Theses Doctoral

Dwelling with Water: Tokyo Waterworks and the Remaking of the Urban Home, 1890–1990

Hauk, Michelle L.

This dissertation explores how water technology transformed cultural practices and attitudes towards water through the restructuring of architectural and social space over the course of the twentieth century. For social reformers and architects alike, water’s place in the Japanese dwelling reflected a desire to address broader societal concerns with public health, gender norms, and resource scarcity through the rationalization of domestic and public space. Tracing the flow of water from watershed to kitchen tap, this study considers how the renovation of Tokyo waterworks restructured communal practices surrounding water, how advancements in architectural design and technology influenced the ways families used water in the home, and how the state positioned the dwelling at the forefront of water-management campaigns.

Combining methodologies from architectural history with environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural history, the inquiry crosses multiple scales to show how design mediates the continuously changing relationship between human bodies and the natural resources they consume. It draws on technical materials such as house plans, equipment manuals, and professional publications, blending these with popular-culture sources such as newspaper advertisements, television commercials, and public-service announcements, as well as manga and anime. While advancements in the architectural and technological design of water in twentieth-century Japan made access to natural resources more efficient, convenient, and hygienic—an enormous benefit for the (mostly) women tasked with water’s management—the high-tech “Washlet” toilets and prefabricated “unit baths” ubiquitous in Japan today gradually obscured from view water’s origin and waste’s destination, significantly restructuring the relationship between human beings and the natural environment.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Kreitman, Paul B
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 5, 2023