Nissan Crossing reimagined as an experiential gallery in Ginza


Nissan Crossing seen from the landmark Ginza Crossing. Photo: Nacasa & Partners

The Nissan Crossing automotive gallery in Tokyo, Japan has welcomed over a million local and international visitors in its first four months since opening.

The design of Nissan Crossing has been recognized internationally by a Jury Award in the Architecture and Technology Category by the 2017 Architizer A+ Awards. The competition received entries from over a 100 countries and represented the best of architecture and design worldwide. Nissan Crossing has also garnered two IDA Design Silver Awards for Interior Design.

Previously known as the Nissan Gallery, the automotive innovation gallery has been in the heart of the landmark Ginza shopping district for over half a century. The gallery has had three previous iterations, two of which involved the complete demolition and reconstruction of the Sapporo building. The most recent reconstruction as Ginza Place was a significant and highly anticipated milestone because of the gallery’s legacy and prominence in Tokyo.

The design delivers an immersive experience, focused on innovation that excites. The two level space brings the thrill of driving back to the streets of Tokyo with a floor to ceiling ‘Virtual Facade’ directly on the Ginza Crossing. Synchronized LED (light emitting diode) mesh screens behind the ground floor turntable and embedded along the entire length of the facade give passers-by an immersive experience from the driver’s seat. Once inside, visitors are inducted into a digital and sensory experience within the showcase of leading-edge automotive technologies.

Each exhibit is seamless with the physical design of the interiors to enhance the visitor experience. The space embodies the aerodynamic qualities of automobiles with sweeping lines and dynamic, continuous forms. Automotive technologies and CNC (computer numerical control) fabrication techniques were employed to develop the complex Spiral forms. The Illuminated ribbon-like elements spatially define the exhibition areas overhead and merge with the walls and floors to create a cohesive environment. A non-linear exhibition design encourages visitors to take a self-directed tour based on their own interests, enriched by an app available on iPads throughout the gallery.

The first floor includes a turntable inside the glass-enclosed Cylinder, the Center Stage area for two vehicles, a curving Concierge desk and a high definition theater. An integrated and concealed hydraulic lift above the main stage allows for vehicles to be moved between floors and exhibited on the stages without compromising on space. Visitors use the adjacent escalators and elevators to circulate between floors. Architecturally, the common and exhibition spaces are continuous and materially seamless to increase the sense of expansiveness of the overall experience.

The exhibits continue on the second floor with an Interactive Wall that allows visitors to explore Nissan’s design legacy, a Spiral Stage for featured technologies and the Cylinder Top turntable. A bespoke Nissan Boutique and Crossing Cafe make up the other half of the second floor. Product offerings are curated and collaboratively designed with local Japanese artists and industrial designers.

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“Nissan Crossing enhances the customers’ experience with state-of-the-art technologies and world-leading interactive features.
Carlos Ghosn, Chairman & CEO Renault-Nissan Alliance

“The theme of the spatial design realized in Nissan Crossing plays an important role in the strong identity of the Nissan brand for subsequent designs of stores and booths of car shows, which will now be globally promoted. Without the elevated creative vision of Eight Inc., this project would not be successful.”
Tsutomu Matsuo, Associate Chief Designer, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.

About Shabbar + Eight Inc.:

Shabbar Sagarwala is a Canadian urbanist, architect and Principal at Eight Inc., the San Francisco-founded experience design firm responsible for Apple, Nike, Nokia and Citibank environments globally.

Prior to relocating to Dubai to head up the newest Eight Inc. office, Shabbar was Director at Eight Inc’s Singapore studio where he brought several branded environments to completion, including the award-winning Nissan Crossing, United Overseas Bank (UOB) Shanghai Flagship, Singtel FutureNow innovation Center in Singapore, Globe Iconic lifestyle center in the Bonifacio Global City, Manila and Globe Telecom Gen3 Retail Ecosystem and Philippine nation-wide roll-out. Urban-scaled proposals have included the Changi Precinct Innovation Hub in Singapore and Chapel Plaza mixed-use development in Melbourne. Pro bono projects for educational and non-profit institutions have included the INSEAD Creative Garage and Singapore Repertory Theatre renewal.


