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February 01, 2019

A Planner Abroad... in Tokyo

A Planner Abroad... in Tokyo
Tokyo is a city of contrasts. As the world's biggest city with an estimated 38 million people, you can find very peaceful and safe neighbourhoods next to busy shopping districts. The city is said to have some of the dullest architecture but look around and you see some of the most innovative in the world. New commercial and residential buildings are constantly renewing the city's building stock, and yet some of the most recognizable buildings, including Ikagami Honganji and Sensoji Temple, are hundreds of years old. This piece introduces you to the city that (almost) never sleeps.

Public Transportation System:
Japan has often been known for its effective and extensive transportation system. From the Shinkansen that can run on schedule even in inclement weather, to 201921.jpglocal service serving all corners of the country, trains run on a tight schedule with little room for error. This attention to detail is a combination of technology and consistent training of staff.

The word “public transit” is actually loosely used to describe the complex web of rail lines that crisscross Tokyo. Most of the transit companies that run the transit system are privately owned and operated. Japan Rail (JR) East was created after privatization and the breakup of the public company in 1987. Tokyo Metro is run by a private company but owned by the Japanese government and Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Others such as Tobu and Seibu have always been privately-owned companies. Despite having such negative views of private transit, there are few, if any, concerns there would be a monopoly because there are more than a dozen transit companies in Tokyo to maintain plenty of competition.

And looking at transit maps is the fun part. Without relying on Google Maps could you find your way around Tokyo? Probably not. But neither can locals. A lot of these such as the Yamanote Line201922.jpg as shown in the first map are popular with tourists. But for a local who lives in Saitama Prefecture or Omiya, one of the dozen private transit companies is the way to go.

And with dozens of public and private transit systems in Tokyo, how does one pay a transit fare? Behold the IC rechargeable fare card, and Tokyo being so large, has two: Suica and Pasmo. No matter what transit system you board, both are universally accepted. And due to intense competition and public scrutiny, fares are also universally the same (plus/minus a few Yen) as fares are calculated by distance.
JR East Group Railway Lines Network
Tokyo Subway Route Map
Tokyo Rail Map
Maps of Tokyo’s expansive transit network. Click to enlarge.

Cultural Heritage:
In a fast-paced city like Tokyo, preservation and restoration of many historical landmarks are often an expensive yet effective way in maintaining a sense of culture 201926-(1).jpgand identity. This is especially important as there are few original cultural heritage landmarks left due to the Kanto Earthquake in 1923 and various WWII air bombings.

Similar to North America, underutilized historical buildings are often repurposed and used as part of a redevelopment plan, such as Kitte, a retail and office complex located on the site of a former central mail sorting facility of Japan Post Office and located west of Tokyo Station.

Of course, we cannot forget the numerous temples and shrines in the city such as the famous Meiji Shrine and Sensoji Temple, both of which are examples of cultural heritage that create an identity of the city, and a source of spirituality. Thankfully these were spared from the destruction of previous seismic and man-made disasters.

Case Study: Tokyo Station
Tokyo Station is served by six Shinkansen lines, eight Japan Rail (JR East) local and regional rail lines, and the Marunouchi subway line of Tokyo Metro. It has ten island platforms serving twenty tracks. The original part of the train station was built in 1914 and today is called the Marunouchi portion of the station. The Yaesu portion of the station was added later in the late 1920s. Much of the damage occurred during WWII, but due to the lack of resources, the station was hastily rebuilt 201929.JPGto substandard conditions.
A decade of interior and exterior restoration and renovation was complete in 2017 and involved numerous projects. One of the biggest of these included the seismic retrofitting of the entire station to prevent future damage in an earthquake and restoring the Marunouchi side to its original design.

One of the most impressive projects was to restore the domes to its original design. Inside the restored North and South Dome structures include some original but mostly replica plaster parts such as the eight zodiac sign sculptures. This is an example where both western and eastern influence meld in a single design.

2019211.JPGThe third floor reconstruction posed challenges and the damage to the station was mostly on the upper floors with the ground floor mainly intact. The preservation of the ground floor facade and the restoration of the upper floor facade resulted in an almost seamless transition between the original brickwork and the new replica materials used to restore the upper floors. This is an example of the absolute attention to detail and the painstaking work needed to restore such a landmark station to its former glory. And as of 2017 the reconstruction of the station was complete.

If you visit Tokyo, one of the places you must visit is Tokyo Station, especially for those interested in cultural heritage preservation and restoration.

