Japan saw most of its infrastructure bombed back to the
stone age in the final years of World War II, which makes the country's
post-war rejuvenation all the more astounding. Huge, complex public works
projects saw a concrete & steel web of highways, bridges and
interchanges blossom from the wreckage of war.
Today, shaped by
the demands of restrictive space and economic boom & bust, Japan's
hardened transportation arteries display artistic forms that go far
beyond their functions.
Above left is the Hakozaki Junction, part of the Metropolitan Expressway
in Tokyo, and at right is the Hokko Junction in Osaka... These images
illustrate the solution engineers used when building multi-lane highway
interchanges in some of the world's most crowded cities in Japan: go
(images credit: Ken Ohyama)
Ken Ohyama has made it his mission to chronicle some of the more striking
Japanese roadworks in a Flickr series called Interchange and a book of
his photos available from Amazon. One of the more outstanding examples is
The Hokko Junction shown above - a part of the Hanshin Expressway near
Japan's second city, Osaka.
Also in Osaka is the Higashiosaka (East Osaka) Loop of the Hanshin
Expressway. The photographer's technique gives the sweeping curve of the
roadway an almost tubular appearance:
(images credit: Ken Ohyama)
When engineers have space to work with, they take full advantage. This
wide field view of the Higashiosaka interchange shows the almost organic
complexity of a busy cloverleaf, resembling a living creature's
circulatory system with the vehicles acting as blood cells.
(image credit: zvkk)
Highways upon highways... without any end in sight:
(images credit: Andrew Yamaguchi, Sergei Mingazhev, Stassia)
One interesting feature of Japanese elevated highways: they often run
above rivers or sea channels, using the available space above the water.
Here are some of these "highways on the sea" -
(images credit: takasuuuui, kokix)
The incredible Japanese road infrastructure really took off in the 1960s
- check out the vintage photo on the right:
(left image credit: FotoOleg)
Such "Bladerunner" sights are commonplace now, brimming with
urban energy -
(images credit: kokix)
By the way, for the tricky "urban density" photography, head
over to this page... and see if you can spot something wrong with the
Some sections of the Hanshin Expressway suffered severe damage during the
7.2 magnitude Great Hanshin Earthquake which hit the Kobe, Japan area in
January of 1995, killing over 5,500 people and costing over $200 billion.
(image credit: AFP / Jiji Press)
On the bright side, the affected sections of the highway did not
"pancake", as happened in the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, but
instead slipped sideways and tumbled over. Either way, one doesn't want
to be driving through a highway interchange or junction when a big quake
Recession, what recession?
Public works spending has long been the Japanese government's preferred
way to spend budget surpluses, boost employment, keep the ruling party's
supporters in the construction industry loyal, or all of the above. The
highway depicted below is one of those projects, steadily overtaking a
quiet city street like Godzilla in slow motion.
(images credit: Cisco's Japan Blog and Snegura)
Which came first, the highway or the building? The question is moot as
both have learned to accommodate one another. The Hanshin Expressway
takes a shortcut through the 5th to 7th floors of Fukushima's Gate Tower
building, also known as the Bee Hive.
The story goes that the original building's owner wanted to knock it down
and rebuild, but was told by city planners that the space was being
allocated to a newly planned exit of the expressway. Both sides refused
to budge, and the compromise was completed in 1992.
Tokyo residents can easily avoid using the highways and expressways which
crisscross the city, thanks to one of the world's largest and most
efficient subway systems, but when traffic is light they can be a
pleasure to drive. The view can be pretty intense, as in the time-lapse
(image credit: Vladimir Zakharov)
Urban density in Tokyo is simply astounding:
(image credit: Sam Graf)
The Rainbow Bridge and the longest suspension bridge
Dark Roasted Blend has been covering some rather fascinating bridges
before. Here are a few more - a spectacular sample from Japan. The 570
meter (1,870 ft) long Rainbow Bridge spans the northern (inner) part of
Tokyo Bay and has been a city landmark since it opened in 1993. Two
roadways, a transit line and pedestrian walkways all use the bridge,
resulting in a seemingly chaotic tangle from certain angles.
(images credit: Uncharted Futures and lmkuzya)
It's at night, however, that the Rainbow Bridge comes alive with
signature color! Spotlights mounted at strategic locations bathe the
bridge's superstructure in prismatic glory. Best of all, the lighting is
solar powered with energy stored during the day powering the light show
(image credit: Gussisaurio)
Announced in 1969, the massive Kobe-Naruto highway route project
stretches 81 kilometers to connect Japan's main island of Honshu with the
much smaller island of Shikoku to the south. The jewel in the crown is
the 4-kilometer long Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, which cost $3.6 billion to
build over the ten year period between 1988 and 1998:
(image credit: Aurelio Asiain)
Of course, any discussion of Japanese highways wouldn't be complete
without mention of Mount Fuji. The mountain's iconic snowy peak is visible
from Tokyo - on clear days, at least - but though it's certainly possible
to reach the dormant volcano's doorstep via highway, taking the
Shinkansen bullet train is a better bet.