Walking and the pedestrian environment
January 1, 2006
Higashi Kouenji (Tokyo)

Another exploration in Tokyo's west suburbs.

First a selection of irrelevant photos from the major center of Shibuya on the Yamanote. Yamanote means 'foothills' literally. This is the old outer rim of the city and now refers to the JR rail loop line which contains the massive city center. Then, a first glimpse of the area around Higashi-Kouenji on the Maru-no-uchi subway line. Kouenji is the name of a major Buddhist temple, and also the neighborhood around it and the nearest stop on the JR Chuo (Central) Line. Higashi means east, but really Higashi-Kouenji is southeast of the Kouenji JR stop, about a twenty minute walk along commercial alleys lined with small businesses.

Excelsior CaffeExcelsior Caffe is a mediocre chain that sprung up after Starbucks made a splash.

DoutorDoutor is a reliable cafe chain that predates the Seattle-driven espresso boom and successfully made the transition from cheap drip coffee with donuts to specialty coffee and tea drinks with pastries. The chain cafes are a reasonably priced place to take a break and fight jet lag or heat. There are several worse choices than Doutor.

Car vending machineThis employee of a small office went to retrieve the company car from its parking spot. He walked up to the building, dialed in the security code and selected the stall. The vertical rack rotated the car into position and the doors opened. Unfortunately the wrong car was in his spot. After a fruitless call to the office, he cycled through each car until he found it. It's the Tokyo version of forgetting where you parked your car. After looking at the turntable in front of the building (which are very common and probably boring for you to read about yet again), I couldn't help but think that the system was designed by a railroad engineer.

Falling officesA very funky office building in Shibuya that looks like it suffered through an earthquake.

Japanese restaurantAnother typical Japanese restaurant store-front that should be emulated in the US for variety.

Edge bushRecently I saw on-street parking meters in Tokyo for the first time. No photo here, but it was in Shinjuku and right by the JR east exit. This photo is to show what they use in limited quarters to separate pedestrians and bikes from fast car traffic. Sturdy steel rails wrap bushes to soften the street scape and protect people from out-of-control cars, and also provides make-shift bike parking and bench.

Sidewalk edgeInterspersed with the bushes are real benches. Again, this is for roads with fast, heavy car volumes, not every street. Recently I saw an urban design student suggest that on-street parking be added to Dearborn in Seattle at the expense of sidewalk width. On-street parking is a low-maintenance, revenue generating barrier, but it's not the only choice and it's not the smallest choice. Physical obstructions should be taken more seriously.

Overgrown signI loved the dichotomy of this scene in Shibuya, with nature overtaking the electrical sign.

Tokyo DenryokuOld sign for a district office of Tokyo Electricity in Shibuya.

Strict parkThis park in the love hotel district of Shibuya places harsh restrictions. However, the park is only about 10 times the size of the sign, and has two benches for 'love birds'.

Stupid JapaneseSharpee graffiti near the hip hop clubs encroaching on love hotel hill in Shibuya.

Oome-kaidoAnd now on to Higashi-Kouenji. Station entrances straddle the Oome-kaido, a centuries-old road that was part of the walking highway system. I assume subway was predated by a private streetcar line on the Oome-kaido, but I'm not positive.

Higashi-Kouenji EkihirobaA bit of open space in front of one station entrance, which borders an elementary school and park.

Higashi KouenjiThe poster just inside this subway entrance isn't abstract art - it's a map of all of the lines within the JR Yamanote loop line.

Niko-niko Road EntranceEntrance to Niko-niko Road (smiley road). Merchants associations are grouped along individual streets with side-alleys, like the Pike-Pine Business Association in Seattle. There is strong competition between neighboring groups, and Smiley Road was named and redesigned in the 1960s or 70s to draw attention from the long, major roads running south from Nakano and Kouenji. Seattle's Chinatown/International District, in contrast, has overlapping groups claiming to represent the entire neighborhood. A benefit to territorialism is that it's obvious who is responsible (in the sense of "to blame") for that territory.

Niko-niko RoadNiko-niko Road signs cover the base of each pole.

Niko-niko Road businessesView of Niko-niko Road businesses.

Oshogatsu goodsStand with traditional Shinto New Years items being put together outside a shop on Niko-niko Road.

Higashi-Kouenji directionsA sign near the a station entrance and the entrance to Sanshi no Mori Park directs residents to schools and community centers.

Sanshi no Mori park mapAt the back side of the park near its interface with the elementary school, this park map sports pronunciation notes (furigana) over difficult words so that kids can more easily read it.

Jogging MapMap of newer jogging course around park.

Water storage tankThis sign describes the use of a nearby building in the park - water storage for emergency drinking and pumping in case of earthquake or fire.

Bulletin boardA billboard for notices in Sanshi no Mori Park .

No bike parkingThe sign near these bikes sternly warns not to lock bikes to the poles.

No bike parkingThis says not to park bikes in this area.

Bike parkingWhy are people parking illegally? The bike parking lot between the park and station entrance is already chock-full of bikes. Many suburban stations feature a pile of bikes 'parked' in a rush.

Tokyo bird speciesA surprising variety of birds can be seen throughout the year in Sanshi no Mori Park. Surprising if you view Tokyo as a lifeless, concrete monstrosity.

Tree signThere are many species of trees planted in Sanshi no Mori Park, and they are marked with signs to teach children their names.

Brail tree signThe older trees also have aging plaques with their names written in brail. It's surprising how long ago (20 years?) they were worried about accessibility. In spots with no barrier along the path, I wonder if blind people enjoy feeling the bark and fallen leaves, nuts or needles after reading a tree name.

Accessibility domesThe yellow T at this intersection is an accessibility feature common to station areas around Tokyo.

Accessible push buttonI didn't try this push button. It's not necessary to trigger the crosswalk. I'm guessing that it extends the length of the light and elicits an audible crossing singal. I'll try it out in the future. I suspect that there are more accessible push buttons than regular ones in Tokyo. 95% of the time, the walk signal just turns green.

Japanese woonerfA woonerf borders the elementary school on the east side.

Rocket bollardsRocket-shaped bollards work well with the presence of children.

Tree stump bollardsStump-shaped bollards work with the park.

Japanese woonerfAnother woonerf along the south side of the park and school is mostly used by bicycles. An occasional small delivery truck trying to make a short cut is thwarted by middle-aged women on bikes who refuse to yield.

School boundaryThe boundary of the school and park would normally be defined by a fence. Here it's just the end of the stand of trees, or bicycle-obstructing poles along paths.

Boiler toySeveral play toys can be found in the park, including this adapted boiler.

Sanshi no Mori streamThis concrete-lined stream is a popular place to play as well.

WaterfallsThe northwest corner of the park sports five relaxing waterfalls.

Japanese clockSeveral art-clocks can be found around the park.

DogDog walking is a favorite past time for the elderly in the neighborhood, and the park is their main destination.

Japanese low floor busHere's the inside of a low-floor, elderly friendly bus. They're short so they can whip around tiny streets. Some streets are barely wider than the rear view mirrors from pole to pole.

Japanese busHere's a normal bus. The ceilings are quite low and require anyone over about 180 cm to duck on their way back.

Tokyo rooftopsAnd here is a view northeast from Higashi-Koenji, over the houses and apartments towards Nakano and Shinjuku.

Posted by Rob Ketcherside at January 1, 2006 10:10 PM
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