} Shiroto no Ran (Amateur Riot) and the Formation of a Para-zomia in Koenji - art for all

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Shiroto no Ran (Amateur Riot) and the Formation of a Para-zomia in Koenji

Text by Jason Waite



Shiroto no Ran (Amateur Riot) and the Formation of a Para-zomia in Koenji
Jason Waite

On March 11, 2011, the triple meltdown of nuclear reactors at Tokyo Electric’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station set off a literal and metaphorical shockwave that caused major shifts around the world. Germany moved to permanently shutter all nuclear plants and cancelled future nuclear infrastructure projects, while accelerating a turn toward renewable energy.[1] Coming in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, which sparked revolutions in the Middle East, Occupy movements, and uprisings across Asia, the 2011 environmental meltdown destabilized the established economic and political order in Japan. However, what would become a protest movement of hundreds of thousands, the largest social movement in Japan since the 1960s, began not in front of the seat of government or Tokyo Electric’s headquarters, but rather in a small neighborhood in the west of Tokyo—Koenji.

The instigator of this gathering was a loose cultural collective called Amateur Riot (Shiroto no Ran) composed of artists, musicians, and other precarious cultural workers. Discussion of that huge gathering and the subsequent mass social movement that it spurred—as well as its successes, shortcomings, and generational impacts—often forgets the important local dynamics in Koenji that laid the groundwork. Shifting the focus to the smaller scale reveals the long-term work of Amateur Riot in contesting the durational crisis of neoliberalism that had profound effects on already precarious youth, and that created some of the foundational connections for it to grow.[2] To counter the cultural and economic neoliberal shift towards precaritisation, Amateur Riot has worked for almost two decades to re-establish local agency and to foster forms of organization interdependence for collective social reproduction, and to form what I call, following the writings of political theorist James C. Scott, a “para-zomia”—a self-organized community embedded within an urban area.

Though Amateur Riot’s composition included artists and cultural workers, the collective does not consider itself producers of artworks, signalling a move on their part past what is usually considered art. However, my interest is not in how Amateur Riot label their actions, but rather how a collective practice has developed an infrastructure to address the material conditions of precarity affecting artists and other cultural workers, and how the collective’s interventions in public opened space for gatherings, cultural activities, and finally mass protests.
[1] Yet the mining of coal and its ongoing displacement has not ended. See Ingmar Björn Nolting “The Eviction of Lützerath: The Village Being Destroyed for a Coal Mine,” The Guardian 24 January 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2023/jan/24/eviction-lutzerath-village-destroyed-coalmine-a-photo-essay
[2] Rather than seeing neoliberalism as a set of economic policies aiming to separate markets and capital from democratic governance, theorist Wendy Brown argues that neoliberalism is itself a “rationality.”⁠ Wendy Brown, In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West (Columbia University Press, 2019), 21.

Amateur Riot

Amateur Riot was formed in 2005 by activist Matsumoto Hajime, artist and designer Yamashita Hikaru, hip-hop critic Shin Futatsugi, Rui Mochitsuki, and Keita Ogasawara among others[3] . Hajime and Hikaru had previously sold second-hand items and clothes to make a living and the group opened an eponymous shop together, called Amateur Riot No.1 (Shiroto no Ran Shop No. 1 Gouten), in the working-class western Tokyo neighborhood of Koenji. Amateur Riot developed into a loose collective that grew into a bric-a-brac of artists, musicians, cultural workers, and friends all centered in the neighborhood, organizing local film screenings, dance and music performances, and even an English class called Amateur Riot University.[4] Besides organizing cultural events in their space, they also shaped their local environment by organizing an infrastructure of re-sale shops, bars, an art gallery, radio station, and a guesthouse, forming a dense mesh for cultural activity, knowledge-sharing, and collective social reproduction. As part of this mutual aid network, the group shared their knowledge of how to undertake this activity of finding second-hand clothes and items to refurbish and sell, thus enabling others to open their own resale shops, which, in turn, formed an important part of the local ecology by providing a low-cost way for many to survive. Friends opened their own stores in the area, utilizing the name and adding a subsequent number as they were established: Shiroto no Ran Shop No. 2, Shiroto no Ran Shop No. 3, and so on. Although the more than dozen stores shared the same name, the stores were not a chain or franchise; they were all independently owned and run.[5] Thus sharing the practice and know-how to undertake recycling and reselling electronics, household items, and clothes became an open-source tool that was shared throughout the community as a means of supporting both those in Amateur Riot and their friends.

