Whiteness, the City

An Essay about Silence

In Japanese urban areas sound seems omnipresent. Cash machines speak, subway stations diffuse melodies, stores play repeatedly songs and at home my rice cooker tells me when the grains are ready to be eaten. 

Naming where in Tōkyō I live about, my surrounding often refers to high-rise buildings and offices, and points out the large avenue which connects the neighbourhood with Shinjuku and its famous train station, elected in 2011 by the Guinness World Records the busiest station in the world. With a current average of around 3.5 million passengers per day and over 200 exits, it tops Shibuya Station, second busiest in the world, counting about 2.4 million passers-by per day. 

The noise of Tōkyō’s main axes combined with the throng of people and permanently blinking light panels can be overwhelming and the abundance of information may provoke disorientation. However, is to mention that regardless the number of individuals, there is practically no (petty) crime, and I can hardly come up with any place on earth that handles human afflux in such a smooth way. 

In fact, these axes seem like magnets that bring people together, that assemble energy, that accumulate vitality, and that beat like the heart and breathe like the lungs of a human body. Next to this, there are small paths, empty alleys, trees, flowers, and singing crickets at night. 

Compared to Paris’s homogenous architecture, characterised by its rather uniform (beige) tint, Tōkyō is quite colourful. Though, ironically, I have always related white to the Japanese capital.

In many Western cities, noise is a rather violent element that interferes with silence. Perceived as a slap in the face, a slamming door or the crash of a car, its absence may however correlate with a feeling of anxiety in urban space. In Japan, noise invokes for me the image of a mumbling forest or a blanket of fog floating above the floor. Few people shout on the street, rarely cars horn, there are hardly loud motor engines and the uniform stream of human crowd is a rhythming element. 

The signification of silence is various: it is used to express remembrance or sadness, as much as it may be related to relief and calmness. Often, I would sense it as onerous and associate it with black. However, in the Land of the Rising Sun, I relate it to white. 

Again and again, I am intrigued and amazed by the whiteness of Tōkyō metropolis.

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