Tokyo, a city that appears to literally never sleep. A metropolis with its own culture and work ethics that, within my own frame of reference, is incomparable with any other city around the world. An environment that is almost unnaturally clean with a landscape that is shaped by iconographic design in both media design and architecture. Colored with thousands of individuals moving within abstractly designed boundaries. Or forming clusters at therefor designated public meeting places, such as the outdoor smoking area, a glorified bus shelter where people can temporarily pause. Another striking moment of pause in the continually moving streetscape is formed by long queues for that particular shop or restaurant that has just opened. Creating structured rows of people; part of the number one favorite activity of the Japanese, namely shopping. A form of discipline that is not just limited above ground.
Even in the most visited station in the world; Shinjuku station, were millions of people come and go every day, the concept of chaos does not seem to apply. Overcrowded platforms with people neatly lined up in a row at the intended painted line on the ground. Then the train arrives, the doors open, and against every western presumption everyone is waiting for the passengers to go off the train first, to then enter that same, seemingly full, train backwards. An action where you push yourself into the wagon backwards, (utilizing the door opening’s edge) until the pressure from within gets too much. This is how hundreds of individuals fit anonymously in a train compartment. Another significant detail: in that same train you could hear a pin drop, so quiet. One does not eat or drink, and the use of a mobile phone (to make phone calls) is not allowed. Result: a “deafening” silence. This degree of obedience seems to symbolize life above ground as well. Everything runs smoothly and controlled. Everyone seems to be quietly living in their own (digital) bubble on their way to his or her work or home.
"In that same train you could hear a pin drop, so quiet. One does not eat or drink, and the use of a mobile phone (to make phone calls) is not allowed."
After these first impressions, I appeared somewhat overdressed on my first working day. Where things seemed all neat and ordered in public, there appears to be a slightly less structured working environment behind the closed doors of an average architectural studio. For example, the rooms are not separated by interior walls but by stacked models and architecture books. With personal ‘designed’ workspaces as a result. Where -with some regularity- one could find a sleeping employee in a somewhat uncomfortable position. It is only later that I find out the cause of this, for me unknown sight. Some time passes as I explore the office space from a stationary position full of awe and amazement. Then the head of human resources enters, she guides me around the office, which consists of four small residential looking buildings scattered in a building block and shows me my future workspace and superior in the last building we visit. A first for us both; my first international job as an architect and his first employee from the Netherlands. He expresses his expectations and my duties. My enthusiasm, and with it my determinism increases with every sentence! Admittedly, there is some delay, as my ears and brains are not sufficiently tuned to the spoken Janglish (Japanese-English) by the local staff. More than half an hour, many jokes, Japanese sayings and other informal topics later, I walk to my workplace; the beginning of my professional career in Japan can begin!
What to do? Integrate into a design team whose design is already at an advanced phase of the project. Tasks? Completing a competition for a library building in Europe. The deadline is already in a few days, resulting in a direct reality check; these are no longer academic projects. One sees here, in contrast to the Netherlands, an architect of my age as a full-fledged employee. This manifest itself in a lot of responsibilities and work. Crude facts, working weeks consists of an average of 6.5 working days a week. Of which, during the first month, 38 hours was the longest working day; with an average of 16 hours a day (hence those sleeping people during the day). The activities consist mainly of working on international design competitions that are elaborated from concept design to image defining detailing. With interim inspections by the managing partner and founder. The first acquaintance consisted of no more than a gentle forward bowing movement. After which a short meeting followed. What a presence! We are apparently not the only ones who want to speak to him. I see a long line running behind him, the assembly has the appearance of a snake of which he would form the head. As soon as he pauses, the next informal meeting can begin with the person next in line. In which he usually nods briefly and concisely, shakes his head or points his finger at some critical points. A man of few words.
The days themselves end later than the train operates. A Dutch means of transportation offers a solution here, the bicycle. A transportation method Dutch in use, but extremely Japanese when it comes to control. Every bike has a personal license plate. This means that the engraved frame number is registered by name and as a foreigner, you are often stopped (at least twice a week) to check whether the bike is actually yours. If it concerns a borrowed bicycle from a friend or colleague, they check if the registered owner has not reported it stolen. If it’s not reported, you can continue your ride without any problems. Necessary consequence, purchase of a Japanese bicycle that the local policemen recognized as my property after a few weeks. A bicycle used for not only commuting, but also the means of transportation on every free Sunday to fully enjoy everything that Tokyo has to offer. I wandered through the streets of this vibrant society like a shadow; I was not noticed and could not understand any of the sounds around me. It was as if I were surrounded by constant noise, a pleasant noise.
"My first memories of the city are therefore mainly visual, a film without a sound of recognition, a dialogue primarily perceived by gestures and expressions".