Some final bits of “real Tokyo” as Gordon Price departs this prefecture of 13 million people, just one part of the world’s most populous metropolitan area at almost 38 million. And we ask, “what core values do people embrace in an urban world some 15-20 times the size of our own?”
He’s shown us many examples over the past week, but in the following video (12+mins) by the Fung Brothers, we see two worth considering:
- Convenience: Best represented by Family Mart, an institution like a grown-up 7-Eleven
- Mario Kart: Those buggies seen outside the Apple Store on Day 6
Perhaps the latter one isn’t what we would traditionally consider a value, but it’s hard to define what this is. Recreation? Transportation? Product placement?
Whatever it’s expressing, Mario Kart is low intensity, individualized, and fun; and while there has been a spate of crashes in the past year, they’ve seemingly resulted mostly in property damage and injuries. Whereas in many North American cities (most prominently these days, Toronto), using the device called a bicycle is almost akin to a death wish.
Can you imagine the council debate on Mario Karts in your city? How different is it from a scooter, a hoverboard or even an e-bike?
The Japanese love them convenience stores, like 7-11 (lots of those here as they pursue world dominance). But the leader does seem to be Family Mart, which truly are everywhere (and yes, they are primarily signed in English). For insight into their appeal as a popular place for prepared food, check out the Fung Bros fun take on FM here: https://youtu.be/_JuVOcASsC8
Family Marts, I’m told, are primarily staffed by young immigrants from other Asian countries – a sign that labour-force realities may be changing Japan’s attitude to immigration itself. Which has been mostly ‘we don’t want any.’ This inward island of racial homogeneity seemed more prepared to entertain drastic population decline and try to keep the economy growing and services supplied through technology (hey, robots!) than to allow outsiders inside. So Family Mart may be on the front line of change. I doubt, however, that guest workers will be able to become citizens, as they can reasonably expect to be in Canada.
Tokyo has lots of tall buildings, the office towers especially clustered in mixed-use projects like Roppongi and Midtown, around stations like Shibuya or in districts like Ginza. But almost none of the towers are distinct or tall enough to provide an identifying icon for their cluster. Except for maybe the Shinjuku cluster – where a cartoony deco tower, looking like it would be more at home in Stalin’s Russia than modern Tokyo, spears the skyline with a landmark that allows a visitor to, at a glance, know where Shinjuku station can be found.
A general sense that much of the earlier rail and transit station infrastructure remains dated and undersized – like here on one of the high-speed (Shinkansen) rail platforms at Tokyo station: too narrow, blandly coloured, and even lit with fluorescent bulbs (when was the last time you saw those?). The Olympics are coming in 2020. One would have thought they would have justified a major upgrade.
There are reasons why Kyoto Station is more impressive than anything seen in Tokyo. As a vast mixed-use development under a glass roof 15 storeys high, it is one of Japan’s biggest buildings and second largest station. Designed by Hitoshi Hara, opened in 1997, it is a deliberately futuristic building in one of Japan’s least modern cities. And it says a lot about the country’s transportation priorities.