Wide canal packed with with boats, bridges, elevated highways, and a trace of pre-industrial Edo



I love this canal view, the layers of visible history in buildings, and the wide water that evokes pre-industrial Edo life. Even the regrettable additions, like the elevated freeways, show how Tokyo constantly evolves not through great design but by continual addition to what was already there.

There is so much transportation infrastructure on this wide canal in Shibaura Ichome. I also love how the small post-war house at the corner has been built up over the years with additions, and then surrounded by a taller modernist office and more recent, larger buildings that are more about function than form. There’s something very calming about seeing this large expanse of water, and a view of how Tokyo became layered with new structures over time.

Lovely vine covers street-side window with red and yellow lanterns



I love how this easy to grow vine sends its growth down. The owner has trained it over the street-side window so that it provides additional privacy. There’s also two types of bamboo shades, and three spider plants. I also like how the blue ceramic tile adds a decorative element to what is a very functional architecture typical of post-war Japan.

Mechanical claw gobbles up Showa history


Living in Tokyo you become used to the continual process of demolition and new construction. Not the ten or twenty year boom and bust cycles I’ve seen in San Francisco and New York City. Even in the perpetually shrinking Japanese economy, Tokyo continues to morph and grow. The photo is from the demolition of a post-war Showa house in Nakano, a residential neighborhood. It will undoubtedly be replaced with a multi-unit structure made of pre-fab materials and slightly customized, standard layouts.

Closer to my house, I’ve seen the local liquor seller vacate his main storefront, which was replaced by a brand new 7-Eleven in less than four weeks. I watched the incredibly fast work to the interior, modernizing a 1970s storefront into the faceless, placeless space of a convenience store. They also installed enormous heating and cooling structures on the roof. I was glad to see that the liquor store owner has retained an adjacent, closet-sized space for his liquor sales. He seems to enjoy interacting with the neighbors.

Small house borders large empty lot and some greenery. How did this post-war house survive, and how long has the neighboring lot stood empty?


This small post-war house has survived Tokyo’s constant re-development. I wonder how long the large empty lot in the foreground has stood empty.

Ginkos connect an old street with decades of layers


Ome Kaido is a large boulevard in my neighborhood that dates to Edo times when this area was largely fields. I like how the ginko trees provide a unifying element to a heterogenous streetscape of  abandoned post-war buildings mixed with newer commercial, residential and even light industrial buildings from every decade since.

Directly across the street from this corner is a ten story office building. I noticed the roof-top sports facility years before I recognized the logo at the entrance that marks it as the headquarters of one of Japan’s leading adult content companies.

Edge between new road and post-war past


New town and old cities meet at this intersection.

On Linus Yng’s @ArchitourTokyo Western Tokyo bike exploration, the second stop was a fascinating corner. A wide and modern road (4 lanes, sidewalks)- Inokashira Dori (井の頭道り)- from the skyscraper district of Nishi Shinjuku meets a major ring road (6 lanes, sidewalks)- Kan-nana Dori (環七道り). The modern road dead ends into a narrow one-way street full of old sheds that must have housed many small businesses and residences in the post-war era.

I was fascinated by Linus’ explanation of how planning created these large roadways, and paradoxically preserves old neighborhoods on the edge. Although many maps show the road continuing through this neighborhood, Izumi (和泉名店街), the money and priority must have become exhausted. What you see instead is a neighborhood preserved for decades because no one will invest in improving or replacing buildings that are in a right-of-way of a possible, future major road.

In addition to the lane that runs in the center of the planned new roadway, Linus also pointed out the 10 to 15 story buildings that extend to the edge of where the road might one day be. In much of Tokyo, new buildings along major roads are often granted heights up to 15 stories, whereas the buildings behind them remain low. Tsukamoto Yoshiharu of Atelier Bow-Wow calls this the “cream puff pastry” of Tokyo urban planning, and explains that one function of these modern buildings, built to new standards, along the major roads is to provide a firebreak in this disaster-prone city.

It is amazing that for the width of the proposed road, the neighborhood is a time capsule of a Japan that was rebuilding itself rapidly after the war. I’d like to go back and explore more about who is still living there, what businesses thrived in the post-war period, and what creative re-use may be happening with these provisional buildings that were never intended to last this long.

UPDATE: Linus shared his excellent photos of this intersection with me later.