
posted by djgh at 11:10 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Looks like my apartment.
posted by Ouisch at 11:13 AM on May 8, 2010


I bet that place would look a lot nicer if someone just straightened up all the clutter / picked up garbage.

The problem with anarchistic squats like this is all that clutter is often someone else's carefully piled property, or it's community property, so it's really hard to get cleanup work done without sparking off massive amounts of drama and conflict. A place like that is a lot nicer when someone isn't spending all day whinging about who moved their stack of CDs to the hall and let it get knocked over and stepped on, and then used for frisbees by a wild dog.

Also if you actually made it nice and invested all that sweat equity generally some shrewd capitalist comes along and takes it away from you because it's now desirable and not a roving junk pile or a squat. See also the Eugene, OR theory of trashing your own neighborhood to keep the rents down.

Then there's slacking off and playing video games and music. Who has time to clean or paint when there's music to be made, beer to drink and culture to, well, culture?

Anyway, there's some people that earnestly think and feel that a pile of assorted junk is nice and it caters to their sensibilities. I would be perfectly at home in the kitchen there, as well as that wire-nest of a game room or band practice room. Speaking as an artist and slacker there's something to be said about the juxtaposition of utter chaos. New creative ideas form there, where uncommon pairings of objects meet for the first time, or you engage in a little cultural anthropology and archeology in your own back yard.
posted by loquacious at 11:17 AM on May 8, 2010 [21 favorites]


Kyoto is a good town for J-hippies, actually: with the mellow, earthy vibe

Purelandmountain is an excellent blog by the Kyoto Journal's Robert Brady (I believe he participates on MF); he represents that Kyoto vibe you're talking about.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:43 AM on May 8, 2010


Anyway, there's some people that earnestly think and feel that a pile of assorted junk is nice and it caters to their sensibilities.

I am not sure that this is actually an endorsement...

One of the problems of cooperative living (especially cooperative transient living) is that organization and action are difficult to envision, hard to implement, and almost impossible to sustain. There is a coop house, occupied mostly by university students, not too far from my apartment. Over the years, it seems that every springs sees a new yard project started that slowly takes on an outline and then falls victim to some entropy or other, and never goes anywhere. It seems, in this case, that the failure to change the property is not lack of desire but inability to see that desire translated into action.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:02 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd like to see a movie about a crew doing an Ozu remake, maybe with a very anal director who wants to do it shot-for-shot, and looking for a serene old building to serve as a set. "How about that dorm in Kyoto? We can rent it for cheap." Hijinks ensue. Probably done before.
posted by shortfuse at 1:07 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Reading the title, I expected to be horrified, but looking through the pictures, I only found myself thinking "Wow, that looks like fun!" I've definitely hung out in some people's apartments that were at about this level of chaos, and so I have some fond memories of places with the cluttered look. The fact that there were robots and video games and improvised networking probably makes it pretty nerd-friendly. Reminds me a little of the hangout in Hackers, but more realistic.

Of course, I don't know what the sanitary situation is. As long as it's "junk mess," I'm okay, but if there's a bunch of "food mess" around, I would probably go into full OCD mode and try to sanitize everything. And this would provoke conflict. And I would deal with it poorly. And I would be ostracized. And that's why I never lived in a dorm. *sigh*
posted by Xezlec at 1:11 PM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


私はこの寮およびFPPの承認。
posted by dirty hippie at 1:55 PM on May 8, 2010


Hey, I lived in over a century old cooperative student housing and it wasn't nearly this bad.

Cooperative living definitely requires someone to take the reins. Perhaps the anarchist leanings of the inhabitants of this place don't lend themselves to such organization. While the transience of students might not work for a bold new garden project, it could certainly help with de-cluttering and routinely cleaning a place like this. The co-op I lived in certainly had its cleaner and filthier periods, but don't these students have to pass health and safety inspections? The imminent visit of an inspector was always enough to galvanize people to action.

I wonder if the extremely low rent of a place like this encourages the lack of care for it. In the Berkeley co-op system, our regular work hours were counted against our rent. If you didn't complete your five hours a week, you simply had to pay more in rent. We earned a lot more per hour doing our workshifts than we would outside for similar work, so the incentive was clear. For $25 a month, I'm not sure anyone could be persuaded to give a damn. No wonder it looks like this, indeed.
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 2:17 PM on May 8, 2010


earthquake-unsafe

That seems really key. In a country as earthquake-prone as Japan, this place sounds like a ticking timebomb.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:46 PM on May 8, 2010


Love it. There was a Taschen (I think) book my ex's friend had years and years ago that was just pictures of tiny tiny Japanese apartments all crammed full of stuff, and certain types of people made excellent use of the space for their certain pursuits. I loved it and figure I would actually be quite happy living on my own in a space like that. Except for the shared toilet angle.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:45 PM on May 8, 2010


So glad I'm not in my 20s anymore.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:08 PM on May 8, 2010


Man, I wish I had known about this place when the dude who told me "nah, man, don't secure a spot in a hostel, I've got us a place to stay until my dorm opens up and then you can just crash on the floor," turned out to mean that he did not have a place for us to stay, cause this would have been perfect.

