The name Shinjuku Station is a misnomer. It should be named Shinjuku Stations. There are 2 ends to the station for 2 sets of different Metro lines and the walk between them is quite a distance. It also serves the local train lines, regional train lines and JR lines which cross all over Japan. You would expect the various lines would be served by duopolies in most countries at best but in Japan, many lines are owned by different companies.
We were bewildered by the station the first few times we visited and are only just beginning to get the feel of the station. More than a few times, we found it easier to find the nearest exit and walk on the street level the long away around than trying to navigate the maze of corridors.
The amazing thing about this is partly of the Japanese concept of building retail centres around the station so that it is more than a commuting experience. We counted about 6 different department stores clustered around the station, not counting the smaller shops and the other shopping areas around it. Simply put, it is an entertainment quarter, a meeting point, a culinary experience and lots more than a transportation hub. It, in its own right, is a tourist attraction, if you are not bewildered by the maze of corridors, the relentless crowds and the consumerism of it all.
It is so large and so purposeful and convenient that they have a Unilqo on either side of the station as well as smaller Uniqlo shop fronts in many of the corridors. At the busy end, when the temperature is a little warmer, you can feel the warmth of the human traffic – I wonder what it would be like in the sweltering heat of summer.
And we see that they are expanding the station even more on the other side of the station.
The station is built for commuting at the foremost, which explains the corridors and maze of walkways leading to various parts of Shinjuku. The one negative we found about the station is that, whilst it is designed for commuters, it is not properly planned for travellers lugging their suit cases or the impaired with wheelchairs or baby strollers due to the lack of lifts and escalators (from what I can read, they are slowly retro fitting many metro stations). There are imprinted lines for the blind but if you are mobile impaired, there are often stairs and steps to overcome. We knew about this during our trip prior to this one. We were planning for an efficient transition and decided to spend 1/2hour the night before to map the line of least resistance as we had to get from the metro station on the east side to the Narita Express on the west side (interchanging at an earlier Metro station was not an ideal option either). After an hour, we found that the only way of not using steps and stairs was to go through one of the department stores and use one of their lifts. Probably not what they had in mind. Perhaps with the next trip, we shall pay a little extra and make use of the luggage forwarding service.
Some years ago (probably when the English version of the book came out in 2009), I read an article about something called Hyperart. A Japan conceptual artist named Genpei Akasegawa in the 70’s was noticing certain urban constructs around the city that had no particular purpose. This could have been a staircase leading up to nowhere, a door that opened to a 10 foot drop or a bricked up ticket booth. These objects had outlived their original purpose and, for whatever reason, were not destroyed or removed. In deed, he noticed that in some instances, repairs would still be made to them.
He encouraged his students to take photos of these objects around Tokyo and they were published in a photography magazine. He named it hyperart as well as Thomassons. Thomasson was an imported American slugger for the Yomiuri Giants baseball team. They paid a lot of money for him and he did not perform strike after strike. Akasegawa muses that “He had a fully formed body and yet served no purpose to the world.
You can buy the book here:
The book is currently out of stock and guess I was lucky enough to buy one of the last copies late last year.
I was stuck by the article and started seeing Hyperart around my own city – objects that would be missed by everyone else. I had this in mind whenever I happen to be in Japan. The list of Japan things in my mind includes:
Sleeping salary men (ticked)
Crazy Japanese fashion (half ticked)
Really small houses or apartments (not ticked)
Crazy Japanese manga including very adult ones (ticked)
Mount Fuji (not ticked – struck by bad weather and left at the entrance to the fifth station)
Ticketing machines for food (ticked)
Vending machine for used female underwear (this one is possibly an urban myth)
and of course on the off chance Hyperart. Lo and behold I believe I found a Hyperart in the middle of Shinjuku station – possibly the last place I would expect one because it was designed for efficient movement of commuters. In this busy corridor you have a set of stairs leading up to another set of stairs going back down to the same level. It would seem improbable that they built it to cover up some machinery protruding into a busy corridor. Perhaps it was cost padding for some yakuza linked builder to squeeze a few more dollars out of the building contract. Or someone had a funny idea and built it as a modern tribute to hyperart.
I did a double take when I noticed it, pointed it out to W and gave her a quick 2 minute explanation for my curiosity.
She just went “huh?”
I took a quick photo or two, and just had to run back to walk up the first set of stairs to walk down the set at the end. One of my joys during autumn is to walk and crunch over brown crunchy fallen leaves. I felt like a kid for that half minute walking up and down those stairs when everyone else was walking on the flat side of the corridor.