“Nissan Crossing, “Architizer: A+ Awards 2017, Phaidon

“Nissan Crossing,” Shotenkenchiku (Jan 2017, Vol. 62 No. 1): 96-99, 104
ニッサンクロッシグ:特別車と最先端技術で体感する自動車の未来, 商店建築2017 Vol62: ページ96-99, 104


Nissan Crossing website

“Nissan. Innovation that Excites,” Eight Inc.

Nissan Crossing Experience Centre, Architizer

“NISSAN CROSSING to the future in Ginza”

“Nissan Crossing welcomes one million visitors in four months,” Press Release, Nissan Global Newsroom (1 Feb 2017)

Schmitt, Bertel, “A famous Tokyo landmark returns as Nissan reclaims the heart of Ginza,” Forbes Magazine (23 Sep 2016)


「多摩美術大学 八王子図書館」 Tama Art University Library

The Main Entrance to the library with the curving facade

The Main Entrance to the library with the curving facade

A long-awaited visit to Toyo Ito’s Tama Art University Library in Tokyo’s far west-end at Hachioji. The concrete arches are reminiscent of Middle Eastern architecture, but lighter and almost paper-like when viewed from the exterior. Inside, the columns are irregularly placed over the sloping ground floor, cavern-like in places and cathedral-like on the magnificent second floor. The facade has concave curves on two sides, creating ample public spaces and signifying the entrances in the undulating gardens that surround the building. The custom furniture also undulates, reflecting the landscape of hills and valleys outside.

Curving facade overlooking the garden

Curving facade overlooking the garden

The reading room with a piece of furniture that mimics the landscape outside

The reading room with a piece of furniture that mimics the landscape outside

The cafe on the ground floor of the library

The cafe on the ground floor of the library


Architectural Iconoclast Wins the Pritzker Prize

Tama Art University Libraries

in search of urban intensities


This gallery contains 3 photos.

Tokyo Dérive: In Search of Urban Intensities 「東京漂流ー都市の強度を探して」 My research on Yanagihara published in the Mn’M Workbook 2, following the Situationist-style dérive fieldwork at the ‘Measuring the Non-Measurable’ Symposium, held in November 2012 at the International Keio Institute for Architecture … Continue reading

tokyo’s hinterland


Panoramic view of the mixed deciduous forests from the summit of Tennosan Mountain, Okutama

The metropolis of Tokyo is better known for its dense urban center surrounded by the Yamanote line, but so-called Tokyo-to includes 23 wards that stretch to the western edge of the Kanto Plain. Bordering Kangawa and Saitama Prefectures, the mountainous extremity of Tokyo is the source of the Tamagawa River and has several natural and rare habitats of alpine fauna and flora. At around the 1700m altitude in Okutama, near the summit of Tennosan Mountain, the cedar forests that blanket the hills below recede, giving way to a mixed deciduous forest. Autumn arrives in Okutama’s hills earlier than Tokyo, with temperatures plummeting from the mid-20s in the daytime to just above freezing in the evening. With the dramatic temperature swings in October, the deciduous forest is alight with the crimson reds of Sumac in the understory, the auburn palmate leaves of Sycamore, and the delicate ochre of Japanese Maples in the upperstory, and the bright yellow and orange Larches in the upper alpine reaches of the mountains. The cedars at lower elevations retain their evergreen boughs, the coniferous forest itself mute with an army of perfectly vertical trunks and a forest floor where nothing grows under the darkness of the dense shade.

The remaining mixed deciduous forest near the summits of Okutama is what Tokyo probably used to look like before its first growth forests were cut down to build Edo when the capital was relocated by the Shogun Tokugawa. Forests that could be felled easily in the lower slopes were carted off to the east to be turned into shrines, temples, Edo castle itself and to satisfy the housing for the masses that settled in the Kanto Plain. Cedars were planted in the aftermath of the indiscriminate logging, creating a massive monoculture that exists to the present-day. Cedars being revered for their capacity to resist water damage and insect (especially termite) infestation, were the logical choice for re-planting. Deciduous hardwoods, although prized for their strength and beauty, needed much more tending and maintenance as they were susceptible to various types of damage, reducing the yield as compared to the favored evergreens.