To complicate any definitive characterization of the collective, the composition of Amateur Riot is not entirely clear to its founders.[6] People come in and out of the group, so that the grouping’s name functions as a kind of open commons and floating signifier which can be claimed by anyone, and as such events just appear under the moniker Amateur Riot. As opposed to notions of central planning, the living ecology of infrastructure in Koenji is much more ad hoc and is reflected in the form of Amateur Riot itself.
[3] See Julia Obinger, “Aufstand Der Amateure!: Alternative Lebensstile Als Aktivismus in Urbanen Räumen Japans,” (PhD, University of Zurich, 2013), 49. https://doi.org/10.5167/UZH-87959,
[4] Alexander James Brown, Anti-Nuclear Protest in Post-Fukushima Tokyo: Power Struggles, (Routledge, 2018), 56.
[5] Matsumoto Hajime, interview by Magazine9, 2007, http://www.magazine9.jp/interv/hajime/hajime.php.
[6] Matsumoto Hajime, Amateur Riot, interview by Jason Waite, translated by Kenji Kubota, March 21, 2017.

The stores functioned in different ways, serving as meeting places and as nodes for organizing protests, performances, and interventions. Thus, the infrastructure of the store as a shelter and gathering place, along with its tools including phone, computer, toilet, and kitchen, could be repurposed for multiple and overlapping activities such as events or demonstrations. This is evident in the 2011 film Radioactivist, an independent documentary following the group after the Fukushima meldowns, which depicts Hajime fielding calls for an upcoming protest on his shop’s phone and other scenes of the spaces used for banner-making, communal meals, and meetings.[7] This shows that the site of work for Amateur Riot can be a means of subsistence and also be simultaneously bound up with other forms of the (re)production of everyday life. While these multiple modes of life are integrated through the spaces and collective work they allow, they can also be in tension. As Hajime notes, “My greatest anxiety now is how to maintain the balance between the shop’s function as a mainspring of my and the staff’s living, and its function as a base of riots and commotion.”[8] This concern highlights how the contradictions of fulfilling labor and social reproduction under capitalism cause stress when space is created to allow for a greater freedom to undertake a multiplicity of other activities. Seen through this quote, the goal of the store is not accumulation, but rather, the fostering of a fertile, diverse ecology where those experiencing economic precarity and social exclusion could flourish with little means. The activities and alternative infrastructure can be seen as part of an experimental praxis attempting to construct a postcapitalist prefigurative set of practices that aim to reconfigure ways of living outside of neoliberalism in the present.[9]
[7] Julia Lesser and Clarissa Seidel, Radioactivists—Protest in Japan after Fukushima (Ginger and Blonde Productions, 2011).
[8] Matsumoto Hajime, Binbōnin daihanran – Ikinikui yo no naka to tanoshiku tatakau hōhō (The great pauper rebellion: How to struggle against a hard world while having fun) (Asupekuto, 2008), quoted and translated in Carl Cassegård, Youth Movements, Trauma and Alternative Space in Contemporary Japan (Global Oriental, 2014), 108.
[9] Alexander James Brown has undertaken a study of the term of prefigurative politics in Japan, and the critical role of Sabu Kohso’s translation as yojiteki seiki in 2006 and its subsequent usage as detailed in Alexander James Brown, “Translating Prefigurative Politics: Social Networks and Rhetorical Strategies in the Alter-Globalisation Movement,” The Translator, April 15, 2020, 1–13, https://doi.org/10.1080/13556509.2020.1750262.


Amateur Riot developed and built a broader prefigurative infrastructure in the neighborhood to create the conditions for cooperation and collective formation. In this prefigurative infrastructure in Koenji, Amateur Riot cultivated the spatialisation of a nourishing ecology where a community could survive as well as express themselves through various cultural outlets. As opposed to moving to the countryside to build a new society in a perceived “terra nullius,” there was a recognition and desire to be together in urban space and support such practices there.

