Shimokitazawa (下北沢) is a neighborhood in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward and the subject of a short film I’m making that’s roughly a month away from being finished, one of the last pieces to complete The Tokyo Project. I had thought it might be ready about now, but since it’s coming a little later than planned I wanted to record a quick note regarding a big moment for Shimokita that transpired a few days ago. Friend, Shimokitazawa resident and community organizer Yurika Takahashi (@yurikacchi) helped keep me up-to-the-minute with events and provided all of the still photos included in this post.
The grade level rail crossings (踏切 fumikiri) in Shimokitazawa predate World War II. They are iconic, inseparable parts of the community fabric. At least, they were until just after midnight on March 23, when the bells stopped and the gates lifted for the very last time. The following morning, The Odakyū Odawara Line switched to new underground tracks and platforms, and its fumikiri are already being dismantled. The tracks and gates bisected the neighborhood into north and south halves, each with lively but distinct atmospheres. The cramped spaces created by all of the buildings shoehorned between the Odawara Line and intersecting Keio Inokashira Line, and the roundabout paths needed to thread through the multiple crossings are what give Shimokitazawa its unique layout and character. The change in hardware and pending redevelopment have far-reaching implications.
I will go into detail about the background for all of this and the bigger picture of Shimokita when the film is ready, but events surrounding the transition are too notable to let pass without special mention. In Shimokitazawa there are several community groups engaged in dialog and activism regarding redevelopment, and one even sprung up recently to usher in the rail changeover, さよなら踏切！ようこそシモチカ！ or Good Bye Fumikiri! Welcome to Shimo-chika! (chika refers to subway or underground). This group became a conduit for the community to reflect on the role the train and crossings have played in the life of the neighborhood, for better and for worse. It gave many the opportunity to express thanks for fond memories of the past, while embracing the changes that are already in motion and those yet to come. You can check out the lively discussion on the group’s Facebook page. It’s a great example of how to do community engagement.
Back on March 15: everything operating normally
March 16: flashmob displaying the Sayonara/Yōkoso tagline is filmed at one of the fumikiri, to be used in communications
March 16: pedestrians, cyclists and cars wait at one of the fumikiri
March 21: new tracks and tunnels are ready to enter service. Yurika notes that she had to temporarily assume the role of tetsuko (female railfan) in order to get this picture standing next to the driver at the front of the train. I think many of my Japanese friends are various degrees of railfan at heart, whether or not they admit to it ^_^
March 22: on the eve of the closing, a last walk through part of the above ground station
March 23, just after midnight: waiting for the last train
Here are a couple of the many videos by other participants, taken from the center of the mob in the final moments:
There is much yelling, hooting and hollering, but one repeated cry that comes through loud and clear is “Arigatō! Arigatō gozaimasu!” When is the last time you held a street party to show your public transit how much you loved it?