Walking and the pedestrian environment
April 18, 2003
Streets and Signs (Tokyo)

Kichijoji, Tsukiji, Shinagawa, and Yokohama's Chinatown

Shops open between 10 and 11 a.m. in Tokyo. In this shopping district in Kichijoji, delivery trucks line the pedestrian-only streets from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Street furniture are so common that even though I intended to take many photos of them, I came back with hardly any. This is a run-of-the-mill planting in Kichijoji. A metal bar protects the bushes and tree, but also provides an impromptu place to sit. Wood supports are tied to the tree, reflecting traditional Japanese gardening practices.

Here is a "big" garbage truck in Kichijoji. These are about half the size of American trucks, and quiet as a mouse in comparison. Note that the back opens for garbage to be thrown in. Even as I type this I can hear huge dumpsters being ruthlessly tossed in the air down in my alley. You'll never hear the horrific sounds of steel-on-steel from garbage trucks in Tokyo! Shop owners place bags of garbage on the curb for pickup. In residential areas, a neighborhood pickup location is used, with different types of waste and recyclables being picked up on different days. I was also hoping to get the nice old man sweeping the streets in this picture, but I just missed him. As he made his way down the street sweeping up cigarette butts and other small items, shopkeepers opening up for the day each greeted him good morning, obviously part of a daily ritual. When he got to the garbage truck he exchanged greeting with the garbage truck driver as well. (I called it "big" because I've seen garbage trucks that are just small flat beds).

Here's a cute little street in the Kichijoji shopping district. Anchored by several large department stores and with two large parking lots on its periphery, Kichijoji's shopping district is more successful than its lack of fame would suggest. Indeed, when I told a friend where I spent the day, the reply was "wow, you really started from a minor spot". It's notable that the parking lots lie on the opposite side of the shopping district from the JR Chuo (central) line and Odakyu Inokashira line rail station. A univerisity is located beyond the shopping district as well, drawing college student walkers through it. Inokashira Park, a large park with a lake in it, is located on the opposite side of the station, but the shopping district seems okay regardless.

An entertainment block in Kichijoji. On the left is a video game arcade. Next to it on the right is a karaoke box (Big Echo), and on the far right you can see people lining up for a pachinko parlor (New World). The obsessive gamblers have favorite seats that they go to day after day. They line up to get the "good seats" well before the stores open. If it's 10 or 11 in the morning in the morning and you see a big line in Tokyo, don't assume there's something special about it! Another example of this was at Tokyu department store in Kichijoji. They were having a super-duper blow-out on the 8th floor, and a mob of retirees stormed the elevators the minute the place opened. I leisurely made my way up to the top floor to find old ladies fighting for position to grab bargains on rather tacky hand bags, gloves, and assorted other items. Their male counterparts were checking out ties and other goods with a more discerning eye.

Another bit of street enrichment. This is near Shimbashi station on the way to Tsukiji.

Just about every major intersection in Tokyo has a pedestrian overpass. This one has a bit more character than most.

Recently I've been getting curious about Meiji and early Showa buildings in Japan (and China from the same period). What kind of structures did Japanese engineers make when they first started learning western techniques with brick and stone? I picked up a couple of books while I was there, but I also grabbed a couple of photos. Here's Kabuki-za, a very famous example. Just up the street another early 1900s building sits under the shadow of skyscrapers. Here's a good contrast to Kabuki-za, right across the street, one of the better examples of what Tokyo is cranking out these days. After I do some research I'll try to get better photos next time I'm there.

Here are a few shots of a Buddhist temple near Tsukiji built in a neo-Indian style. Entry lion with left hall. Close up of left hall's entrance. Front entrance.

And here are some photos of Yokohama's Chinatown!

Between Yokohama's Chinatown and JR Keihin Tohoko line's Kannai Station lies Yokohama Stadium and a large park. It's difficult to ignore the parallel's to Seattle's International District with two stadiums and a major train station adjacent. Of significant difference is the park on the side of the stadium in Yokohama, which provides a market on weekends, and plenty of urban leg-stretching room. Here are some photos:

Recently JR (Japan Rail, a formerly public, now semi-private entity) has begun acting more as a development agency, not just a transit agency. JR has always been active developing the actual stations and even putting shopping malls or other facilities on them, but it's begun stretching out beyond the walls of the stations. JR holds large parcels of land next to a significant number of train stations in the country. While I was there a big deal was made about Roppongi Hills, the latest such development, which contains two condo ("mansion") towers, a movie complex, and a performance stage along with office towers. Here's another, Shinagawa Intercity. 5 huge office towers seperated by a landscaped courtyard and sitting on 4 airy stories of restaurants and stores. I visited this before watching the news story about Roppongi, so I was a bit caught off guard. In Tokyo you don't often find this much space to stretch your legs and arms. Shinagawa Intercity is really wonderful, and I was impressed at how I was drawn in to explore the different layers and regions of the development. Where does this spiral staircase lead? How do I get to that terrace? Playful stairs hidden behind fake boulders, with a narrow gangway over to a walkway. I was even more surprised a few days earlier when I visited the newly developed area adjacent to Yurakucho station, which is just beautifully designed. There was probably a 10 degree difference in temperature between the breezy, shaded area in the Yurakucho development and a street on the other side of the train tracks totally open to the oppressive Spring sun. The Shinagawa and Yurakucho developments have done a great job of maintaining existing commercial districts while providing balanced growth. The only real problem is the continued flatness of the Japanese economy, which means these office towers are only stealing software-related high tech companies from other office space, providing even more glut in the market. Guess you gotta build while it's cheap if you've got the money.

Actually, Shinagawa was really a nice place to look around. On the opposite side of the station is the "Wing" property, Keikyu department store, and the Shinagawa Prince Hotel development. This probably was meant as the 'other side of the tracks', because there is a major arterial adjacent to the station. An attempt to route pedestrians over the road with an overpass appears to have been abandoned (it's narrow and empty), and instead there are well-used (and well-placed) massive crosswalks leading to the station. Keikyu is located right next to the station. As you cross the street, a classy hotel with restaurants in the bottom floor is on your left, and Wing is directly in front of you. Just like the Intercity development, Wing draws you in and around, though on a much smaller scale. Filled with a variety of boutiques, it has more than one way to get to many spots, including outdoor stairways, indoor escalators, and elevators (as does Intercity). What's great about Wing is that it draws people right through it, to the Shinagawa Prince Hotel development, which has 3 hotel buildings with retail, restaurants, a set of movie theaters, karaoke, bowling, and other entertainment mixed in the lower floors. Shinagawa is much more refreshing than a visit to Shinjuku's commercial district, though obviously only a fraction of the size.

    Finally, here are some street signs for your fancy:
  • Crosswalk (only for men with hats)
  • No Motor Vehicles, the sign below says deliveries only 9-12 a.m.
  • No Crossing (especially men with hats!)
  • Bike Crossing, a few feet are reserved on the edge of high-capacity crosswalks for bikes to make their way through without hitting people
  • Wheel chair ramp (no, not a jump!)
  • Stop! painted on the ground; normally this is painted parallel to traffic, not perpendicular. From left to right the characters read "to", "ma", "re". Normally it would be from near to far "to", "ma", "re".
  • Stop! pedestrians, painted on the ground
  • Stop! vehicles. I had problems getting this sign, because it is always on the top of the pole, sometimes 10 feet of the ground. Often there are three or four signs below it in urban areas, like "arterial turns", "30 km/h", "school zone", etc.
Posted by Rob Ketcherside at April 18, 2003 8:24 PM
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