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September 9, 2010

I went to pick up my bike today–I had left it across town earlier in the week and I was missing it–and after stopping by FIG bikes and asking lots of questions about the 20inch Bruno Mixte, I was walking towards the eventual bike pick up when I passed these real bridge stones.

It’s easy to not really notice them, two stone columns on either corner of a street. But it feeds into something I was reading this last week rather well. Because really, “why,” (one should stop and think,) “are there bridge marking stones on street corners?” But let’s be honest, you probably either didn’t notice them or didn’t care and would have walked on by. I mean for one thing you are in Harajuku and there are so many other things to look at, like weird outfits, the store with the tiny designer barbie clothes, the eight different United Arrows shops (I still haven’t figured that one out) and you wouldn’t notice that Cat street (named for its once healthy population of not so healthy street cats) in all its glitzy splendour, used to be a river. There are several of these types of streets around; rivers that have been covered over and turned into shopping streets, or green ways, or pedestrian walkways. I like that in Japanese they are called “amusing sidewalks.”

I always wondered why so many rivers were covered over, and figured it was really a space issue. I saw a tv show a few years back that was talking about how these rivers should be revitalized as in an emergency, such as a massive earthquake, they would be essential arteries into and out of the city.

But this week I stumbled upon WHY the rivers were covered over, and it all goes back to the 1964 Olympics. In the spirit of all Olympics everywhere, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics seem to have called on the city to put on a prettier face than it really had. So, all those local rivers that were being used for sewage across the city, those rivers of raw sewage that made the air foul, so foul that apparently copper would tarnish in a week if near the Sumida river, had concrete tops slapped on them, and tried to pass themselves off as “roads.” This makes me laugh. It makes me giggle hysterically to think that Cat Street, one of the most desirable shopping places on the city, is the roof to a sewer. It is indeed, an “amusing sidewalk.”

I also was reading today about “Washington Heights,” the downtown Tokyo American enclave suburban utopia built during the occupation. I was wondering where it had been located, thinking maybe the current American compound near Roppongi was built on it or something. But no, turns out it was in Yoyogi park. You know, the beautiful park now inhabited by some of the worlds most organized and tidy homeless men. In the fifties, it was full of grass lawns and aryan children riding their bicycles, gated off from the Tokyo outside. Incidentally, right about the time the sewers were carpeted in concrete, Washington Heights was turned into an Olympic village for athletes, before becoming the park it is today.

I would still like to solve the mystery of when the street in front of Yoyogi became a place for bands on the weekend. I want to know if it coincides with the student riots in Shinjuku. There was a transition in the way public space was configured, from open plazas (which had the potential for sit ins) to walkways and shopping streets without cars (which could be monitored by police to keep people moving). I’m curious if the Rock Band Sunday routine was a way to put all the “rebels” in one place to “rebel” simultaneously, but in a managed way. And right in front of where Washington Heights had once been.

Eventually I did pick up my bridgestone bike, and man, it’s almost too far from Taiko to ride home (about 10km). And full of hills. At least the weather has started to dip below 30.

I still can’t make up my mind about a road bike…I could be faster. Or I could wait till I get home and buy one.

Distance Cycled: 15km

Train fare saved: ~600 yen (I took the train part way to fetch the bike, so it’s hard to say really)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Libby permalink
    September 9, 2010 5:46 pm

    Mmmm…poop river pedestrian shopping street…I’ve been there! 😉

    You are really discovering some amazing stuff on your bike, missy.

  2. September 12, 2010 5:26 pm

    Wow, the American suburb would have been something to see…..I thought Vancouver was bad for submerged creeks, etc. Amazing!

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