"The city is being swept away by the metropolis. This action does not just replace one noun with another, but radically turns one state of affairs into a state of perpetual motion. As a collective action -- a verb more than a noun -- the metropolis destabilizes our concepts of time and place. With the dissolution of the city into the forever- emerging metropolis, our existence slides into permanent mobility." - L. Lerup, in After the City


5.4 Tokyo's goodbye on a humid friday morning:
two tarmac employees wave enthusiastically to our departing plane, their distant figures only inches high. how incongruous! a (nearly empty) flying machine begins to feel like an anthropomorphised pet with a name, and something about the gesture (finished with a tidy bow) was both unsettling and charming.

i write from Beijing; the smells and sensations of a new metropolis already begin to soften the impressions of Tokyo which, after all, remain largely sensual rather than intellectual. the first few days in any new city never cease to amaze me, the way that fleeting nuances of atmosphere initially read like projections on a movie screen. a few scattered words from my brief hours here: dusty red laughter dark narrow rubble wind monument watching order night lights silent square.

in acknowledgment of my inability to tidy up Tokyo, and my restless aversion to sitting the day away on this machine while Beijing's mega-streets and little lanes wait, i annotate Tokyo a bit chaotically:

crowded privacy, saving space, & boundary
doing makeup on the train seems like an oddly intimate gesture but is acceptable and common, while the rare soul who dares speak on their cell sticks out like a sore, blaring thumb. behaviors have slightly changed in the space of 7 or 8 years; i remember looking over the shoulders of salarymen as they read pornographic manga, or staring at the voluminous cleavage of an ad for a sexy magazine. now the ads have cleaned up (more of the usual: wedding halls, travel tours, junior colleges), and the compartments feel noticeably desexualized compared to before.

in relation to landscape elevation the rails are rarely on par; usually they either run in a crevice, like a river, banks stabilized with grass-planted retaining walls, or they stream above the city ground, sometimes at a building's awkward mid-height. in such cases the right of way often becomes a hovering maelstrom of glowing billboards. for all the ubiquitousness of rail, the boundary between these zones of machinic movement and the rest of the city usually remains legible.

however, this does not mean that the spaces generated beside and below the lines is wastespace. Shinagawa station exhibits one of the more remarkable conglomerations of line, station, road, and store that i found in Tokyo. a major node with at least a half-dozen convergences, the rails occupy several levels in section, and the right of way is lined with gleaming new business towers that feel as if they're hovering on the edge of water (the rail's real estate as it swells at the station is astoundingly wide, 150 m perhaps). in the most well-established example of underpass opportunism i have yet seen, a length of eateries is built beneath the overpass. it's an efficient use of space, and the shops are no ad-hoc job either, boasting their own mid-level wooden boardwalk which connects their storefronts and creates a walkway below sidewalk level but above 'true' ground.

other spatial efficiences: double decker train cars, the entire massive network of the underground city (some eateries quite appealing: 'champagne and hamburgers' under chandeliers, anyone?), bicycle homes in Ueno park, life rolled and packed onto the back, muji japan's 'window house', which is not quite pre-fab -- you provide the land, choose the plan, they build the compact white structure on-site for you.

Tokyo's restless movement is exhausting. a few minutes navigating Shibuya crossing (where you can watch yourself crossing the street on a realtime movietron) left me spinning and searching for coffee jelly in a non-smoking cafe. starbucks takes on a successful role here; as badly upholstered and poorly roasted as ever, it at least allows the solo'ist an affordable piece of real-estate. devoid enough of catering to a particular set, it attracts the gucci princesses and the pierced punkers alike. very highly patronized. another sanctuary is Macdonalds at midnight & beyond. most are 24 hour operations and provide resting ground for a few of the city's homeless, dubbed 'McRefugees.' the paper the other day cited Hong Kong's parallel and growing phenomena of the same.

the day i went to dine with my host-sisters there was another train suicide on the Tobu-Tojo line which backed up the morning commute1.5 hours. a major inconvenience (sic) and a major public gesture of 'screw the system' -- a 'quiet life of desperation' ended with a massive messy bang a la Anna Karenina. not uncommon. i couldn't stop thinking about was how scarred the driver must be.

navigation & open space
Tokyo has a few urban parks that defy penetration by rail and road, the most obvious of which is the imperial ground, the city-center sanctuary around which the Yamanote sen runs. there is also Ueno to the northeast, and Yoyogi-Meiji to the southwest. meandering from one station to the next by foot doesn't work as well here as in other cities; it's hard to receive adequate road directions that aren't given in relation to a station (especially if two stations' geographical adjacency is contradicted by a circuitous rail route in which you must use two different rail systems to travel a short distance). attempting to walk 2 km from Yoyogi to Yoyogi Hachiman (to find Maki's church) left me pleasantly lost in Meiji shrine's forested network of paths. the shrine itself is of sublime proportions, largely open-aired, and utilizing the most massive trees from Taiwan's virgin forests to create a true sense of timeless granduer. on a drizzling tuesday it was the best way to be lost. tired and damp i eventually relinquished control to the Odakyu line (a private, department-store related line; like others it radiates from its retail home and serves a residential area), backtracking the Yamanote in order to transfer and re-radiate.

a few words about Chiba-ken
...Tokyo's neighbor and dubbed the city's 'bread basket':
although development is encroaching the reflection of wet-rice cultivation remains a dominant landscape in the area around Sakura-shi. now is the time when the green blades of rice are barely beginning to poke through the still brown pools. these bodies of water are home to possibly the world's largest population of frogs which, at night, sing a nostalgic and deafening chorus. watching the Keisei line speed across a thin swath of land sandwiched by these rice paddies was nothing short of beautiful, the train's nighttime reflection on water a bright white ribbon of windows and tiny faces, heading home.

the developments out here: one was reminiscent of Singapore or HK, a series of non-descript blocks connected by a two-car monorail loop that radiates from the main Keisei line station. the other neighborhood is reminiscent of a u.s. suburb, with single family homes, two-car driveways, (albeit tightly packed and highly landscaped) and streetlights. purportedly at christmas there is a christmas light war that attracts onlookers from miles around, so much so that they've had to block the main residential street to prevent it from becoming a thoroughfare.

at the Roppongi Hills design store, i skimmed through the most recent a + u issue that focuses on 'recent projects' (70% of which are in Dubai). sleek, digital, grey-white object-towers that purportedly express the city's blank-slated, globally-focused, constructed-from-nothing nature felt already dated and left me wondering whether the physical manifestation of the 'space of flows' is really a sleek vector-like Hadid building. the flows that are creating Dubai seem to have less to do with physicality and more to do with banks and bytes. i walked away pondering how telecommuting and global-hop-scotching is affecting notions of the local, and whether the movers and shakers moving money and ideas will continue to inhabit said sleek and swoopy buildings or if it all might become so seamless as to someday defy any current notions of 'inhabitation' and building...

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