Friday, April 03, 2015

Big Walk 2015

Update: Apr. 12, 2015
Post complete!

So, first I owe those of you who closely follow my Big Walk exploits (all none of you) a little explanation about last year. Big Walk 2014 totally happened. True story. Co-walker Craig and I walked from Motomachi-Chukagai in Yokohama, west and then northeast, finishing at Tsurumi Station. But I didn't bother measuring it or making a post about it because the photos that resulted were nothing special. Also I'm lazy. Also shut up.

This year, however, was a proper Big Walk, complete with loads of photos and a respectable distance. Due to my busy work schedule at this time of year, however, the Walk had to happen on a weekday, so I did it on my own this time.

9:28 AM

The circumstances for this Big Walk are pretty close to ideal. Look at all those sunny marks. No chance of rain. Perfect temperature. The yoshinozakura are in full bloom across much of the metropolitan area. It's destiny.

I gear up (gear = camera with three batteries and two lenses) and walk to Flower Road, an aptly-named pedestrian greenway that stretches from my neighborhood toward Minami Urawa Station. As you might guess from the name, it's loaded with flowers.

I could easily spend an entire hour here taking photos, but that's not the name of the game. I tell myself that there will be other flowers and force myself to get moving. Ten minutes later I cross the border from Saitama City into Kawaguchi City and head south toward the Tokyo Gaikan (Outer Loop) Expressway.

10:09 AM

The Gaikan Expressway is an elevated highway that encircles the inner metro area. The noise barriers on top of it, which are visible from quite a distance, give the impression of a gigantic wall surrounding the city. In which case it could be said that I live north of "the wall."

I cross under the expressway and continue south through Kawaguchi. On the way, I find lots more to photograph.

10:30 AM

Soon I begin to see signs advertising something called Green Center Park, which is apparently a recreational complex that includes a botanical garden, a swimming pool and an ice rink. I pass by Green Center on its west side, taking more photos on the way.

10:39 AM

Big Walk 2010 featured a "sad playground," in which half the equipment was cordoned off, apparently for safety reasons. But today I find an even sadder playground: one that has only one piece of play equipment and a phone booth.

Are we having fun yet?

After that, I'm surprised to see a sign reading "Minumayūhodō," which is the name of another greenway that runs near my house. I'm not sure if it's the same path; Minuma is a name for a large, forked swath of land (formerly marshland) that stretches from the present-day town of Yoshino in the northwest to Higashi Kawaguchi Station in the southeast, with the Shiba River at its lowest point. There could be more than one greenway in the area sharing the name. Or the greenway might at one time have been a long, uninterrupted path, now pre-empted by the need to build more roads for vehicle traffic.

After that the scenery gets boring for some time as I continue south through Hatogaya, an area that is equal parts residential and industrial. Rather than sakura, I find more mundane things to photograph, like stairs:

And transmission towers:

11:20 AM

Just off the road I'm following is a large-ish park full of picnickers. Not only are there lots of the same yoshinozakura that I've been photographing all morning, the park also has a bunch of more vivid-pink blossoms called shidarezakura (AKA "weeping sakura" because the branches hang low like a willow tree).

After Mitsuwa Park I cross the Shin-Shiba River and continue through a similarly boring area, stopping only for lunch. Lunch is gyūdon at Yoshinoya.

12:30 PM

Just as the walk is beginning to feel tedious (and I'm becoming more and more aware of the fact that I didn't put on enough sunscreen and probably should have worn a hat), I reach the Arakawa (it's a river, but I try not to call it the Arakawa River because that would be redundant; -kawa means "river"). Once I cross the gigantic bridge, I'll be in Kita Ward, Tokyo Metropolitan Prefecture. Here's an Arakawa panorama of the view to the west-southwest:

The south bank of the river is slightly more flowery to the west, but my destination is to the east. After taking some more sakura photos, I cross the Sumida River (which, at this point, is little more than a branch of the Arakawa) and go southeast. I follow the riverside past Akabaneiwabuchi and Shimo Stations, stopping to shoot the concrete animals at Kita-ku Kasen Park.

1:27 PM

As it veers away from the Arakawa, the Sumida River plunges south toward Tokyo Bay. More or less parallel to that is Kitahon-dōri, a major road which forms the next leg of the Big Walk.

As soon as I cross Kannana-dōri, the theme of my photos shifts from the seasonal charm of cherry blossoms to an entirely different kind of photogeneity: shitamachi. Shitamachi literally means "downtown" -- not in the shiny skyscraper sense, but rather in the old and busted sense. For example, this secondhand store, whose motto is apparently "just set that anywhere":

Or this old building hidden in the shadows of newer apartments:

When people say shitamachi, they are usually talking about parts of town principally developed in the 1950s and 60s, which have been slow to gentrify. Hallmarks of shitamachi include old-looking signage...

...cluttered workshops...

...excessive use of wood and aluminum (two materials that don't last long in building exteriors)...

...buildings whose proprietors seem unwilling to acknowledge the fact that they need new awnings...

...piles of junk...

...and curbside arrays of flowerpots, possibly intended as "gardens."

On this final leg of the Walk I also come across some of the best/worst shop names:


cut brains
B.S. Asian Restaurant and Bar

MF Machinery, Ltd.
Oh Trunkroom
I am heading for Tokyo Skytree. The character of this area in particular is unique; the district, traditionally one of the shitamachi-est parts of Tokyo, has seen a recent jump in property values in reaction to the construction of Skytree and anticipated influx of well-to-do types who want to live near Japan's tallest structure. The result is a strange mix of expensive, new condos and the aforementioned dilapidation. Similar to the phenomenon seen in Akihabara over the last ten years, the Showa-era aspects of the neighborhood will only continue to disappear over time, eventually replaced by modern sensibilities. Knowing this is what fuels my hyperactive shutterfinger as I pass by these otherwise unimpressive landmarks.

Here are a few more shitamachi pics from the area:

3:39 PM

Rather than stay on the big street all the way to the bridge over the Sumida River, I shift one block over so I can take a few more sakura photos before I reach my goal. On top of this being a nice, quiet greenway in the shadow of Skytree, it's also a good time of day for photographing the flowers, lit from the side by the afternoon sun.

After that I cross the Sumida River a second time, which takes forever because it's full of rubbernecking tourists and idiots riding their bicycles on the sidewalk.

4:08 PM

Big Walk 2015 ends at Tokyo Skytree Station. Too tired and sunburned to hang around taking any more pictures of the tower, I take just this one with my phone to mark the end of the Walk.

At 24.5 km, 2015 ranks as the second longest Big Walk recorded (after Big Walk 2011, which was almost a full kilometer longer). In Saitama Prefecture I walked through Saitama City's Midori Ward, followed by Kawaguchi City. In Tokyo I walked through Kita, Arakawa, Taitō and Sumida Wards. I took 339 photos (not including the small handful I took using my phone) using two lenses.

1 comment:

Limo said...

Looks like the weather was terrific for your extended stroll. Twas nice to read about your latest Big Walk!