In a way, I’m happy to live in a world where a thing like the Kowloon Walled City existed. For those who don’t know, Kowloon was a place in Hong Kong where the residents sort of built up a city within the city. Buildings, apartments, tenements, and businesses were tightly packed in an environment so claustrophobic and labyrinthine, you really needed to be a resident of Kowloon Walled City to know your way around. It was self governed, ruled by the Triads, and the authorities had no authority within its walls. You could disappear inside the Walled City, which may be a benefit or a danger depending on circumstances.
It was a criminal underworld, certainly. Yet it was also a social underworld. It was a place where you couldn’t see the sky from the ground, the air was rank and stale, and people spent their lives there. Prostitutes and pimps, drug dealers and thieves — they lived alongside barbers and artists, bakers and tailors. It was a fantasy place where dark alleys were the norm. With lanes lit by neon and music pouring from the window of a unlicensed dentist’s office, it was cyberpunk and noir in the same place.
The city was evicted in the early 1990s, and demolition began in 1993. It’s all gone now and, perhaps, that makes sense. It was a place too weird to exist, but strong enough to survive beyond its years.
So it’s with a mixture of interest and repulsion that I see that parts have been “rebuilt” and re-imagined within the walls of a warehouse in Japan. They’ve basically created a place that’s part museum and part amusement park. For Americans who may not not understand how bizarre this is, imagine what it’d be like if someone made an amusement park that was part Al Capone’s Chicago and part 1970’s era New York Underground.
It’s a strange place based upon an even stranger place. The photos look amazing, but it strikes a weird chord in me that this place even exists.