An Introduction To… Japanese Roadwork (part 1)

Read Part 2 here:
An Introduction To… Japanese Roadwork, Part 2: Small Works And Maintenance


One of the most startling differences for a foreigner living in Japan is in the style of road construction and maintenance here compared to other countries. Words can hardly begin to describe the sheer enormity of much of the construction work taking place, not only in country areas but also right in the middle of the cities.

An Introduction To… Japanese Roadwork
Part 1: Large(ish) Construction Work

Nippori Toneri Liner

The road and rail systems in Tokyo are perpetually expanding. Something is always under construction.

A new 9.7km railway line, the Nippori Toneri Liner (yes, Liner!) was recently opened which runs from the centre of Tokyo to a northern suburb. The entire line is elevated and runs above main roads and thoroughfares, across rivers and straight through the middle of urban retail and residential areas.

(click the images to enlarge)

One of the most staggering facts is not only that this thing was built in the middle of a city as dense as Tokyo, but that during the years of construction traffic was not interrupted at all – the roads remained open and everything continued as if normal while these giant concrete pedestals were appearing and rail lines were built above our heads. Unbelievably, everything was still clean – no unsightly piles of dirt, just neat and compact small cordons within which cranes, construction materials and everything necessary was meticulously ordered and arranged as neatly as the circuitry on a computer chip.

If some dirt encroached onto the road, a uniformed worker would rush out with water and brush and bring it back to spotlessly clean. During the day work would continue within these tight zones and at night when the traffic was lighter a bit more heavy lifting would be done, although still not blocking traffic.

Note in the following images how blockage of the existing roads is almost nonexistent. Amazing.

construction shots

(click the images to enlarge)


Here’s an intersection near Shinjuku, where not long ago another highway level was added, bringing the total now to 4 vertical levels of road. This is in the middle of Tokyo, yet the ground traffic and that on other highway levels remained flowing throughout. Only occasionally would one lane of the 3 on the lowest level be temporarily annexed in order to bring in wide loads.

This compared with (my main other references) Australia or England, where a single underground pipe being repaired could necessitate diverting traffic onto other roads for hours at a time, or blocking so much of the road that long traffic jams would build and traffic would grind to an infuriating standstill. Not to mention the incredible mess that the construction crews would make during their work and leave after they’d finished. Wash down the road? Not a chance.


Here are photos taken next to Ueno Station, one of Tokyo’s main stations.

(click the images to enlarge)

Both photos were taken at the same location a few months apart. You can see that a 7 storey building has appeared, yet the only inconvenience to pedestrians and traffic was the thin zone in the middle of the road – 3 lanes of traffic continue to travel in each direction. Note how meticulously neat it is, despite this being the main construction zone for a 7 storey building. In fact the small alley to the left of the building is one of Tokyo’s busiest street markets, filled with shoppers every day and not a single day of business was interrupted.

Does anything seem abnormal about this road scene, other than a narrow construction zone on the left? It didn’t to me, until I was advised that at the time this photo was taken (and for months before and after) there was major construction work going on underneath the road. A five-level underground parking station with tunnels through to the nearby train stations, escalators, elevators, everything was happening while traffic continued as normal above, oblivious.

In fact the road surface of the entire curve in the road is fake – asphalt covered metal plates atop steel frameworks, and once I caught a glimpse as one had been removed and materials were being lowered down from street level into the depths. Yes, five levels deep it went. A world of activity and construction right underneath everyone’s feet and wheels. Awesome.

Read Part 2 here:
An Introduction To… Japanese Roadwork, Part 2: Small Works And Maintenance

~ by JapanGasm on 9 July, 2010.

2 Responses to “An Introduction To… Japanese Roadwork (part 1)”

  1. Great photos. Really monumental!

  2. This is actually the opposite to what goes on in Beijing. While there are also monumental building works going on to sculpt the city into something magnificent, it all done at the pedestrians’ expense. There’s piles of dirt and sand on the road, stacks of dumped bricks, pavements are shut off leaving people to walk in the road. The result is lots of grit and dust in your eyes. I’ve even seen pot-holes left uncovered on dark, unlit streets…which is hilarious, but obviously very dangerous.

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