Sunday, 30 October 2011

Spaghetti in the Sky

Jules and I often talk about the strange contradiction to the notion of ‘aesthetics’ that you often experience in Japan. There is a strange anomaly between stylistic, functional beauty and crass commercial ugliness that can often be seen side by side. Someone remarked to me recently that the best way to look at Japan is through a small frame, as if through the lens of a camera. In the bustling, sprawling industrial world of modern Japan, you simply need to be able to recognise ‘glimpses’ of beauty that you come across and attempt to view them in isolation, away from the convoluted distraction of the wider picture. It is true to say that there is much beauty to be seen in and around the big cities, yet there remains many areas where we have tended to cringe at its ugliness. We often ask ourselves, how can a culture that has at times achieved aesthetic perfection, allow visual chaos to reign supreme in its cities and towns.This is particularly the case when you look overhead at the cacophony of wires and cables that are strewn across the roadways.

Osaka is particularly notable for the ugliness of some of it’s major down town areas due to the spaghetti-like cables that often dominate the upward view towards the sky. It seems that the Japanese have over the years resolved themselves to the fact that the ugly poles and pylons that carry these cables are an inevitable facet of modern city life. This particularly old fashioned method of connecting businesses and residence with power and services certainly seems in contradiction to our notion of a modern, high-tech Japanese society. Indeed, you might think that a visionary policy of underground cabling may be seen as a highly desirable way of beautifying its cities and making them more appealing places to live in the future. This doesn’t seem to be the case, as the overhead clutter continues to grow on a daily basis. It has been suggested to us that the reason for overhead cabling is linked to the need for repair access following earthquakes, typhoons and other natural disasters. This doesn’t seem entirely plausible, as we have seen some areas in which the cables are actually underground, resulting in a noticeable visual difference. This was certainly the case in the tourist centre of Nara which recently undertook to bury its cables as part of beautification program for the 1300 year anniversary of it’s time as the nations capital.

So it appears far more likely that the continuation of the ugly overhead cables is, as always, linked to cost and as visual pollution remains low on the priority list for governments and councils, the poles remain, carrying an ever increasing array of cables that cast a spider web-like appearance across much of the city and suburbs. There is in fact an underground cabling program in Japan, but as it only accounts for seven percent of the total cables laid each year, it seems that the ugly overhead wires are set to remain for many generations to come. This is a shame, as there are so many exciting and beautiful areas to be seen in Osaka and wider Japan. Yet the longer we live here, we begin to block out this unsavory distraction and adopt the local practice of ‘selective viewing’. We frame what we see, look for beauty in small areas and avoid looking skyward.

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