Looking at an ecology of space that supports both social reproduction and alternative cultures the concept of “zomia” can be useful in situating the practice of Amateur Riot in the broader context of a longer trajectory in Asia. The word “zomia”, common across the Chin/Kuki/Mizo language groups in parts of Myanmar, Bangladesh, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, means “remote peoples” or “hill people,” and was highlighted by the historian Willem van Schendel as a way of describing the highlands that form a largely contiguous trans-national area ranging from southeast China down to Vietnam and across to eastern India.[10] Van Schendel’s focus in highlighting this area was aimed at complicating the disjointed academic areas of distinction that this area traverses (South Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia) as well as describing the Cold War dynamics that kept this area out of the limelight. The political and social dimensions of the area and how it intentionally utilized this terrain to counter and evade the effects of colonization were only later explored by the political scientist and anthropologist, James C. Scott, in his landmark book The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (2009). Scott described the area composed of predominantly hilly and mountainous terrain as a “riotous heterogeneity” of indigenous people and historic and contemporary refugees.[11] Due to the difficult topography, there is little to no presence of the state in this vast area. In its absence, Scott describes the way in which self-governance has bloomed. The case studies largely focus on the Burmese ethnic areas, but also include different groups across the terrain. While diverse in their language, customs, ethnicities, and types of societies, cultures in this region are connected largely through the absence⏤whether through refusal, inability, or indifference⏤of state control. Unlike the Temporary Autonomous Zones theorised by Hakim Bey, which see self-organized areas only through the finite temporalities of uprising and rebellions, Zomia is not a temporary manifestation but rather an uneasy topography around whose inhabitants⏤indigenous, refugees, transients⏤largely evade sovereign state control.[12] This allows for diverse means of self-organisation to flourish, from indigenous governance and revolutionary movements to composite communities that evolve their own ways of being together. This is not intended to idealize the difficult conditions across these highlands or their resulting social composites. But evoking Zomia here helps to: (1) Foreground the shared environmental and topological conditions that affect culture; and (2) posit a non-nation state orientation of commonalities across East and Southeast Asia. With Scott’s interpretation of the term, Zomia helps to articulate the dynamic between the diverse languages, cultures, and histories of these areas by positing an environmental reading of their shared conditions that produced a more self-governed existence.
[10] Willem van Schendel, “Geographies of Knowing, Geographies of Ignorance: Jumping Scale in Southeast Asia,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 20, no. 6 (December 2002): 647–68, https://doi.org/10.1068/d16s.; Arkotong Longkumer and Michael Heneise, “The Highlander,” The Highlander: Journal of Highland Asia 1, no. 1 (December 21, 2019): 1–18, https://doi.org/10.2218/thj.v1.2019.4185.
[11] James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 26.
[12] Hakim Bey, T.A.Z: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism, 2nd rev. ed (New York: Autonomedia, 2003).

Through Amateur Riot’s practice in Koenji and beyond, I suggest that a form of Zomia can also be cultivated in the urban space. This might seem antithetical to the notion of Zomia, in that its distinguishing features relate to its altitude and remoteness, which makes it difficult for state power to access the Zomia. While Koenji is not only lowland, it is a neighborhood of Tokyo⏤the geographic center of the nation state. I posit an elaboration on the concept that takes into account the varied terrain of urban space itself. Despite often being a center of power in the nation, the urban terrain can be a composite of cracks and fissures that have the capacity to evade certain forms of state control. My proposal for understanding Amateur Riot’s community in Koenji is as a “para-zomia,” which seeks to extend an understanding of Zomia beyond a geographic condition of refuge to an economic and social mesh that can be established in the midst beyond the hills to include a diverse economic and social mesh of a diverse urban landscape. The prefix “para” distinguishes the para-zomia from the specific “Zomia” geographic determinate of the hill side, and instead positing another site of topological resistance within the urban space itself. This framing lies adjacent to an understanding of the transcultural geographical underpinnings of Zomia, but recognizes an urban topology where a set of conditions can produce a similar sense of removal from the state and an intersectional self-governance.

Koenji has historically been farmland supporting the nearby city of Tokyo. After World War II, urban migration caused a rapid expansion of the city with many new arrivals building dwellings on the outskirts, such that Koenji was gradually but unevenly incorporated into Tokyo itself. In this respect, while partaking in a traditional geography of the agricultural lowlands characterised by Scott as having easy access for state control, Koenji’s irregular and quick transformation led to the forming of a patchy unstable warren of alleys that defied the ease of movement and control. While it is the natural landscape which hinders state control of zomia in southeast Asia, in particular the navigation of the hills and mountains, a similar logic can be applied to Koenji’s winding alleyways that hinder monitoring by police and authorities. Inside the otherwise heavily policed city of Tokyo, the winding alleys and underpasses of Koenji provided a space for different subjectivities to experiment and flourish outside of the disciplinary measures of social controls. It is within this dense urban maze that Amateur Riot formed a para-zomia.

