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!
If you are in Tokyo this week and remotely interested in modern art then you could worse than spending a day at the Tokyo University of the Arts Graduation Works Exhibition. Tokyo Geidai (for short) is one of Japan’s oldest art unis, dating back to 1887, and the campus looks the part of of an old well established art school. Today Geidai has over 2000 graduate students and half that again in post-grads. In a nation of 127 million you can imagine that being accepted as a students is pretty difficult. I consider myself a more than averagely experienced viewer of graduation works and I’d say that the Tokyo University of the Arts excel at sculpture with a quite a few exceptional works produced by grad students every year, although it is impossible to infer the actual studying experience in a school just from the graduation show. For westerners, the schools two most famous alumni might be the composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and the artist Takashi Murakami.
Even if you are not into art itself, attending the graduation show is a great opportunity to see the inside of a Japanese art university, the buildings, the labs and the grounds are quite unique with lots of history and that unique mix of Japanese high tech combined with grotty concrete studio rooms and the little fun details provided by generations of creative students. I took these photos in and around the campus, focusing more on the buildings than on the art. I think I could go back and spend another day or two just picking out details and odd architecture! The place has some fantastic views and rooms.
As it was the first day of the graduation show and also on a Sunday it was very very crowded. I sometimes had to wait quite a bit to get the relatively empty photos of this series. But it also meant that there were lots of interesting artists in place to explain and discuss their work and I spent a lot of time just listening to them describing their work. Artists, especially Japanese, have such a down to earth matter of fact way of talking about art, very different from the way media, critics and auction houses do.
The graduation show goes on until noon on the 31st of January and is located very close to Ueno Park. You can use the JR Ueno, Nippori and Uguisudani stations or the Nezu suway station. Official web site in Japanese is here.
More photos of Ueno and Ameyokocho on that hot October afternoon a few weeks ago! This place really is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Tokyo, both for domestic and foreign visitors to Tokyo. The shopping is in my opinion second to none in Tokyo, both in terms of prices and in variation. There’s a huge variety of shops and many little arcades and malls nestled among the restaurants and hidden under the train tracks. This is also where quite a few different genres of subcultures converge for their shopping needs, as you will see anyone from sports team freaks to old men trying out golf jackets to rockabilly boys, punks, skaters, vintage military gear lovers and many more. The area is right between Ueno and Akihabara which means that you could easily spend a couple of days slowly browsing your way from one end of to the other. The first photo is of one of the three different tourist bus lines heading out from Ueno station and covering the area, a great way to see the city if you are a tired of walking around. The bus is called Megurin.