USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

The Hidden City

Taking a brisk walk alongside a bridge that connects the Yamanote line to Ueno Station, our group stumbled upon a market district. The locals call it Ameyayokocho, which roughly translates to “candy shop alley.” The market is home to over one hundred and eighty shops, which sell products ranging from fresh food and fish, to clothing, electronics, and of course, candy.

Due to time constraints, our visit to Ameyayokocho was short and speedy, but enough was presented to us to entice another visit. Upon researching this unique part of Tokyo it appeared that little was written about this informal market. The reason for this being that Ameyayokocho is an urban byproduct that developed without planning. In other words, it shouldn’t exist.

Ameyayokocho is a part of Tokyo that we discovered only by sheer coincidence, but nevertheless a major part the city’s urban character. What is perhaps most exciting is that Ameyayokocho cannot be found on any maps or Japanese search engines, nor is it simple to find  on foot. It is a jewel reserved only for those willing to get lost.

The process of discovering (and later rediscovering) Ameyayokocho is what Michel de Certau describes as reciprocity. De Certau argues that all cities, much like language, communicate a meaning–one that can only be understood by engaging the city.

                City engagement requires the exchange of dialogue between both the architecture and the people; the formal and the informal; the geometrical and the anthropological. When the two are mutually in sync, reciprocity occurs. Likewise, the more a user disengages a city the more homogenous it becomes. In such case the idea of understanding the city is rendered to a meaningless whole rather than a series of separate components acting together to create one.

Ameyayokocho is anchored in an area between the geometrical and the anthropological. It is an informal market that sprouted out of a necessity for affordable goods within an expensive and extremely dense residential community. It is an unplanned part of Tokyo that exist below a major railway line and adjacent to residential high-rises.

As architects we have an obligation to tactically engage users into a space, even if our means are geometrical. The relevance of architecture within a contemporary system structure lies in the intentionality of our actions. Architects must begin to read the city as a poem rather than a book. We must give in to the idea that the city can be read in different ways, that it is acceptable for users to get lost, and that there is something beautiful about the informal.

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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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