top of page

Grimy Heritage: Organic Bar Streets in Shanghai and Tokyo


James Farrer

Graduate School of Global Studies, Sophia University, Tokyo, Japan


ABSTRACT  Every city has built environments that are largely regarded as eyesores, for aesthetic, social, or moral reasons. Urban nightlife streets are examples of such ‘grimy heritage’. Not only shabby and disorderly, they harbour forms of commercial sex, drinking cultures, and ephemeral nightlife cultures that many city residents and government officials consider undesirable. Sometimes their built forms are regarded as the enemy of genuine heritage architecture, since they obscure more solid, carefully designed structures around them. However, in many cities, organic nightlife streets—developing in such spaces precisely because they were derelict or poorly regulated—serve important social functions as spaces of creativity and community formation. This paper examines the ways that such ‘grimy heritage’ has developed in Shanghai and Tokyo, using examples from ethnographic research and historical sources, and addressing the question of the contribution of the ‘grimy heritage’ to authentic, urban social life.

KEYWORDS  China, cultural governance, Japan, nightlife, night-time economy, urban studies

Received  July 15, 2019; accepted September 5, 2019.

bottom of page