I was bubbling with expectation when I once again heard the phrase “health land.” From my childhood, it must have left a deep impression on me, for a Scene normally tucked away at the bottom of my consciousness suddenly flashed across my mind: a banquet hall or a restaurant, combined with various amusements, like table tennis, in a facility that stood out no more than a public bathhouse.
Such establishments must have once struck me, when a mere child, as new and refreshing. And it all goes back 30 years when I first went to a “health land” with my family. Amusement facilities of this type were built all over Japan during the high economic growth period to meet the needs of Japanese workers and their families, those who made the growth possible. But later, they were all but engulfed by a new wave of resort and urban amusement facilities, and hence have been submerged in people’s consciousness.
Recently, however, a new facility also dubbed “health land”-renovated and capable of supplying amenities even to excess-has appeared in a bedroom town in the suburbs of Tokyo. The new health land consists of gigantic baths, karaoke parlor, bowling alley, game center, grill (yakinikuya) and huge pay parking lot. It looks like a part of Kabukicho (Tokyo’s biggest amusement quarter) suddenly appeared out of nowhere. An amusement district, which previously usually came into existence spontaneously, is poly-wrapped holus-bolus into a single building. With its suave brilliance, the new structure stands out in the otherwise flat landscape and works to effect a subtle change in its everyday ambience.
Up to now, this suburban landscape was cloaked in a chilly bleakness, with no room for either fresh realities or emotional1ycharged human relationships. The only things that remotely resembled the vitality and noise of the big city were the overflowing energy and anarchic rhythm exuded by throngs of middle-aged housewives who created, with their daily presence, something both strange and heartwarming.
Close observation of the various things people do in this new building- the health land-reveals that they are engaged in thorot1gh1y familiar activities, such as drinking, eating, singing, taking a bath and reclining, or are absorbed in games or competing in sports. The only difference is that these acts are here being performed in an extremely closed, artificial environment. Moreover, they are being performed in a confined space set up like some stage setting. In short, people now have the illusion that in such a place they can more thorot1gh1y become the heroes or heroines of their own drama, ''dai1y life.”
As might be expected, today's health land is filled with that imaginary reality called “information” but dominated by amusement facilities targeting the simple things people do everyday. This suggests that in our daily lives we are pushed and pulled by information and stories that are pertinent for only a particular moment. My nostalgia for the ''health land” has thus been mercilessly shattered.
In an age like today, when ''things'' are rather hard to sell, consumers have begun to direct their insatiable desires toward “time.” Even the things they do day in and day out have become the objects of their play. What's more, consumption itself is now treated in the context of play. With the advent of the nineties, amusement functions have begun to be actively incorporated into commercial facilities, a phenomenon not unrelated to these demands of the times.
“When I was involved in the designing of this facility. I could not avoid a feeling- bordering on fear-that I might be devoured by Tokyo's horrendous world of consumption.” These words, uttered by a designer of the new “health land,” make one sense that the very way things are consumed and even the basic values of contemporary society are beginning to change radically.
Text by Hiroshi Innami 1993/8