USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Trains as Transport: Liberation or Shackles?

Living in California we are surrounded by a society that equates automobile ownership to freedom, and the open road to endless opportunity.  Never mind the fact that the roads of Los Angeles are rarely open, and that costs of maintaining a car may actually detract from opportunities for travel, the fact remains that we are being educated as architects and planners in a car culture that sees little value in any trip that cannot deviate from fixed tracks at a moment’s notice.

But Japan’s almost impossibly efficient system of mass transit (Tokyo Metro, Japan Rail, Shinkansen, buses) blankets nearly every corner of the metropolis representing an alternative paradigm, and one that just might be worth adopting in the land of drive-thru restaurants and dingbat apartments.  It is an interconnected system where even an auto enthusiast would begin to understand that there exists another type of freedom: freedom from cars.

The urban organization of Tokyo, that the city is built around a nodal mass transit system, means city dwellers share a common experience in their commutes where personal space is minimal and contact with other people frequent.  The fact that so many Japanese are willing to tolerate and even embrace a system built around efficiency, instead of the convenience and (spatial) luxury of auto transport so many Americans are accustomed to, reveals the extent to which this country has a differing notion of space and spatial constructs.  This notion is reflected again in the metropolis at large with its staggering density, and even in the nation as a whole, which exists on a serious of islands covered almost completely by mountain ranges that leave only a fraction of the land habitable.    The cities of Japan simply must be built to facilitate pedestrian movement if they are to accommodate such large numbers of people, and this means density, mass transportation, and an urban form where the underground land between subway stations and street level can become most valuable of all.

Since connecting people, services, and ideas is the primary function of cities, it would follow that Tokyo’s efficiency oriented approach may be best for facilitating this exchange, so long residents are willing to compromise a bit of individual freedom and personal space along the way.

Matt Luery

Filed under: America, Japan, Tokyo, Urbanism

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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu

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