Tuesday. 7/2/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: ITA ATU

Opinion / Fiona Wilson

Under one roof

Tokyo said farewell to a much-loved institution last week: Tokyu Honten, a genteel department store that had stood in Shibuya since 1967. To those who weren’t regular customers, Tokyu Honten might have seemed like any other hyakkaten. But to anyone who loved it, as I did, its demise is a big loss.

It was my place to go for so many things: a loaf of bread, a good bottle of wine, baby clothes, birthday cards, school shoes and saucepans. You could have a watch fixed, drink a cup of green tea or browse in the seventh-floor bookshop. There was a pet shop on the rooftop and a surprisingly extensive garden centre. Tokyu Honten dealt with the stuff of everyday life and offered a dose of normality in an area that is now almost exclusively skewed towards fashion and entertainment. It must have been heartening to long-serving staff that customers turned out in droves to say their goodbyes, take photographs and eat one last bowl of chicken noodle soup at the Chinese restaurant (a personal favourite).

And what will replace this elegant institution? Tokyu Honten’s nine floors will give way to the towering Shibuya Upper West, which will house shops, a smart hotel and luxury apartments over more than 30 storeys. The planned building is so spectacularly out of scale with the low-rise residential neighbourhood of Shoto that lies behind it that you have to wonder how planning permission was granted. The transformation of Shibuya is relentless. The station area has quickly become unrecognisable and two more skyscrapers (a 33-storey office and hotel tower, and a marginally shorter office building) have been approved.

Might this be the moment to remind developers that people still live in this central-Tokyo neighbourhood and that children go to school there? We’d like to think that there’s room for shops that cater to residents’ everyday needs alongside the bijou boutiques.

Fiona Wilson is Monocle’s senior Asia editor and Tokyo bureau chief.

Democracy / Hong Kong

Clamping down

The trial of 47 high-profile pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong began yesterday. It is the largest prosecution yet under sweeping national-security laws that Beijing imposed in 2020. The pro-democracy advocates, who were collectively charged in 2021 for “conspiracy to commit subversion”, have already been in jail for almost two years; now they face sentences including life imprisonment. Among them is activist Joshua Wong, as well as former academics and lawmakers who were arrested after holding an unofficial primary poll to select opposition candidates for local elections.

The trial is expected to last more than four months. If the heavy police presence and crowds of protesters outside the court yesterday are anything to go by, tensions will run high. But with Beijing’s determination to quash any dissent, the lack of a jury and the fact that the government hand-picked all of the judges, the trial’s outcome is unlikely to surprise anyone.

To hear more about the trial and the health of democracy around the world, tune in to ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / USA

One for all?

Joe Biden’s second State of the Union address today is expected to attract his largest US television audience of the year. The president has yet to formally announce a bid for re-election in 2024 but his speech will be seen as a barometer for such a campaign. He is expected to renew the call for bipartisanship that he made on entering the White House by pointing to legislation passed during his term, including a $1.2trn (€1.1trn) infrastructure bill and action on student debt.

“If you look at his administration and what it’s accomplished on the domestic front, it has been the most significant since the 1960s,” Scott Lucas, adjunct professor at the Clinton Institute, University College Dublin, tells The Monocle Minute. “Biden’s bipartisan success is massive.” Even so, unity might be a hard sell to a divided Congress and a polarised media. A recent Yougov poll indicated that only 23 per cent of Americans say that Biden has united the country; convincing voters of his achievements might be an uphill battle.

Image: Getty Images

Society / Denmark

Defence and defiance

Danish voters have reacted with anger to their government’s plans to scrap one of the country’s public holidays. Thousands of Danes took to the streets of Copenhagen on Sunday to protest against the potential abolition of Great Prayer Day, a Christian holiday falling on the fourth Friday after Easter that has been celebrated in Denmark since 1686.

The government argues that the move will provide an economic boost, which could help the country to reach Nato’s target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence three years ahead of schedule. The proposed change will raise funds for the war in Ukraine and also form part of legislation aimed at reforming the country’s welfare system. The ruling coalition, which holds a slim majority in parliament, intends to push the bill through, regardless of opposition. It’s a bold move in an era when politicians spend so much time worrying about opinion polls.

Image: AKAstudio collective

F&B / Florence

Penne for your thoughts

The global appetite for Italian food remains as ravenous as ever. According to Coldiretti, the country’s main agricultural association, last year’s exports topped €60bn. It’s no surprise, then, that crowds flocked to Florence for Pitti Taste, an annual trade fair showcasing the Bel Paese’s finest speciality foods, between 4 and 6 February. More than 500 producers of cheese, meat and other Italian delicacies welcomed 5,000 buyers from shopping-centre food halls, gourmet retailers and everything in between.

Pasta was in the spotlight this year and artisanal producers such as the Marche region’s Pasta Mancini were in high demand. The company uses traditional bronze dyes and slow air-drying to make its spaghetti; it also grows its durum wheat locally, which is something that larger brands can’t always guarantee. (One in three packets of Italian pasta now uses foreign wheat.) However, Pasta Mancini relies on fertiliser from Ukraine and the war there has sent prices up fourfold. Here’s hoping that the healthy international demand for Italian cuisine keeps such problems from boiling over for the sector.

Image: Mario Heller

Monocle 24 / The Menu

Jakob Zeller and Ethel Hoon

This week’s recipe comes from the Austrian Alps via the husband-and-wife duo behind Restaurant Klösterlie in Lech.

Monocle Films / Vienna

Design tours: The best public housing?

The world is urbanising fast. But how do you accommodate people in cities in a way that offers dignity, affordability and a sense of community? Vienna may have a solution. Explore the enduring legacy of the city’s Gemeindebau apartment blocks in the latest episode of our Design Tours series.

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