The consequences of this monoculture on such a large scale have affected not only the natural ecology of the mountains in western Tokyo, but also the habitat of fauna and on the air quality all the way in the metropolis. Fauna like the Japanese Macacque (Macaca fusata) have retreated to higher elevations where the supply of food is plentiful and the environment conducive to their natural habitat. The mixed deciduous forest includes fruit and nut-bearing varieties like the Japanese Chestnut (Castanea crenata) which litter the forest floor with edible nuts that the monkeys gather. At lower elevations, with only Cedar pinecones and pine needles on the forest floor, the food-barren environment stands in shadowy silence.


A Japanese Macacque with its baby on a branch in a Chestnut grove

When Spring arrives, Cedars release massive amounts of pollen which is sent eastwards when air borne, mixing with pollution in the city and becoming a noxious mixture that is attributed to the high incidence of hay fever. With few permeable surfaces in the city, the allergy-causing concoction swirls around, reducing the air-quality significantly enough that many urbanites don masks and take prescription medication over weeks of eye-watering suffering.

On the descent from Toridaniyama Mountain, one of the tallest peaks in the area, its possible to see all the way to Tokyo’s skyscrapers. A three hour train ride from Tokyo Station, a 20 minute bus ride to the foot of the mountain and a two day hike to an elevation of nearly 2000 meters and Tokyo is still clearly visible on a crisp fall day. Roppongi Hills, the Tokyo Tower, and the Shinjuku Towers can easily be perceived on the horizon within the vastness of the Kanto Plain.  Despite the great distances, Tokyo’s influence has collapsed space and what would seem to be a modern ecological problem actually started as the first trees were being felled 400 years or more ago. Ecological systems in the globalized world don’t obey man-made borders and certainly today, the demands of a city like Tokyo can mean overfishing in places as far-flung as Canada or clear-cutting in the depts of Amazonian Brazil. Okutama is a microcosm of this phenomenon, demonstrating that the frame of the city as ecosystem needs to be expanded to be comprehended in its entirety.


The view to the Kanto Plain and Tokyo’s skyscrapers from Okutama

tokyo skytree 東京スカイツリー


This gallery contains 3 photos.

Tokyo Tower

The view from the tallest free-standing structure in the world, Tokyo Skytree: The Marunouchi CBD framing the Tokyo Tower

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shrinking japan: kyoto’s machiya districts signal the demographic decline and the way forward

Kawai Bijitsu Orimono

Mr. Kawai and the author outside Kawai Bijutsu-Orimono’s Machiya townhouse atelier in Kyoto’s historic Nishijin Textile district (photo courtesy of Michiko Kawano)

Like many other industrialized nations, Japan is facing a demographic situation that has no precedence in history, as populations diminish and birthrates plummet, cities are shrinking. While the simple fact of shrinkage may seem inconsequential or perhaps even positive given current urban overcrowding and the high cost associated with living in cities, this demographic implosion is having a significant impact on Japan’s ability to maintain its competitiveness on a global scale. Cities are the economic engines of this country, producing a disproportionate amount of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product), innovation, talent and employment. Urban areas are the crucible for vitality which reflects directly on the entire country’s standing in the international community. Competition aside, cities also provide for higher standards of living for the average citizen, thus city regions like Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto and Tokyo-Yokohama are magnets for people seeking to improve their social, educational or career prospects. In the Post-War period, these urban regions seemed to be growing exponentially without any possibility of slowing down, let alone shrinking. The reality today is that even the great megalopolis of Tokyo will peak in terms of population at around 35 million next year (2013) and begin to shrink at a gradually accelerating rate.