Koenji winding passageways and dense housing engender a close relationship between neighbors and the community through which we can see a different set of relations to those enabled and promoted by urban capitalism, a resistance that has its roots in the Japanese term ikki. Thinking ikki through a para-zomia highlights the spatial manifestation of Amateur Riot’s loosely self-organized community. Hajime articulated Amateur Riot’s approach in the DIY-book-cum-manifesto of Counter-Attack of the Poor:

I want to devise a means of creating a space where it is easy to make a life in the broadest sense, encompassing personal connections and the local area. This is an area-wide, self-sufficiency strategy for all the poor. Wow! To put it another way, if we can devise an amazing fools’ area in which places of work, of play and housing are lumped together, then we wouldn’t have any reason to be afraid.[13]
[13] Matsumoto Hajime, Binbōnin No Gyakushū: Tada de Ikiru Hōhō [Counter-Attack of the Poor: How to Live for Free] (Tokyo: Chikuma shobō, 2008), 56. Translated in Alexander James Brown, Anti-Nuclear Protest in Post-Fukushima Tokyo: Power Struggles (New York: Routledge, 2018), 91.

The reflexive humor of a “fools’ area” underscores the lightness of the approach, but does not detract from the seriousness of the proposal fostering intent to establish a generative ecology that attends to collective social reproduction intertwined with cultural practices. While propositioned as an “area-wide, self-sufficiency strategy” the forming of this para-zomia has not been a top-down implantation of a plan, but rather a more ad hoc collective development based on the needs and desires of largely economic refugees from the precarity caused by the catastrophic condition of neoliberalism. The physical spaces of the small shops and cultural spaces in networked support and cooperation re-established a sense of collective agency that contested economic precarity, evidenced in its duration at sustaining its community over the past fifteen years. This living ecology has and as well provided a fertile terrain for a new generation of artists, cultural workers, and collectives to emerge in the area. The para-zomia was founded with and through artistic and cultural practices of many of its members. Art, music, and culture were not creative by-products of the community, rather the events provided sites where it was possible for the community to get together. Just as important they provided space to experiment with ideas and subjectivities whose diversity was constitutive of the founding development of the para-zomia.

Postcapitalist Prefigurative Practice

This postcapitalist prefigurative ethos was articulated in Hajime’s book, Counter-Attack of the Poor (2008) that was both a wry critique of capitalist consumer culture and also a practical toolkit for surviving in the urban environment with ways to forage for and reuse materials, and other strategies for a low-cost subsistence.[14] The book calls for areas in the cities where the poor can exist with an alternative economy. While being a practical guide, and outlining a theoretical framework, the book can also be seen as an artistic and cultural manifesto that channels and articulates a set of practices integrating cultural and independent subsistence initiatives as part of a broader ethos that undoes the perceived barrier between art and life. As a result, it is difficult to pin down the participants and bookend a practice, as Amateur Riot became a vibrant ecology that supported a living culture of anti-capitalism that included reducing consumption, increasing recycling, and sharing as constant production, as well as a different value angled more toward sustaining life than capital accumulation or circulation. The question of whether Amateur Riot could, in fact, create an alternative, especially in the centre of a dense urban city operating largely under a neoliberal rationality, or whether alternatives are possible within the hegemon of capitalism, turns on the concept of the “outside” in postcapitalist prefigurative practices.
[14] Matsumoto Hajime, Binbōnin No Gyakushū: Tada de Ikiru Hōhō [Counter-Attack of the Poor: How to Live for Free].

