Japan has long had a particular fascination with the Walled City. The photographer Ryuji Miyamoto produced his own book of black and white photographs of the City in 1992, and architect Takayuki Suzuki joined forces with publisher Suzushi Kuwabara to produce their magnificent book ‘Large-scale Illustrated Kowloon City’, featuring a magnificent cross-section of the City drawn by Hitomi Terasawa. Sadly, although Hitomi allowed us to reproduce the section in the book, she was adamant that we could not include it here on the website, although images of it can be found via any search of Kowloon Walled City images.
Perhaps the most extraordinary homage to the Walled City was to be found at ‘Kawasaki Warehouse’, an eight-storey office and games arcade owned by a games company and located in Kawasaki between Tokyo and Yokohama. Opened in 2009, the ‘amusement park’ arcade stretched across the building’s lower three floors and featured a wide range of attractions from old-fashioned arcade games and darts, billiards and table tennis, to the latest player-participation video games. The Walled City was the captivating backdrop for much of the complex, recreated down to the last grimy detail, including the dilapidated structures, twisted wiring, accurately reproduced graffiti and even original post boxes and garbage all sourced from Hong Kong. Sadly, Kawasaki Warehouse was closed down in December 2019.
The man behind the lifelike replica of the Walled City was Taishiro Hoshino, an art director with a background in kabuki theatre. He started the process by making intricate small-scale models, after which his talented team of craftsmen created almost every detail and nuance from scratch. Hoshino noted: “What we thought indispensable in order to reproduce and reconstruct the legendary Kowloon Walled City were those signs that fill up the entire City and the varieties of numberless poster on the walls without any spaces left between them. These things are not available in Tokyo of course, therefore there was nothing we could do but make everything from the beginning.”
They also rummaged around for all kinds of memorabilia – Bruce Lee movie posters, old TVs, cheap Chinese chinaware, fluorescent signs, birdcages, electric fans, period calendars and so on – to flesh out the elaborate tableaux, like a sprawling set from an epic movie. One of the key elements of the reconstruction was making everything look old and distressed. That was the genius of Hoshino’s specialist team of artists and painters, as he explained: “Each part of the wall is made in the finest detail, but more than that its finish is so dense and outstanding that it gives the sense of its smell and humidity by using our secret super ageing techniques.”
As the photographs and the short video included here demonstrate, the end result was truly remarkable.