I took these photos of one of the more popular tourist destinations in Tokyo on Midnight eve last year, just as the stores and the fishmongers were closing down I was stopped by a phalanx of guardmen advancing down the street followed by a veritable armada or convoy of garbage trucks. The Ameyokocho is famous for its incredible high turnover shopping and it is packed to its limits with people most of the day and now I finally got to see what happens at closing time when all the garbage needs to be cleared up. It was beautifully choreographed and over in a matter of minutes. With the crew of trucks, the drivers and the guards clearing the way ahead there must have been well over 50 people sweeping down on each narrow street, clearing up small mountains of garbage in one fell swoop.
Garbage disposal in central Tokyo with its population of between 13 and 15 million people (depending on the time of the day) is a massive undertaking. The majority of all household garbage is sorted and recycled while strict rules handle industrial and construction waste. The burnable garbage collected is incinerated and creates heat, electricity and material for the many landfill projects ongoing in the capital. It has been calculated that if the waste material was not burned but simply dumped into Tokyo bay the the entire bay would be filled in less than a century at the current pace. Moving all of this material to somewhere less populated and then burning it is an impossible project. There is nowhere within a couple of hours drive from central Tokyo that is not as densely populated as London! Hence there are waste disposal plants scattered all over the city with state of the art emissions control. The plants have gotten around the “not in my backyard mentality” by incorporating free sports and pool facilities providing plenty of incentives for neighborhood to host these plants.
Air quality in Tokyo is generally good to excellent, much better than in many small town and cities in Europe. In spring however the air usually turns quite bad as pollution with a poetic sense of justice drifts over from China. Since so much of the pollution comes from producing goods that are actually used by the people of Tokyo.
But apart from the well thought out garbage collection in Ameyokocho the area is hugely popular with residents and tourists alike for it old time feel and the bargains to be had. It is also great fun to listen to the banter and the peculiar dialects of the fishmongers as they compete for customer attention at the top of their voices. It is a marvel any of these men still have vocal cords at all! The last few photos are from the main street of Ueno as you escape Ameyokocho just to the south. And I could not not share this photo of the statue of Saigo Takamori walking his dog.
Oh, and this happens to be the 1900th post online right now (not including the posts I have deleted along the way). Maybe I will hit 2000 posts sometime in August this year?
In January I visited the graduation show at the Tokyo University of the Arts. For most visitors, the first work of art they encountered was the “OYAJYO-JIN” A-Un sculptures by Kanagawa sculptress Momoha Harada (原田桃葉). The words A-Un (阿吽) comes from the Indian religions and has also been adapted by shintoism and buddhism here in Japan. A is the first and un is the last character in the sanskrit alphabet and they represent the beginning and the end of the of all things, very similar to αω (Alpha and Omega) in christianity or the emet in judaism. In front of most temples and shrines in Japan you will find two statues, sometimes lions, sometimes foxes, sometimes demon or even tengu, one with their mouth open (阿) and one with the mouth closed (吽).
The statues of Ms. Harade guarded the entrance to the university and were quite popular with visitors. The portly human figures in a their metal grey hue looked great next to the black wood of the gate.
Tokyo is really the urban explorer’s dream city. It is such a layered city, starting with the tiny agricultural villages before the 17th century, then growing, adding, fixing, layering new things, all the while keeping some of the old, replacing a lot and creating new systems to interact with the old. One of the most visible aspects of this is the transportation network inside the city, and especially the old abandoned or disused train stations, ghost stations. I have blogged about ghost stations before, but here is one that I have always wanted to write about.
The Hakubutsukan-Dobutsuen station (博物館動物園駅) in Ueno was in daily use as late as 1997, and closed permanently on the first of April that year. I am betting there are readers of this blog that remembers using this station. It opened in 1933 as the second stop on the Keisei Honsen-line, operating between Ueno station and Narita airport in neighboring Chiba Prefecture. The station is named after its proximity to the museums and the zoos in the Ueno park area. The station was the last station in central Tokyo to still use wooden turnstiles right up to the last day of operation, giving the station a very old time feeling even when it was in operation. The bare soot stained concrete walls of the underground platform contributed to the run down look, even when it was fairly new. Students from the nearby Tokyo University of the Arts tried to liven it up a little by two murals of en elephant and penguins, that still survived in the old station. The station was never refurbished during its use.
There are several reasons why the station was closed. Firstly the station platform only allowed the very shorts of the trains running the line to stop there, the four car trains. As more and more trains grew longer there were serious safety and scheduling concerns over the operation of the station. The relative closeness to the starting station, only 900m away also played a role, as did economics. The station was manned by only one person and had limited opening hours.
Today the main exit of the station remains just like it did while in operation. The secondary exit is unmarked and completely shut up but still used as a storage facility for the nearby university. The building itself was designed by the architect Shunji Nakagawa in the same style as the parliament building, in a greek-roman revival style. Closed up like it is today, the worn concrete makes it look more like a mausoleum. It is fronted by two plain un-fluted tuscan columns, with a prominent parapet decorated sparingly by a hunted balustrade screening. The parapet is lined with antefixes of acroteria, giving it a strangely greco-buddhist look.
If you travel from Ueno you can spot the station platform as you run through it not even a minute after start. It is almost pitch black though, so you’ll have concentrate to spot it in the tunnel. The only remaining function of the station today is as an emergency exit for the tunnel, but I have been told it looks like it was abandoned only yesterday. I would love to go inside someday! Please let me know in the comments if you ever used it back in the good old days!