USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

“The Ants Go Marching”

Prior to arriving in Tokyo, I have this preconceived image of what Japan will be. Clips from Blade Runner and The Fifth Element feed the growing sense of intimidation with which I expect to soon be faced. Zooming around skyscrapers in flying vehicles with her bright orange hair and strappy outfit, Milla Jovovich somehow comes to represent what I will find here.

The ride on the limousine bus from Narita Airport to Park Hotel is reassuring. Aside from the foreign vegetation growing on the side of the road and the fact that we are driving on the left lane of the highway, things aren’t looking too extraordinary. We arrive, check in, and head out for dinner. Nothing crazy.

It isn’t until we enter the subway system that it hits me. This city is alive.

The network of subterranean stations seems too good to be true. Layers upon layers of trains and tracks worm their way beneath the bustling city. Crowds of daily commuters board and exit as if following their own invisible network of tracks with tunnel vision. As densely packed as these stations are, everyone knows where they are going and how to arrive at their destinations. Efficiency is key, and nothing is an afterthought. It also helps that when a train is scheduled to arrive at 11:23am, it actually arrives at 11:23am.

Beyond the station checkpoints, seemingly endless networks of stairs and escalators carve away at the ground and ceiling, giving a glimpse of light above and routes that lead even deeper into the earth. Shops and skylights enticingly line the path from one platform to another, suppressing the instinctive urge to break the surface for a gulp of air.

Even when one does emerge from below, the connection to this underground network remains very much intact. Rising through the levels of a building, there is a constant reference to stations found beneath the horizon of skyscrapers. It feels as if the city protrudes directly from the ground with a thin skin draped over its back, manifested in what we perceive as simply architecture.

Peering down from the uppermost levels reveals the grander scheme being carried out. Lights and shadows delineate meticulously choreographed paths. As I choose a pair of headlights to follow, I am reminded of the times when I observed ants crawling along the edge of a sidewalk, easily dodging pebbles and puddles. Of course at that time I also held a magnifying glass in my hand, waiting to catch the right angles of light so I could burn holes into leaves and fry the little critters. For those that escaped my childish curiosity there likely awaited a series of tunnels and chambers at their destination.

Suddenly Tokyo is no longer just a city.

It is a collection of void-filled mounds occupied by a group of organisms living and working for the greater good. Specific roles are delegated and carried out in a manner that allows the collective to function as a single entity. There is a sense of reluctance to step out of line and express individuality, in much the same way that ants avoid straying from the group. The one who wanders likely finds itself under a hot spotlight.

– alfredo

Filed under: Anthill, japan, Tokyo, Uncategorized,


The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.



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