Speeding through the world's largest metropolitan area

Every time I look out at Tokyo as I cross the Rainbow Bridge, I can’t help but be strangely moved. When I think of the lives, thoughts, hopes and dreams of these countless souls, one behind each of the multitude of brightly twinkling lights, perhaps I’m unconsciously awed by the existence of a city with such a vast conglomeration of lives. People move to cities to follow their dreams. I became an inhabitant of this city at the age of 18. My city of dreams, TOKYO, is here, laid out before me as I travel the Metropolitan Expressway.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway project started in 1959 and opened to traffic, as Metropolitan Expressway Route 1, linking Haneda, central Tokyo and Yoyogi (Olympic Village) in 1964 to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics. The late 1950s to the mid-1970s was a time when Tokyo, which had housed the world's largest population since the Edo period (1603-1867), was on the verge of unprecedented economic growth, accelerating the development of the city's urban infrastructure. When calmly considered, it may have seemed quite high-handed to build grade-separated junctions made of blocks of concrete in the middle of a huge, densely populated city and to string up elevated roads within inches of commercial buildings and residences.

However, the intense energy of the city channeled toward greater rapid economic growth was so strong that the Metropolitan Expressway was realized in a very short period of time. In places where it was difficult to build elevated roads, the expressway was raised above rivers, and even vistas that had been touted as famous landmarks were completely transformed.From the perspective of an ideal urban environment, this may have been a reckless and brutish plan. But cities evolve according to the desires of their inhabitants, not necessarily as the result of reason, and the Tokyoites of the day accepted this development.

I have heard that, among Dutch architects who tend to extoll the artificial, the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway is considered interesting. As I recall, the nuance of this admiration was that visitors to Tokyo should take a drive along the Expressway, because while it’s a brazen and audacious structure mounted upon the city, there’s something cool about it that one would never find in any other city. We have a saying, "Hikaremono no Kouta", meaning to put on a brave face, like the Edo-period hikaremono (a criminal dragged to his execution bareback on a horse) who sings a ditty (kouta) as if completely at ease. While this signifies a poor loser who puts on a show of courage, for me, this point of view provides some small sense of relief.

When I'm in Tokyo, I travel on this expressway almost every day. Since I don’t have a driver's license, my continued experience of this view has been exclusively as a passenger. It’s been 40 years since I started working in Ginza, and with my hectic schedule, most of the time I’m returning home in the dead of night. As a result, this midnight expressway view is truly a second home to me. I was thinking that if I want to explore every corner of Japan, I should first look where I’m going. So I took some photos of what I consider my second home, the Metropolitan Expressway.

The scene captured by the camera mounted on the front windshield of the car looks exactly like a driving game. I took the photographs on a Sunday, early in the morning and at dusk. While the expressway has enjoyed a reduction in traffic jams with the expansion of the inner circular route, at dawn on a Sunday it’s smooth and free of congestion. Together with the area’s extensive subway network, the Shuto Expressway is an essential element of transportation infrastructure in the Tokyo-Yokohama area, the largest metropolitan area in the world.

On the day I chose to photograph the expressway, the weather was perfectly fine, affording clear views of even distant landscapes. In a documentary I saw once, an international pilot named Tokyo’s nightscape the most beautiful. The lights throughout the Greater Tokyo Area neither flicker nor go dark like missing teeth. They’re lit with precision. And here they are spread out on the largest scale in the world. In the clear air, the nightscape is visible in every direction, and I was reminded once again of the potential of this city. Even now, Tokyo is growing.


filmed with the cooperation of Tadashi Endo
Driver: Junichi Matsumura