Yamanote

Tanuki heats up ginkgo nuts and serves hot coffee next to the Yamanote line

tanuki_nite_train2_yoyogi_f
ホランダから来たビジターに、タヌキさんはエスプレッソコーヒーとホットギンナンでもてなしています。

Tanuki offers visitors from the Netherlands warm gingko nuts and hot espresso on a cold night in Yoyogi.

Furin & chandelier decorate homeless camp in Shibuya

風鈴がホームレスの家を飾っています。宮下公園の下、渋谷スランブルの近くにあって、この家はとても整然としています。東京はいつも何かと隣り合わせになっていて、垂直な層になっています。例えば、半分公共の空間と空っぽの空間、デザインされた空間とデザインのない空間、住宅、スケードポード場、飲み屋、そしてバイクの駐車場。

A furin is a glass wind chime whose sound Japanese find cooling in summer; something about glass and metal striking. I was amazed to see this domestic symbol, along with a white chandelier (below), decorating two homes in this long row of wood and blue tarp cubes sheltering the homeless. (The furin is just to the right of the rolled up bamboo used to screen door).

I am struck by how incredibly orderly these living structures are, and how on a warm day when you gaze inside, the homes seem orderly and common place: tidy kitchens, matt floors, shelves and storage, on a scale just slightly smaller than what most Tokyo-ites live in.

This long alley of make-shift homes is just below Miyashita Park that paces the Yamanote line for a fe blocks. It’s just past Nonbei Yokocho and near the center of Shibuya. There was controversy over gentrification and corporate funding for city resources when the city accepted Nike sponsorship to renovate the park with design by Atelier Bow Wow. It seems the homeless merely migrated to the area just below the fenced-in skate park and fusball court.

Now it is a typically Tokyo close juxtaposition of semi-public and vacant space, design and non-design, and living, sports, drinking, and parking spaces.

Perpetual Yamanote

My artist and product design friend Pierre Alex, whom I blogged about earlier, created this funny “anti-design” video about Tokyo’s most famous rail line, the Yamanote that circles central Tokyo. The idea is that it’s a single train in perpetual motion.

How is this relevant to Tokyo Green Space? An extraordinary transit system is a basic requirement for a sustainable city that values public transit over private vehicles, and shared spaces over individual or members-only spaces. Tokyo’s transit system is truly the best in the world, for the area it covers, frequency of trains, cleanliness, on-time performance, and safety.

A fast, comfortable and convenient transit system is a place where all social groups intersect, and is the backbone of a walkable city. No matter where I travel in Tokyo, I am always amazed at how many friends I bump into.

I also believe that artistic visions are necessary for us to imagine and create post-industrial cities that are creative, desirable and serving human aspirations. Plus, the video is cool.

Pierre’s statement about the Yamanote (in French):

La Yamanote, c’est le mur d’enceinte version société industrielle.
La ligne de train circulaire entoure la ville et la protège de sa banlieue.
Mais comme me le disait Raphaël, dont j’aime les trëmas sur le prénom, c’est aussi Zazie dans le métro.
On se paye un ticket pour un petit tour d’une heure à regarder la ville.
C’est l’hiver, les sièges sont chauffés, il y a même la télé. On peut voir le golf, ou un cours d’anglais. Mais c’est souvent de la pub. Il y en a une, pour la bière suntory, où tout est en noir et blanc sauf les boissons. Chaque fois que je la vois, j’ai soif.
Ca tombe bien, la yamanote est une ligne aérienne, comme la ligne 2 à Paris vers Stalingrad.
Et quand on sort, entre Kanda et Ueno, on trouve sous les arcades les bars les moins chers de Tokyo.

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.