Commercial Street/Shotengai:
If you want to experience the traditional side of Tokyo then one must visit something called a “Shotengai,” a commercial corridor typically located near a train station or historical highway route. Not all commercial corridors are considered a Shotengai and have been observed to contain certain elements:
1.      Almost exclusively commercial uses at grade dominated by retail and restaurants. You might also find a local pachinko parlour or video arcade. You might 2019213.jpghave residential and office uses above the ground floor.
2.      They are accessible only to pedestrians and cyclists during the day and evening when most of the businesses are open, and open to delivery trucks and vans during the night and early morning.
3.      Investments are common such as the installation of awnings, unique floor tiles, lighting, or entrance gates. The purpose of such installations is to protect shoppers from inclement weather, and to create a certain image for the Shotengai. Oftentimes the investments pay off as the Shotengai becomes tourist attractions such as ones in Sendai and Sapporo.
4.      A successful Shotengai may have its own marketing team and are responsible for advertising, festival and event planning, website creation, and even designing its very own mascot.
When one thinks of a Shotengai in Tokyo they would think of famous ones such as Yanaka Ginza and Jujo. However, as part of a self-guided tour, I decided to visit one that is geared more to local residents and see that the difference is.

Case Study: Tateishi Shotengai
A half an hour away by train from the glitzy commercial streets of Ginza lies a local train station called Keisei Tateishi Station. You normally would not get off the train at this station unless you live or work here. Walk through the Shotengai you are immersed in a time warp of what Tokyo might have looked like 30-40 years ago. Tateishi Shotengai is located 2919212.jpgimmediately in front of the train station and consists of three streets. Investments have been made in the past to glam up the Shotengai but it has definitely seen better days.

The shops here cater to locals, selling produce, seafood, meats, and dry goods. The odd ones sell household items and clothing. A few restaurants and izakayas (Japanese-style pubs) exist but at the time of my visiting (around 12 noon) none of them were open. 

Store signs are relics of a previous generation as old-style fonts in Hiragana and Katakana dominate. Forget English here since there are few tourists or gaijin (foreigners) that visit this area, and changing the sign would cost money and effort.

Tateishi is an example of an older, more established Shotengai geared to local residents. It serves2019214.jpg as the community's commercial core, and oftentimes is a place for socialization and meeting of neighbours. I could only imagine how it would be busy on weeknights and weekends.
Lessons for Ontario:
You might think Tokyo is so different from any town or city in Ontario that there are few lessons to learn from. Not true. In fact, here are a few lessons I have learned when observing how Tokyo functions and how they can apply to communities across Ontario.
Lesson 1: Expand the IC rechargeable fare card for a greater customer experience
2019216.jpgTechnology goes a long way in ensuring an exceptional customer experience especially when encouraging greater acceptance of the IC card. Both the Suica and Pasmo IC cards used in the Tokyo area are not only used for transit fares, but are also used to buy groceries, pay for parking, paying the bill at a restaurant, and even buying clothes. Imagine your Presto card can do all of that. You would never need cash anymore to buy your lottery tickets or newspaper. Coins would be a thing of the past.

Lesson 2: Density does not have to mean skyscrapers
Tokyo, despite its large population, is a surprisingly “low” city with few skyscrapers. When you visit Shinjuku or Shibuya, or even Roppongi, there are many tall buildings, but outside of these business districts low- and mid-rise buildings dominate. In fact, the majority of Tokyo is made up of quiet 2019230.jpgsprawled residential neighbourhoods. The big difference with the ones in North America is the lack of private yards and amenity space, parking areas, and large community parks and green space. Further, there is a mix of dwelling types from the standard single detached, to duplexes, and even low and mid-rise apartments all interspersed. Although we will never achieve identical communities, with a good mix of dwelling types in a single neighbourhood, you achieve the densities without the height, and meet the needs of all types of households.

Lesson 3: Don't lose the historical identity of the city
Generally, heritage is protected in Ontario under legislation such as the Ontario Heritage Act and the Planning Act. In a city such as Tokyo, however, they have gone one step further to recreate and restore historical buildings to its former glory. They do this to honour the history that was lost due to natural disasters and previous wars. Such recreation is done faithfully but is extremely expensive. For example, the full restoration and recreation of Tokyo Station as it was in 1914 as shown above (including seismic retrofitting) cost ¥50 billion (about CAD$620 million). This does not include any addition of platforms or rail infrastructure.

All photographs courtesy of Timothy Lee, RPP, City of Hamilton.

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s), and may not reflect the position of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Post by Timothy Lee, RPP, City of Hamilton

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