While the notion of postcapitalist prefigurative practices is premised on the notion of constructing a way of living and working outside of the capitalist mode of production, this is a contested assertion. Debates about whether this is an “outside” to neoliberalism or capitalism more generally were seeded in Marx’s articulation of primitive accumulation—seen as the process of “divorcing the producer from the means of production”—constituent to the spatialisation of instituting the capitalist mode of production.[15] Marx understood the process of primitive accumulation as read through the British historical example of the enclosure of the commons and the expropriation of farms that drove the subsequently landless people to the cities, leading to widespread wage labour that laid the foundation for the capitalist mode of production in England. Marx extrapolated this teleological understanding and by 1867, at the time of publishing the first volume of Capital, claimed the process of primitive accumulation in Western Europe as more or less complete, which drove the need for colonisation to expand primitive accumulation and the capitalist mode of production.[16] A hundred years later writing in Paris, Guy Debord theorised that primitive accumulation had not only incorporated all of the labour and resources in capitalist societies but also all social relations.[17] Writing at the end of the twentieth century Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in their book Empire argue that neoliberalism expanded the reach of the capitalist mode of production to every part of the globe, where even if a social formation was not fully capitalist, resources were being extracted to serve production elsewhere, hence the outside was already immanent.[18] Hardt and Negri also expanded what was being accumulated—not only physical resources but also imaginaries, information, language, communication, and affects—thus this expansion was not only territorial but was also weaving into the production of every subject as a universal condition.[19] This critical narrative was accompanied by the end of the USSR and thus the fall of an alternative hegemonic sphere, which presumably contested the possibility and existence of enacting forms of relations outside of capitalist modes of production.[20]
[15] Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1 (London: Penguin Books, 1981), 875.
[16] Ibid., 931.
[17] Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (New York: Zone Books, 1994).
[18] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003).
[19] Ibid., 384-385.
[20] Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992).

While this account is not exhaustive those mentioned above do share the condition of writing in the midst of the urbanity in Europe and the United States. As theorist Boaventura de Sousa Santos reminds us such a reading is grounded in an episteme that does not necessarily represent the diverse histories and experiences across the Global South.[21] This draws into question such broad and sweeping assumptions around the extent to which diverse lived experience is inculcated or comes in contact with the capitalist mode of production. Yet even with this limited episteme, there are divergent readings, such as those by autonomist Massimo De Angelis, who contests the extent of enclosures within an understanding of primitive accumulation within the Global North.[22] While still working within a Marxist framework, theorist Silvia Federici has emphasised examples of how women in communities in Latin America have instituted collective forms of reproduction that provide material evidence of diverse forms of relations not mediated by the capitalist mode of production.[23] Similarly, David Graeber’s anthropological approach to the outsides of capitalism looks at how diverse cultures, such as in rural Madagascar, have long organised their way of life differently from capitalism.[24] The feminist economist collaborative duo J.K. Gibson-Graham also see capitalism as an overly broad interpretative mode, and in fact only representative of a small portion of relations existing in the world. Indeed, while capitalism and neoliberal rationality have had a profound effect on humanity and the planet, Gibson-Graham argue against a totalising theory of capitalism and instead posit a diverse economy of relations existing both historically and presently.[25] They cite specific forms of relations such as transactions which occur in alternative markets including the barter and alternative currencies, labour relations which can be cooperative, in-kind, or care-based, and organisations that can be alternatives within or alongside capitalism, such as nonprofit or state or social enterprises, or noncapitalist organisations that are communal. These diverse forms of human and non-human relations are occurring within modernity as well as in other relations constituted in indigenous communities across the globe, including within Europe and North America. Gibson-Graham see these multiple modes of production and relations as part of an ontological reframing that acknowledges first that not all relations and production are mediated by capitalism, and second, that within this ample non-capitalist terrain, they see the possibility for further experimentation, enactment, and imagining of forms of postcapitalism in the present.[26] For Gibson-Graham, the term postcapitalism does not represent a concrete future materiality, but a linguistic move that gestures beyond the presumption of neoliberal capitalism as constituting the end of history, and toward the new and already existing forms of relations rooted in a diverse relational economy outside of that structured by capitalism.[27] Thus, postcapitalist prefigurative practices can be seen as materially working through the present conditions to enact different alternative frameworks to structure relations. Through Graham-Gibson’s expanded reading of the economy of relations, it is clear that not only does an outside of capitalism exist, but that most human and non-human relations lie outside of a capitalist mode of production. This expanded frame grounds not only an outside of capitalism but a host of postcapitalist prefigurative practices that construct different forms of relations. Among them can be situated Amateur Riot’s activities and self-organising ethos, which develops a way of life and relations which is both anticapitalist and works through the problematics of alternative forms of living together through quotidian experimentation.
[21] Boaventura de Sousa Santos, The End of the Cognitive Empire: The Coming of Age of Epistemologies of the South (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018).
[22] Massimo De Angelis, The Beginning of History: Value Struggles and Global Capital (London: Pluto, 2007).
[23] Silvia Federici, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (Oakland: PM Press, 2012).
[24] Graeber, Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire.
[25] J. K. Gibson-Graham, A Postcapitalist Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006). J. K. Gibson-Graham, The End of Capitalism (as We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006).
[26] Gibson-Graham, A Postcapitalist Politics, xxx.
[27] Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man.

