Laura Neitzel’s The Life We Longed for: Danchi Housing and the Middle Class Dream in Postwar Japan (MerwinAsia, 2016) is a chronicle of the large,...

Laura Neitzel’s The Life We Longed for: Danchi Housing and the Middle Class Dream in Postwar Japan (MerwinAsia, 2016) is a chronicle of the large, government-sponsored housing projects called danchi that were built during Japan’s high-growth years, roughly 1955 until the first oil shock in the early 1970s. Though only a minority of Japanese lived in the danchi, they took on an outsized place in the public imagination of and aspirations for the ideal new “bright life” of postwar Japan. The danchi, built by the Japan Housing Corporation (JHC) to accommodate the rush of families relocating to the cities during this transformational period, were the symbol of a new “democratic” middle-class life freed from the “feudal” past, a great social and architectural experiment, and the source of enormous social cathexis. Drawing on a wide range of sources from government white papers to popular women’s magazines, and paying close attention to the danchi as an everyday revolution of the everyday, to both the positive and negative views of the danchi, and to their relationship to contemporaneous social imaginaries of democratic-capitalist affluence around the world, Neitzel paints a clear and concise portrait of the danchi as aspiration, but also paradoxically as a kind of nostalgia a longed-for life that never really was. The book provides a clear and sensitive look at danchi as modern design and design for modernity, as a fantasy of middle-class life and a middle-class fantasy, warts and all.

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