Walking and the pedestrian environment
September 8, 2002
Temples and Streets (Utsunomiya)

Exploring all types of streets and sizes of temples in Utsunomiya, Japan.

Before I talk about Utsunomiya, here are a few scenes from the road to and from it.

On the bus to Shinjuku I spied this raised freeway under construction north of Ikebukuro. A year ago when I saw it they were working on a tunnel portal futher to the right, but they've got that section done now. It got me thinking about Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct, which may end up being very similar. I can't believe some people actually want to retain a viaduct in Seattle. Look at this modern raised road, because this is what we would get. Maybe it won't have tiles, but it will have sound barriers. The pro-viaduct people think they're going to continue to have their nice 20 second view of the Sound. What they'll really get is something like this plexiglass wall on the road from Tokyo to Narita airport. It's nearly impossible to see through unless you are at a 90 degree angle. For those of you taking the road from Narita to Tokyo, I encourage you to notice the endless sound barriers, and the tasteful way they are covered in flowering vines. The low bushes in the median are nice as well.

Utsunomiya, Japan, is about two hours north of Tokyo. It's a small city, though the capital and economic center of Tochigi Prefecture.

Utsunomiya has an interesting mix of very "good" and very "bad" roads for pedestrians.

Here is an example of some of the bad planning. A massive area adjacent to the east exit of the train station lies barren, used as a bus parking lot. The pedestrian bridge over the train tracks seems to go on forever as this void is crossed. After this I took a hot, exhausting 15 minute walk on a treeless boulevard until it junctured with a narrow, tree and benchlined path. Following this relaxing path north leads to the "Utsunomiya Station East Park". It seems insane to have the station park a 30 minute walk from the station! Obviously I'm not aware of what alternate routes exist to get there, and what the political causes of the situation might be. I do know that the path I chose left me exhaused and thirsty, though.

There are great places in Utsunomiya as well. On the older, west side of the station, a very relaxing promenade was created along a beautified canal. After the city covered the canal in plants, some of the stores adjacent to the path reciprocated. Others provided their own benches to compliment the plentiful seating along the canal. Pedestrians can be seen here at all times of day. In this scene, two business men chat, two other men stroll along, and a girl waits in a seat while her friend takes yet another cell phone call. Here's another shot of the promenade, with a delivery in progress.

The promenade runs perpendicular to Orion Doori. Orion Doori is a long car-free mall, covered with a glass canopy and lined with stores. Groups of students use it as a bike route before and after school, so watch your step. The long recession in Japan can be easily seen here. one floor of the 109 building lies largely unused, restaurants can be found empty of customers some evenings, and the quality of stores is steadily cheapening. The younger generation of Utsunomiya residents seems resigned to a car-oriented life, which may be making things even more difficult for downtown locations, especially off of street level. Big box stores (small in scale to America) which find cheaper real estate away from the city core are encouraging the trend.

Parco, a department store located nearby Orion Doori, has this interesting elevator to the parking garage. Notice the little bicycle sign to the right? It indicates the elevator is for bicycle use. Riders won't have to go down the car ramps.

Parco was built on land that housed a small shrine. Shrines are all over the place in Japan. Some are big, some are small. When land is redeveloped, the shrines must be preserved or replaced. Some developers place the shrines on top of their buildings, making for interesting viewing from higher-up restaurants. Parco left the shrine on the ground, giving the building a strange shape.

Here's a smaller shrine (up in the top right, don't miss it!) with tiny little foxes in it, on the promenade. This other shrine is only slightly larger, but its gates tell a different story. A bigger one, Futaarasan, has its front gate just across the street from Parco. Shrines at night are spooky places. It's no wonder modern Japanese are so obsessed with ghosts. Look through these photos and see if you can find any specters in the background. Here's a statue of a horse, the charms next to it, a series of inner gates, and a dragon fountain with holy water to wash your hands on the way in.

Japan has so many types of roads. This one in Utsunomiya is smaller than an alley, but it serves as the front entrance to the buildings along it. These contruction workers find it as a cool place to relax and eat lunch. I found them here several days in a row. Cars do drive on it, but only to access parking garages.

Due to the proximity of the buildings or walls to the edge of the road and the fact that there are seldom sidewalks, curved mirrors are a necessicity for driver safety. A drive down any narrow residential road will find them at intersections, especially T-junctures. Here are two next to a sign for Hotel James Dean, where a small road T's into a larger road.

This boulevard is great! First look in the middle of the road - the median was made with paint, leaving funds for great sidewalks. Fancy sidewalk paving, lots of trees, bushes to provide a barrier from cars. It even has some neat signs. The one on the right says "pedestrians" and indicates they should walk next to the buildings where it's safe and they can shop. The one on the left says "Bicycles - yield to pedestrians" and puts them next to noisy car traffic. If you look carefully you'll see that it's garbage day, and the business has left its bags out for pickup next to the street. Yes, bicyclists are pushed over next to the garbage where they belong (totally joking)!

Here's another nice road, which runs parallel to the promenade. I also like the dense trees which line the narrow road coming into this huge intersection a couple of blocks away.

One final photo of the newly beautified road leading into Mashiko, Tochigi. Mashiko is a significant tourist destination because it has a unique type of earthenware, "Mashikoyaki". Sidewalk surface treatment complete with bumped tiles for blide visitors. Driveways and side road entrances in the same treatment. Lots of trees. Submerged utility lines. Fancy lamp posts. Nice.

Posted by Rob Ketcherside at September 8, 2002 8:54 PM
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