Tuesday 26 September 2017


When the sun is setting across Japan, down suburban city streets, a song is played through speakers on every corner. We asked a Japanese friend why this was—they told us it was to let the children know that it’s time to go home, called the goji no chaimu (5時のチャイム) or the "5pm bell".

The first time we heard the tune we were returning to where we staying in Sasazuka, Tokyo, along the same paths as the weekday commuters. The shadows were long and the air was cold; through an open window we could hear a child was practising trumpet; all was calm and in the place that it needed to and should be. This was when we realised that Tokyo was much more than the sense-overloading megalopolis that people would have your believe it is. Here was a city of delicately layered lives, people filling up every corner of entwining towns, each of them brimming with their own texture, complexion and charm.

Although the whimsical whistling of the 5pm bell is a test of the public emergency alarm system, it illustrates the peacefulness of residential routine, encompasses the almost indescribable subtle world of Tokyo's suburban backstreets. The goji no chaimu appeared in our ears like a melancholic melody; a wash of perfect sound flying along the waves of the golden evening sun that was swiftly losing its touch to the dying darkness of the winter's night. The lasting light glowed orange and yellow in blocks of shape across the uniform patchwork grids of tiles on the facade of low houses and lit up the leaves on the faithfully arranged potted plants placed on doorsteps and atop air conditioning units. The aesthetic of care and consideration. Of making the best of the practical situations of life. The tangles of telephone wires up above echoed the song and people slipped silently off of the road and through the front doors to their small dwelling calling 'okaeri' as they left the city streets behind, all on a track, one by one slipping off into their different private worlds.

From the spiderweb of roads between Sasazuka and Shibuya station, to the old wooden shitamachi (downtown) of Yanaka, the aesthetic of Toyko is not the singular hi-modernity of glowing lights and high-rise buildings. The winding backstreets at sunset—the peaceful stillness of a graveyard in the snow—Toyko's delight is all in the delicate details and intimate atmospheres. The city is more than what first meets the eye. Before we arrived in Japan the notion in our mind's eye of Tokyo was seen in flashes of images – Scramble Crossing, Harajuku fashion, blaring lights, overwhelming crowds – a daunting and hardy futuristic metropolis. What we discovered was global city filled with fun and warmth, careful pragmatic design, understated style and endless heart.


All photographs © 2016, yes/no. Please credit if used

No comments:

Post a Comment