Manseibashi and Akihabara at Night
One of my favorite places in Tokyo was always the Manseibashi Station platform that spent a large chunk of both the last and this century in slumber – one of Tokyo’s few remaining ghost stations. Last year however it was finally revived with a great looking shopping arcade, balcony overlooking a canal and a fantastic cafe up on top between the tracks of the central Chuou Line train. I blogged about it last year after the renovation was complete and I still love going here every now and then, although I am not the only one – that cafe I mentioned earlier actually sells out of food most nights! Last time I went there they said the only thing we have left is black coffee, so if you go, go early!
A few days ago I passed the station just after the sun had set and the last light of the day was almost gone. The old platform looks even better at night. There is something special about red bricks that you just can’t translate into concrete. They feel alive, and their strength and longevity means that they can last for hundreds of years, accumulating raw history – the wrinkles and spotches of red bricks in old Tokyo buildings have everything from bomb shrapnel holes to modern signs. The special look and feel of red brick, or akarenga, as they are known in Japan, gets even further enhanced because there are so few of them. Red brick walls are incredibly difficult to earthquake proof and even the ancient romans solved the problem by adding copious amounts of reinforced concrete to the core of their brick structures (I am sure the Manseibashi platform also has a concrete heart but at least the cladding is the original red bricks). In fact the first architect to finally solve the problem of building with red brick walls in earthquake countries was Josiah Conder (1852-1920) by using reinforced metal bands embedded in the mortar between the bricks, effectively tying the walls together. You can see an example of this in the fantastic Mitsubishi Ichigokan building in Tokyo’s Marunouchi district. The Manseibashi station platform building is a perfect example of a building that is valuable, lovable and useful, so much that it survived Earthquakes, bombing raids, urban development and modernist architectural fads. It is not a mere space to which people adapt but an organically and historically evolved living building. I am sure it will be around for the future generations to come many centuries from now.
As a contrast, the last photo shows the totally utalitarian and disposable modern Akihabara on the other side of the canal, that represents a different form of beauty, where the brutalist architecture of concrete were unable to withstand the pure commercial and creative onslaught of unabashed humanity. You can see the signs of human activity literally crowding out every inch of ugly bare concrete helplessly drowned in a sea of humanity.
Sorry for this public love letter to a city – I just had to get it out!