The effect of the declining population, while not initially apparent, will have impacts on both the physical environment and more importantly on the viability of communities. Over centuries, cities have allowed social and economic networks to flourish due to the richness of life afforded by close proximity. What began with providing for the basic needs for daily life, like food, clothing and shelter, has evolved into forms of art and beauty that networks of people nurtured. Entire neighbourhoods in Japanese cities catered to and continue to provide for everything from exquisite silk textiles to unique raw food cuisine, many of which have been exported around the world and consumed by gourmets and connoisseurs who have never before stepped foot in Japan. The built environment itself, supporting these industries and providing the medium through which goods could be developed, produced, stored and sold, is as important as the products themselves. The fragile urban fabric in Kyoto, for example, is under threat, as vernacular shop-houses are left empty and neglected due to onerous fire regulations, demolished or carved up, sold off due to high inheritance taxes, or re-purposed without regard to their historical importance. Recently, some of these regulations and taxes have been eased, but the additional factor of a declining population and demand can only mean these buildings will be further threatened by neglect.

While it may seem that the physical environment of cities and global competitiveness are not necessarily directly linked, it’s apt to consider the fate of shrinking cities that have been left to wither away. In the United States, the city of Detroit has been shrinking for decades due to disinvestment in the face of global competition in the automotive industry. This literally one-industry city lost much of its manufacturing base in parallel with the built urban fabric as public buildings, housing and entire neighbourhoods were abandoned and fell into disrepair. Reliance on a once highly successful, but also highly centralized industry proved to be the death knell for Detroit because manufacturing became cheaper to carry out overseas. The city itself was organized around the automobile, with large factories eventually relocated away from the city centre to a more suburban context which could be accessed easily via freeways. Structurally, the city became segregated with the inner city left to the poorer population, and the rings of suburbs the domain of the affluent and middle-class. With the collapse of the automotive industry, the city’s population continued to drop precipitously as anyone with the means to escape fled to other cities. The lesson of Detroit should be viewed as a deterrent towards physical and economic centralization. The one certainty in cities is that change is inevitable, and cities should be able to adapt to new circumstances, whether economic or otherwise. Just as in nature, when disease runs rampant, a homogenous forest or crop tends to get devastated while diversity allows for the survival of the fittest.

Nearly 28,000 vernacular Machiya shop-houses still stand in Kyoto, within several contiguous districts. Certain neighbourhoods catered to a specific market, such as Nishijin which focused on the textile industry and silk production. While silk producers tended to be concentrated in an area to benefit from a collaborative yet competitive environment, the industry was decentralized and individual ateliers focused on different aspects of silk textile production (such as Noh kimonos, obis, Imperial regalia etc.). The physical proximity allowed ateliers to exchange information from each other as techniques for perfecting weaving were being imported from China and Europe, especially during the Meiji Period (1868 – 1912).

Nishijin Storehouse

A former storehouse at the back of Kyoyubadokoro Seiya in Nishihjin was ideal for storing silk but now stands empty

The level of craftsmanship in the products is reflected in the detailing of the buildings themselves, still apparent in Kyoto and some other cities such as Kanazawa and Ise-shi. Vernacular Machiya housing, known in Kyoto as Kyo-Machiya, or capital shop-houses, encapsulate the skill and attention to detail that the Japanese are renowned for the world over. Intricate wood joinery, lattice detailing, and layered spaces create interiors that respond to the particular climate of Kyoto with its hot, humid summers and frigid, dry winters. Flexible layouts with screens allow for a modulation of light and temperature, and a blurring of interior and exterior to take advantage of the shoulder seasons (fall and spring) when the moderate temperature can be enjoyed. These buildings are not just more sustainable in the long-term, but also flexible enough to accommodate multiple uses over the course of their functional life. Many surviving Machiya today have been re-purposed as restaurants or shops to take advantage of the shift from textile production, for example, to the service and tourism industry. Recently, repurposing these buildings as incubators for start-up companies in high-tech has been proposed and implemented successfully.

Kyoubadokoro Seiya

The urban face of Kyoyubadokoro Seiya, a 160 year-old Machiya turned tofu skin restaurant in Nishjin, Kyoto

Many feel that these older structures are inconvenient or difficult to live in because of the extreme temperatures of the city. The Japanese tend to favour newer buildings with modern amenities as city life has become busier; time-saving automation and better insulated contemporary housing offers comfort that Machiya are perceived as ill-equipped to provide. This is only partially true as older buildings can be retro-fitted with the trappings of convenience and used just as comfortably as modern buildings are. Certainly, the initial costs for renovation may be higher but in the long-term, these buildings would retain or appreciate in value while saving their occupants energy and expenses, especially in the shoulder seasons. As an energy crisis looms in Japan and in other parts of the world, it’s critical that buildings, which account for a significant portion of energy consumption, be considered more carefully. Also equally importantly, Machiya are the building-blocks of cohesive communities that encourage innovation, entrepreneurship and economic inter-dependency.