In the context of Japan, scholar Alexander James Brown also sees a form of prefigurative practice in Amateur Riot’s use of the mode of ikki. This is a Japanese term which Brown defines as “a strategy of developing dense social relationships that are capable of sustaining the urban poor.”[28] Ikki historically signified agrarian and peasant revolts and movements as well as the 1867 urban uprising at the end of Edo period [1603-1867]. These uprisings and movements had a diversity of causes such as land rights, unjust ruling lords, over-taxation and so on, and targeted policies, rulers, and even the socio-economic system. Brown argues that the ikki Amateur Riot partook in and also developed, was a mode of mutual aid, low-impact, and low-cost living that aimed to support themselves, friends, and others who primarily existed in a new class that was emerging under neoliberalism. While Amateur Riot was situated within Tokyo, their practices were largely divergent from the mainstream form of life as there was no means to support the consumerist lifestyle that was being promoted societally since the economic boom. Instead of enacting a capitalist mode of production focused on extracting surplus value and capital accumulation, Amateur Riot fostered a means of collective reproduction. Openly sharing the process for how to live from recycling clothes and goods within the community of freeters and cultural workers, Amateur Riot aimed to create an accessible way to survive in the city. It offered a mode of living that working that was not centred around individual gain but rather a methodology that nourished the community and ecology against a neoliberal eschatology. This collective support of the poor and precarious workers through the processes of recycling can also be seen as a means of revolt against the capitalist mode of production, which the word ikki is most appropriate to describe.
[28] Brown, Anti-Nuclear Protest in Post-Fukushima Tokyo. For more on historical ikki in English see Vlastos, Peasant Protests and Uprisings in Tokugawa Japan. The context of the outside can also be interpreted through indigenous groups in Japan such as the Ainu and warrants further research but lies outside the bounds of this project.

Other self-organized microbiomes in Tokyo could also be considered para-zomias. The day laborer area of Sanya has built up mutual aid organizations and street theatre. The Yoyogi Park encampment has had a diverse mixture of artists and activists living and working in the park and putting on a weekly barter cafe. Koenji differed from these neighborhoods in Tokyo as it had a concentration of precarious workers, artists, and cultural workers. Yet the para-zomia in Koenji has not produced a process of gentrification like in other metropolises such as New York City. For example, in Brooklyn, artists and cultural workers gravitated toward poorer areas in the city, leading to a cultural and lifestyle development that eventually caused gentrification transforming the neighborhood with hugely raised rents and thereby forcing out previous residents, either intentionally through the action of landlords, or unintentionally through others wanting to move into the area. While some have attempted to resist this transformation, this type of gentrification has not happened in Koenji because Tokyo does not have the same centralized development of gentrification as seen in Brooklyn. In Tokyo, there is not a trend of renovating dilapidated buildings; instead, home and apartment prices are generally set around the year of the building’s construction and these only depreciate over time. This means that new buildings, in particular large-scale apartment towers, are a generator of gentrification, as was the case with Mori Tower in Roppongi and the recent development construction of commercial office towers around Shibuya for the tech industry. Thus, the forces of gentrification are predominantly large building corporations and municipalities planning, which raze entire areas for large-scale new developments. By contrast, the living ecology produced by Amateur Riot has not led to an increase in rent or forced our previous residents. Rather, Amateur Riot has joined the existing residents such as the long-standing local committee of shopkeepers. One example of this was how Amateur Riot both researched and contested a municipal plan in 2018 to bisect the neighborhood with a major thoroughfare, which would change the neighborhood’s character of an intimate network of alleyways and small streets. Amateur Riot raised awareness of the city’s plan and organized an annual protest in the neighborhood that created a channel for the collective agency of many in Koenji who disliked the planning approach of the larger municipal authority which would have radically altered the character of the area. In addition, contesting the change was intended to help Koenji maintain its dense topography, which has allowed the para-zomia formed by Amateur Riot to continue to flourish. As opposed to gentrifying the neighborhood, Amateur Riot fights to preserve the form and character of the neighborhood in the face of central planning to develop and thus potentially fundamentally shift the area’s character.

Using a prefigurative approach, Amateur Riot has developed collective material and cultural practices that counter precarity and foster an alternative economy in the Koenji. This para-zomia includes spaces for cultural experimentation, mutual support, and community building. The urban ecology of Koenji offers a model for a fundamentally different way of life.