The Bubble Economy (1985-1995): Odaiba’s Umbilical Cord – Yurikamome Line

Yurikamome line was a railway route inaugurated in 1995 that extends into and through Odaiba. It has played a crucial role in providing human traffic for Odaiba to keep the waterfront town “alive” – explaining the name of “umbilical cord” for Odaiba. During the economy bubble, Odaiba had built up an attractive image of Tokyo’s Teleport Town with futuristic architecture and infrastructure. The Yurikamome line was constructed together with the Rainbow Bridge to accommodate the estimated heavy tourist traffic to and from Odaiba alongside the commencement of Tokyo World City Expo, which was planned to last from May 1996 to October 1996.

Unexpectedly, the economic bubble eventually burst in 1991, leading Tokyo into an aftermath of economic recession immediately. The Yurikamome line, designed for tourism, seemed to have completely lost its function and was destined to be a failure. Miraculously, Yurikamome line, the “umbilical cord” supplied Odaiba with steadily increasing visitors ever since its opening in November 1995 despite the stagnant economy.

Fig. 1. A detailed map showing how the Yurikamome line weaves through Odaiba’s iconic landmarks, including Fuji TV Building, Tokyo Water Science Museum, Tokyo Fashion Town, Ariake Sports Centre and Ariake Colosseum. Source: City on the Edge, P. 199.

Japanese National Railways was privatized in 1987 and was broken down into six regional rail companies and a freight company. Privatization of previously government-owned businesses was common in the 1980s, under the governance of Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone from 1982 to 1987 who was inspired by neoliberal policies from the west.

One of the selling points of Yurikamome was the fact that it is an automated guideway transit (AGT) system out of the eleven in the whole of Japan. In other words, it is an unmanned railway that runs on a dedicated elevated track. Instead of a subway system, the elevated railway was a reasonable decision. It was able to provide a cost-efficient public transport without the need to excavate the land of newly reclaimed Odaiba. Moreover, it took full advantage of Rainbow Bridge, a suspension bridge that connected Odaiba to the inner parts of Tokyo.

Constructed from 1988 to 1995, Yurikamome performed unexpectedly well after the bubble burst. In Japan Railway & Transport Review from 1998Yurikamome line was described in such positive light:

“Yurikamome is highly evaluated as a transit system for the future and is now carrying far more pssengers than predicted thanks to the delightful views that it provides of the waterfront area, as well as the pleasant and comfortable ride.

Although the project was originally targeted at providing transport for business commuters in a new development subcentre, an unexpected recreational function has led to far greater  numbers of passengers than anticipated.”

Yurikamome line is a fitting example to show how transport infrastructure can play a crucial role in shaping a new urban area.

 

Reference

Iwata, Kazuaki. “Tokyo’s new waterfront transit system.” Japan Railway & Transport Review 16 (1998): 15-19.

Sorensen, André. “Building world city Tokyo: Globalization and conflict over urban space.” In Globalization and urban development, pp. 225-237. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, 2005.

Warnock, Eleanor. “Lessons from Railway Privatization in Japan.” Tokyo Review. Last modified October 11, 2018. https://www.tokyoreview.net/2018/10/japan-railway-privatization/.

 

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