While on a trip to Kyoto in early September, I visited the historic Nishijin Textile District to see for myself the state of the shop-house district and speak to some of the residents there. I experienced first-hand the level of craftsmanship and care that I had only peripherally known from books and from seeing the occasionally kimono-clad lady. A few wrong turns left us at the edge of the neighbourhood in front of a beautiful Machiya with a large family crest emblazoned on the “noren” shop-front curtain. The establishment turned out to be the century-old atelier, Kawai Bijutsu-Orimono. None other than Mr. Kawai himself was at the front of the shop sitting on his tatami mats, inspecting a delivery of raw silk. The meeting was fortuitous as we were invited inside to see the exquisite array of Obi’s displayed further in, and later were explained the art of silk weaving which Mr. Kawai’s Uncle had passed down to him and his elder brother. The Kawai’s have maintained a successful Obi-making business and diversified their products to fill the niche demand for Noh costumes, Festival props, and Religious regalia. Customers have been loyal over the years but the demand for traditional garments has been on the decline for some time and the time is ripe of reinvention. Mr. Kawai mentioned the ascendence of Japanese companies like Uniqlo which have used local and foreign talent, along with the proximity of cheaper labor in China to develop affordable clothing for the masses. It seems that the tradition of craftsmanship has been overshadowed by the efficiency of large-scale production.

Kawai Showroom

The interiors of the Kawai Bijutsu Orimono Machiya showroom with the exquisite hand-loomed silk Obi’s displayed

After this sobering thought, Mr. Kawai offered to take us to his elder brother’s home just a few doors down and opposite from his atelier. A long wall of stained pine boards indicated the property, punctuated with a gateway on one side. The gateway opened onto a garden path with a small bench for waiting guests, across from which stood the entrance to a traditional tea room. The sequence of spaces was a well-orchestrated play of indoor and outdoor, one leading to another taking us deeper into the Oku, or heart of the Machiya. Each transition was marked with subtle vertical shifts, a shoe-removing stone outside the tea room, tatami mats in the tea room, a step down into the engawa corridor space, and changes in materiality to indicate the function of the space. Each detail had been considered, faithfully restored and embellished upon, creating a gesamutkunstwerke (a complete work of art) which resonated beautifully in this historic neighbourhood. This was the first time in my life that I had experienced a real ‘living’ Machiya with residents embracing a centuries-old way of life. Of course, I had walked through other Machiya neighbourhoods in Kyoto before, but they were no longer used the way this one was. Typically, in areas within the city centre, housing and ateliers had long been re-purposed as restaurants, bars and spaces to cater to the droves of tourists seeking a glimpse of historic Japan. The process of gentrification has left these, at one time living, districts as empty shells with just the facade as an indicator of their storied history.

Interior and exterior are blurred with layered screens and spaces at the Kawai home

Kyoto’s Machiya districts are the canary in the coal mine for Japan, an indicator of how urban neighbourhoods may become as populations continue to slump into the 21st Century. The demographic shift is a time for reflection and reassessment of values related to growth at any cost, corporate business, and the culture of the new in favour of the old. This is also a time to re-value Japanese craftsmanship and encourage this tradition to be a stimulus for innovation. The future vitality of urban Japan and the competitiveness of the country as a whole depends on these urban spaces and the people who form the networks of skilled trade within them. The advantage that Kyoto has over Detroit is that its urban fabric is still intact in many areas and due to the decentralization of various industries, studios and ateliers, there is hope that these spaces can be the locus for a renaissance of Japanese culture and economy.