See also the Eugene, OR theory of trashing your own neighborhood to keep the rents down.

How can I find out more about this?
posted by solipsophistocracy at 5:28 PM on May 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't trash my own neighborhood to keep the rents down. But I certainly don't mind when other people do.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:34 PM on May 8, 2010


Wow. Unlike the Japan I knew, even though I lived in a cold student dorm for a while in the Ikebukoro district.
posted by kozad at 5:55 PM on May 8, 2010


HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal: Ha! I'm living in Ridge House right now. These photos really appeal to me, actually.
posted by archagon at 7:34 PM on May 8, 2010


If I were 19 again I would definitely enjoy living there.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 9:02 PM on May 8, 2010


I live near there. I know someone who actually did "camp" there while in Kyoto. There's another scummy collective dorm a few couple blocks south of there where they've built a huge skate and bike ramp out in the jungle grounds.
posted by planetkyoto at 12:37 AM on May 9, 2010


> Cooperative living definitely requires someone to take the reins.

Or to say that differently, cooperative living requires that somebody makes it less cooperative. Sad and unromantic, but pretty much universal.
posted by jfuller at 7:32 AM on May 9, 2010


Or to say that differently, cooperative living requires that somebody makes it less cooperative. Sad and unromantic, but pretty much universal.

In honor of today, I submit that that person is often known as "Mom".
posted by madcaptenor at 8:48 AM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


I remember watching a show on Japanese TV where the dormitories of some university students (all male) were featured. All of the rooms selected by the show's producers were very very small and extremely dirty. Piles of garbage, books, empty beer cans, old food, messy futons, unwashed clothes etc. Really really bad. And each room had a mini-bar fridge that invariably contained one bottle of Kewpie mayonnaise, a can of beer and a rice ball or two. These kids had either never figured out how to look after themselves or were just extraordinarily lazy, or both. One of the guys showed how he "cooked" for himself in his room - he opened the fridge, pulled out a wizened head of lettuce, squeezed some Kewpie mayonnaise on it, and then started taking bites out of it like it was an apple.

OK, so far so bad. But THEN - the masterstroke. The reporter invited a middle-aged woman into the room - she looked like a typical Japanese housewife. So she gets in there, gives the kid the nicest scolding you could possibly imagine ("oh you haven't washed your clothes - don't you think your mother would be embarrassed?" etc etc.) The kid is sent off to have a proper bath, clean his teeth etc (personal hygiene wasn't too good for all these kids either) while the woman cleaned up. She took out all the garbage, cleaned the futon, scrubbed the tatami mats, neatly arranged the comic books, and then set up a kotatsu in the middle of the room. The Kid comes back all fresh and clean, and waits at the kotatsu while she cooks him a steak. And I shit you not - while they ate their steak each one of them burst into tears at the shame of living in such a pigsty and from the relief of having someone like their mum come into their room and straighten it up for them. It was great, and sad at the same time.

I was reminded of it some years later watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy where they would find some guy who clearly had gotten into a cycle of not really looking after themselves to the point where they just lived in a dump. And then the Queer Eye dudes would fix it all up and the Straight Guy would start crying a bit because he realised just how low he'd gone and he didn't have to live that way anymore.

Frankly I think a lot of people live in a dump because after a while they can't see any other way - I know I lived in a room full of unopened cardboard boxes for about a year because I could not stand the idea that somehow this place I was living in was permanent. But actually now I think should have unpacked them, because it just made it harder for me to feel like I really had a home.
posted by awfurby at 11:50 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


I really enjoyed the pictures, with a couple reactions:
1) Yoshida-Ryo looks like other dorms I have been in at public Japanese universities (hell, some of the academic buildings, too), vis a vis the general decrepitude. The tatami rooms and sliding doors were out of fashion by the '70s though.
2) MIT got away with charging me about $600 a month to live in a place like this. It was worth every penny, though. My father's first words on coming in were "what a shithole..." and I knew it was going to be an awesome place to live.
posted by whatzit at 1:05 PM on May 10, 2010


whatzit: I don't know if EC was quite *that* much of a shithole...
posted by madcaptenor at 4:39 PM on May 10, 2010


Christ on a bike! A 100 year old wooden building occupied by young people and it hasn't accidentally been razed in all this time?

Admittedly this was arson, but this is the first thing I thought of when I read that Yoshida-ryo was constructed of wood.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 4:58 PM on May 10, 2010


Awesome post, awfurby.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:05 PM on May 10, 2010


turgid dahlia: "There was a Taschen (I think) book my ex's friend had years and years ago that was just pictures of tiny tiny Japanese apartments all crammed full of stuff..."

Kyoichi Tsuzuki's Tokyo: A Certain Style? I love this book, although I wish it were larger -- I know, I know, it's deliberate -- so I could see all the details.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:29 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


madcaptenor: OHAITHERE. EC was (is, I suppose) a shithole I loved living in, enough I stayed 7 years. I do dearly wish the rent had been $20/month, though!
posted by whatzit at 1:22 PM on May 19, 2010


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