JR

Have you seen Shibuya Station recently? Seems to be demolition time, with a new mega-building in the making?

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最近渋谷駅を見ましたか。今デパートとJRホームの構造を取り壊しています。手前で、新しいヒカリエという東急会社のビルが登場しましたが、どんな新しいショッピング・ターワーを作ろうとしているのでしょうか。東横線が今は地下に入ったので、もっと地上のスペースができたのでしょうか。

It seems the Tokyu department store above the station is being demo’d. I expect it will be another mega-shopping, “cultural” and office tower like the brand new Hikarie across the street. I wonder how it will be different and even “newer.”

Another rail change is the demolition of the elevated Toyoko line to Daikanyama, Nakameguro, and on to Yokohama, which has been replaced with the underground extension of the Fukutoshin subway line. Is there a plan on how to use this reclaimed public space?

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School kids in a gaming trance on a station platform. Is this a “still city”?

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昨年末から、オランダの「Still City」という東京についての研究とアートのプロジェクトに参加しています。「Still City」の主題は成長後の都市です。中学生たちが電車のホームでDSで遊んでいる写真は、静かな都市のイメージの一つだと思います。東京は巨大なのに、公共の場所は平穏です。安全なので、包括的です。

Since late last year, I’ve been involved with a research and art project called Still City, based in Amsterdam. Over 25 Dutch urbanists, designers, and artists came to Tokyo to create a guide book exploring the idea of Tokyo as a Still City. The main meaning of “still city” is post-growth.

This image of two school kids lost in a daze of handheld gaming on a train station platform also make me think of a still city. Tokyo is a “still” mega-city that is remarkably quiet despite the crowds of people, and with few exceptions, disarmingly safe. Tokyo is also a place where public functions, from transit and streets to bathing and swimming, are clean, efficient, and open to everyone.

Outer moat viewed from the Ichigaya JR station platform

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市ヶ谷ホームから、素敵な外濠が見えます。

In a city with surprisingly few water views, this JR station at Ichigaya looks out onto the Outer Moat (Soto Bori). It’s a beautiful site from the station platform, a wide river and natural bank lined with cherry trees.

Nakano station remodel connects riders to 1970s Sun Mall

駅の新しい改札口がオープンしたときに、大きい花のディスプレイを送るのは、たぶん日本だけだと思います。JR中野駅北口のために、桜祭り協会もサンモールの協会も花を送りました。中野駅、おめでとう。

I love how there are huge flower displays celebrating the opening of the remodeled Nakano JR north exit. It’s a commercial tradition, extending to the opening of ramen shops and bars, too. These huge flower displays are from the Sun Plaza merchants association and the Nakano sakura festival organizers. I hope the redesigned plaza opens soon with a lot of new trees and plants!

Sunflowers blooming in fall outside JR station

十月にヒマワリを見たから、驚いた。日本に来たオランダの友達によると、アムステルダムはもう冬みたいだそうです。駅周りに小さい森を作るといいと思います。今のところ、このヒマワリたちが素敵な気晴らしになっています。

I was surprised to see these sunflowers blooming in late October. Dutch visitors @tanemaki2011 reminded me that in Europe it’s already early winter, with temperatures already reaching 0 degrees. For an Amsterdam resident, Tokyo fall is like summer yet better.

There’s currently a lot of construction around the Nakano JR station, with new bus areas, exits, and plazas to support an enormous high-rise office building and tall residential towers. I hope they will radically rethink the public space around the station. It’s the center of communal life, yet now mostly revolves around autos, asphalt, and concrete. It would be great to see a livelier meeting place.

A mini-forest would be inviting. In the meantime, this small field of sunflowers is a welcome distraction.

Green wall outside liquor shop at Nishi Ogikubo station

Liquor shop’s green wall captures attention at JR station in Nishi Ogikubo.

西荻窪駅で、酒屋の緑の壁は注目を集めります。

I like this green wall surrounding the Dila liquor shop as you exit the Nishi Ogikubo JR station. It brightens up the station entrance and draws attention to the shop. It looks like the same type of wall system and plants that Marui uses inside its Shinjuku san-chome store and in the basement near the subway.

I hope this trend catches on, and more commercial spaces see the benefits of green walls. It would be great to see a greater variety of plants, rainwater catchment and re-use, and habitat creation. For now, any green wall catches attention, but perhaps soon there will be more experimentation and creativity.

More images from onbashira festival

Onbashira’s most famous event is the swift and dangerous ride down the steep hill on the giant logs. Yet there are also many other images from the festival that struck me. Above are “chindonya” (チンドン屋), a Showa custom that mixes Edo and clown costumes, music, and drag to create a human walking advertisement.