Copyright © 2010 Shabbar Sagarwala, All Rights Reserved. Any unauthorised commercial reproduction or distribution in part or in full will constitute an infringement of copyright. Permission granted to reproduce for educational use only.

the kanto-tohoku earthquake

Commuters outside Yotsuya-3-chome station after the earthquake.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I’ve been here in Tokyo for about a year on a Monbukagakusho Scholarship funded by the Japanese Government. I’m researching Japanese urbanization and architecture for my Doctoral degree at Tokyo University, a tangent of the research I had started at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard two years ago. I have written an account of my experience of the earthquake below, which I have also spoken about in several telephone and Skype interviews with the American and Canadian media over the past week (I’ve included links to the interviews at the end of this message):

I started my day at home in Setagaya (Western Tokyo), working on a letter for the Japanese Consulate in Toronto about my year so far in Tokyo, so I didn’t get on the train as early as I normally do. I boarded the commuter train at my local station and headed to Shinjuku at about 2:15pm. I have two transfers and about an 1 hour and 15 minute commute as I live in the West end of the city and Tokyo University is in Central Tokyo. I boarded the Marunochi line on the Tokyo Metro at about 2:35pm and we headed towards Yotsuya where I would be transferring to the Namboku line. About three-quarters of the way through the commute, an alarm went off in the train and everything came to a very abrupt stop. Announcements in Japanese reported a major earthquake was underway and all service had to be halted. What I thought to be the train swaying from the intertia of stopping so quickly was actually the 7.2 earthquake, gradually getting stronger and stronger. People began yelling and a child crying as the train rocked violently in the tunnel – everyone held on to whatever they could as it seemed as though we were loosing our footing beneath us. It felt as though the tunnel was going to collapse about us as a groaning sound mixed in with the sound of metal clanging,….it was one of the most frightening experiences of my life with thoughts of being buried alive going through my head. We lurched forward and side to side but everyone seemed relatively calm now, just concerned faces and a sense that the worst was over.

Thankfully the shaking subsided to a gentler roll and then finally about 4-5 minutes later the shaking subsided. We were stuck in the tunnel for what felt like hours but was actually only about 15 minutes. They announced again that there was a significant delay but we may be able to move forward to Yotsuya 3-chome station, which was only a little bit further ahead. Another announcement urged everyone to leave the train immediately when we arrived, and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief and calmly exited the train. The area around the turnstiles was already filled with people trying to make phone calls and make their way out of the station. It was all very orderly and polite, with guards pointing people to exits and people apologizing as they had to squeeze by with larger parcels or bags.

I made it to the surface as thousands of other commuters poured out into the streets. Traffic was at a standstill in one direction but moving smoothly the other way for some reason. Most people were looking at their phones or trying to make desperate calls to no avail, as service was disrupted all over the city already. I was able to write an email and send it to my family over the data network which was still up and running, somehow. I leaned up against a handrail at the station exit and decided to get my bearings before continuing on foot. After a few minutes I could feel the handrail moving against my back, slowly at first and then faster in a nauseating roll. I pulled away and then the big earthquake hit, much stronger and sustained than the first one in the train. I could feel the ground give beneath me and actually start to push me upwards…..I thought that beneath me were layers of underground city and tunnels which could easily collapse, so I rushed away from the station exit. Many others ran towards the street and began looking upwards at buildings that were around 7-10 storeys high.

I got to a road guardrail and held on, looking at the buildings sway like palm trees in the wind. It was a completely surreal experience, watching as buildings leaned into the street and then back, as if made of rubber or some strange pliable material. Everyone in the shadow of the buildings quickly retreated back from the sidewalks and poured into the busy avenue, where cars were still driving by at high speed. I jumped to the other side of the guardrail and then windows began flinging open and light fixtures swung crashing into walls and unopened windows. I looked back to the street and saw the traffic lights swinging as well, large utility poles as well bobbing back and forth.

