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Holding in the Inside

An Exploration of Tokyo's Residential Architecture

Tinder block, pebble dash, gloss tile, groove and paint plastic shiplap shoehorned onto plots a handful of metres wide. Reach out a hand, touch the wall next door. Look up, catch a movement behind a blind.

内線 internal phone line, 内臓 internal organs, 内耳 inner ear, 内心 innermost thoughts, 内輪 family circle, 内緒 secrecy, 内気 shyness // 内外 “interior and exterior”, 内外人 “Japanese nationals and foreigners” // 外国人 foreigner, 外出 day trip, 外観 façade, 外来 imported, 外見 external appearance, 外食 eating out, 外洋 open ocean, 外気 open air.

uchi, “inside”, four strokes. Radical #13: 冂 ‘open country’, plus 人 hito, ‘person’ within // 外 soto, “outside”, five strokes. Radical #36: 夕 ‘sunset’, plus 卜 urana-, “divining, fortune telling” alongside. The groove runs deep, no getting round it; uchi // soto; inside // outside. It’s one or the other.

Outside: Lights flash algorithms of noodles and video games, speakers blare isobars of rice bowls and 10% off, crossings play songs of walk / don’t walk, trains serenade sleeping passengers with melodic thumbprints for every station. Ebb and flow, suck and draw through shuffling underpasses, overspilling pavements, forests of umbrellas. Clock in, clock out. Wait in line. Rattled, transported, swayed, jolted, disgorged into the low rise clutter of the suburbs.

東京市 / Tōkyō-shi / Tokyo City: 23 special wards, 623 km2 / population 9,214,130. 東京都 / Tōkyō-to / Tokyo Metropolis: 23 special wards + 26 cities + one district + four sub-prefectures, 2,188 km2 / population 13,185,102. 一都三県 Itto-Sanken: 23 special wards + 26 cities + 1 district + 4 sub-prefectures + 3 prefectures, 13,500 km2 / population 38,001,018. 首都圏 / Shuto-ken / National Capital Region: 23 wards + 26 cities + one district + four sub-prefectures + seven prefectures. 36,889 km2 / population 43,470,148.

Tarmac washes up to doorsteps and pedestrians pick their way round lamp posts and bicycles. A white line separates them from cars that crawl gingerly through wing mirror grazing streets. 止まれ, stop, in the same thick paint, draws halts outside doors that slide or swing straight onto the city. Aircon units squat by pots of aloes and miniature maples. Motorbikes, keys still in the ignition, helmets slung over saddles, complete the obstacle course. A cat saunters towards the hiss of traffic at the corner, sucking away the silence. Coin operated parking lot, supermarket, dry cleaner, stand up curry shop, 7-11 lined with microwave meals, vending machine, vending machine, vending machine. The sky is white, dry, cold; blue, wet, pregnant; sliced into rhomboids by wires spooling from walls.

The double forward slash dividing exterior from interior is blank, bare faced, pierced like a battlement to let fly the arrows of privacy. Tinder block, pebble dash, gloss tile, groove and paint plastic shiplap shoehorned onto plots a handful of metres wide. Reach out a hand, touch the wall next door. Look up, catch a movement behind a blind. Windows kiss, angled inward, shuttered, screened with bamboo lashed to lattice, shielded by window boxes, wishing light could be made to bend round corners. Between the grey / coffee / sand fronts lined toe to toe, plain, unlovely, the outsides keeping the insides in, interlopers lope. Corkscrewed into isosceles leftovers, grazing concrete panel fencing and rough buff textured garage walls, slotted in through bottleneck gaps wide as arms outstretched, backs facing the outside. They turn to look over their shoulders at red-green-red signs on rāmen shops. They totter over corrugated corner shops, pried delicately open like mollusks. They curl around miniature patches of green, brandishing protective spines to the street. They crochet paths along concrete waterways, trembling soil sewn deep with stands of bamboo. Tombstone tall, paper thin, flatpacked, concertina, spring loaded covetous cradles for a scant fifty something metres square of soft insides. Shell, exoskeleton, bone, chitin, dentine. Armadillo, tortoise, crab, oyster, urchin. Dasypus, Testudo, Brachyura, Bivalvia, Echinoidea.

Inside: 引き戸, 玄関, 三和土, 畳; hikido, genkan, tataki, tatami; sliding door, vestibule, tiled floor, rush matting. Outside layers shed, shoes off, wrapped in cotton. Stand, stoop, shuffle, sit. Anchorage, cocoon, haven, hideaway, nest, retreat, refuge, sanctuary, stronghold. Futons unroll, teapots steam, knees and toes toast under kotatsu warmth. A clock ticks. Magazines pile up in corners. Visitors don’t come here. Food is bowl-shaped, enough for one, piping hot comfort. Evenings with the blue screen flicker of the TV, friends a fingertip tap away. Weekend mornings with the sun breaking through the blinds with dusty poles of light. Unformed, undivided along an axis of alone. 2LDK, measured by matting turned at right angles. Temporary structures, changing spaces; 障子 shouji sliding paper screens; 襖 fusuma sliding paper panels; アルミ arumi aluminium; メラミン meramin melamine; 杉 sugi cedar, 桧 hinoki cypress, 桧 matsu pine. Stand, slide, stoop, sit, subside.

soto, “outside”, five strokes. City, stranger, unknown. Radical #36: 夕 ‘sunset’, plus 卜 urana-, “divining, fortune telling” alongside. 内 uchi, “inside”, four strokes. Me, family, home. Radical #13: 冂 ‘open country’, plus 人 hito, “person” within. The groove runs deep, no getting round it; uchi // soto. It’s one or the other.

Holding in the Inside
Holding in the Inside
Holding in the Inside
Holding in the Inside

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