I was also struck at how much Japan’s postal and rail services celebrate the festival. In an era where electronic mail makes the postal service seem like a relic, Japan Post regularly sets up booths at events and festivals to sell commemorative stamps. I also like how JR rail station agents have their own “happi,” or festival coats that combine their modern logo with designs that evoke sacred rituals and community.

Finally, I was struck by this enormously thick “enclosing rope,” in front of one of the Suwa shrines. These braided, rice straw ropes signal purification and ward off evil spirits. I have never seen one this thick. We were told that it was made for this year’s festival, and will stay until the next festival in six years time.

At this shrine, we met a group of seniors in their 70s. They had walked from Nihonbashi in Tokyo all the way to Suwa. The 200 kilometer walk took them ten days. Japanese are incredibly strong!

Train bento: A Japanese treat, with organic rice

Last weekend I went to Suwa in Nagano with Kobayashi sensei of Sinajina for the famous, once every six years onbashira festival.

Over two months, the residents of Suwa select enormous trees growing on top of the mountain ridge, cut them and transport them down the hills by dragging them with rope, race down a hill sitting on the logs, and eventually lift them up at several important shrines (while people stand on top of them, I guess, to make it more difficult, heavy and dangerous).

Onbashira is a very pleasant mix of animism, forestry and virility. More on the ceremony later.

But, first, the first joy of taking any trip in Japan is buying a bento at the station. There is an incredible variety, priced from about 500 yen to 1,500 yen. Each comes beautifully wrapped in a box, with fantastic graphic design. You can see some cool typography, artistic mountains and trains, a space shuttle, a pokemon, and cherry blossoms.

I chose the spring special, decorated with sakura petals. Inside I was delighted to find over twenty different foods, including takenoko (bamboo shoots).

Even more remarkable, my box came with a photo and description of the organic rice farmers.

And lastly here’s the purple-striped beauty that got us to the Suwa lake in just two hours from Shinjuku.

Shinagawa station: a river of people

The continuous flow of people in Tokyo’s largest stations (Shinjuku, Shibuya, Tokyo Station, and Shinagawa) is a sensory overload of spontaneously choreographed movement. There is a rush of excitement that no free freeway can create. Crowded highways produce paralysis, while crowded stations welcome and release a dizzying parade of people each moving on an individual path yet combining in a steady flow.

This is a 17 second movie created from 34 still images at Shinagawa station on a weekday during mid-day. One of Tokyo’s oldest stations dating back to 1872, Shinagawa station was rebuilt in 2003, and now offers 22 rail platforms and funnel an eclectic mix of people through this wide concourse: workers at Sony and other multinationals, students, inter-city bullet train and Yokohama-bound passengers, and residents of new apartment towers on Tokyo Bay and of older neighborhoods with hundreds of years of history.

This ordinary transit experience in Tokyo is unimaginable in many world cities. Great transit allows city people to abandon private automobiles and fossil fuels, increase energy efficiency, share infrastructure, and free up roads for higher-value public uses, such as parks, gardens, farms, wildlife habitat, bicycling, music, dancing, and social spaces.

See also Pierre Alex’s Perpetual Yamanote art video.

Taking JR Chuo line to pick kiwis

Taking JR Chuo line to pick kiwis

For an American, it is shocking to see how frequently all the Japanese transit lines advertise the lovely, and often seasonal places, they will take you. In the United States, taking transit almost always signifies necessity, poverty and routine. The JR station poster above shows happy urbanites and young workers (signified by their white towels) with the headline “I like the Chuo line.” In small print, they explain that you can take the Chuo to Mitaka in western Tokyo and participate in kiwi picking. On a cold day, this station ad seemed sunny and hopeful.

JR Stations, Blue Lights and Suicide prevention

JR Yamanote line

There was an interesting article about how East Japan Railways has installed special blue LED lights in all 29 stations of the central Yamanote loop line as a measure to reduce suicide. And Keihin Electric Express Railway Company, operating in Tokyo and Yokohama, has installed blue lights in two stations.

Six percent of all Japanese suicides, more than 2,000 per year, take place in stations by people jumping in front of trains.

There is no scientific evidence that these lights will help, although some experts are quoted as saying that blue lights have a calming effect. The cost was US$165,000.

I wonder why Japan Railways did not consider installing plants on their platforms. Plants on elevated lines would receive some natural light, and native plants would contribute to the urban ecosystem.

It would be great to see such a planted platform on even one Yamanote station, and investigate whether a live platform contributes to any decrease in what is euphemistically called “human accidents.” It seems strange that technology solutions receive quicker funding than simpler natural solutions that would have a multiplier effect in terms of benefiting all passengers and the environment.