I stood there for quite a while, I can’t remember how long as the realization of what had happened began to sink in. I decided to get out of the crowded Yotsuya area and find shelter at Tokyo University which was about a 2 hour walk from where I was at that moment. Throngs of people crowded the sidewalks from Yotsuya to Iidabashi, an endless parade of humanity trying to find their way home or to some kind of shelter. A cold wind whipped through the streets and clouds moved in, threatening rain. I walked brusquely and made it to Iidabashi, then Ichigaya and then Korakuen stations, each station crowded with thousands of people lining the streets, bridges and entrances. People looked back at their office buildings with amazement and fear, probably wondering how on earth their building had survived such a severe earthquake. I couldn’t believe it either – most of the city seemed intact but there were certainly injuries and probably damage somewhere. I could hear the drone of helicopters overhead surveying the city and there seemed to be sirens at every street corner.

When I arrived at the Tokyo Dome, there was garbage littered everywhere on the streets. I ascended the stairs to the upper plaza, which was a shortcut to my University, looking down at the entrances to the auditorium. Paper and garbage were strewn everywhere with workers cleaning up the mess. Garbage cans had been tossed around by the earthquake and apparently all the ticketing booths had spewed out paper. In the plaza above, images of the tsunami were already being broadcast on a big screen TV, cars, trucks, and ships floating around in a mass of water like so much debris. I stood there for a few minutes, watching the devastation and then continued on my walk towards school. There were long lines at every pay phone and people crowded outside stations waiting for word on the train service. All trains were stopped for the evening, leaving millions of people stranded (apparently, almost 10 million people use the Tokyo Metro and commuter lines to get to and from work everyday).

On my walk through Korakuen, there was one building with enormous cracks in it’s facade, the sidewalk cordoned off with yellow tape. I took many photos of the aftermath with my phone and kept walking as the temperature was dropping and rain falling intermittently. I finally arrived at my University, made it to the ATM and then tried to buy food at the local convenience store. Long lines and bare shelves awaited me as almost everything was already cleaned out. I grabbed a yogurt, sliced apple, a brownie and two drinks and hoped for the best. On campus people were walking around dazed, inspecting the buildings and huddling together against the cold wind. I got into my building to hear an emergency announcement saying that the worst was over, but the government had ordered everyone to stay indoors as they expected strong aftershocks and possibly another big earthquake in the evening. I stayed in my laboratory with my colleagues all evening, with the ground shaking at various levels of intensity throughout. We experienced aftershocks as large as full-fledged earthquakes which shook the building and the bookshelves, light fixtures and computers.

It was difficult to sleep but at least I was safer in that big bunker of a concrete building rather than outside. Many commuters trekked back to far-flung places around greater Tokyo, but I think it would be nearly impossible for me to get home as I have a 5 hour walk to Setagaya from Hongo in Central Tokyo. I hoped the aftershocks would stop soon and that the Metro service would resume in the morning.

I’m very concerned about the situation and had a difficult weekend after the quake as the situation in Fukushima continues to spiral out of control. I haven’t been able to sleep well because of the aftershocks, and my days have been spent watching the news and reading conflicting reports from the Japanese, American and British media.

I left Tokyo on Tuesday night and I’m now in the Kansai area (in Nara now) watching events unfold from afar. I am near the Kansai Airport and will depart by the weekend if things don’t improve by then. I sincerely hope this disaster is averted and we can all return to our daily lives soon.

When I left on the Shinkansen from Tokyo, there were many families with children leaving (I’m assuming they are especially concerned as children are most susceptible to radiation). There is also widespread panic as people have started stockpiling food, toilet paper, batteries and other essentials within the Tokyo area – I had to visit many grocery stores to get enough items to make dinner as the shelves were already bare.

In the meantime, Nara is peaceful and serene. It has been a nice mini-vacation away from the chaos ensuing further north. I’m more concerned about the people north of Tokyo who have borne the brunt of the earthquake and tsunami – I hope that there are many survivors.


Links to interviews with the American and Canadian media:

CTV News: Interview with Shabbar Sagarwala, Canadian Resident of Tokyo, March 11, 2011

CTV News: Eyewitness Accounts of Quake and Tsunami in Japan, March 11, 2011

Digital Archive of Japan’s 2011 Disasters: Harvard Alumni in Japan – Eyewitness Account, January 17, 2012

Copyright © 2011 Shabbar Sagarwala, All Rights Reserved. Any unauthorised commercial reproduction or distribution in part or in full will constitute an infringement of copyright. Permission granted to reproduce for educational use only.