The Cadences of Rails

Unscheduled Stops in Tōkyō's Spaces of Flow

in Transfers
Robert J. Simpkins 2019/2020 Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow, Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures

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This article explores how urban space produced by the Japanese railway system is appropriated by people for common use in Tōkyō. Drawing from ethnographic research among musicians at a central train station, I explore how individuals enmeshed within the schedules of the commuter network negotiate mobilities that fall outside the purview of railway urbanism. Station tsūro are passageways monitored by rail staff and local authorities, protected by traffic and railway commerce laws, and influenced by competing pressures from the overburdened network and local neighborhoods. Musicians sensitive to these shifting relationships identify leeway within, performing in ways that open tsūro up, producing temporary, finely balanced spaces of encounter and connection. Through these processes, the commuter system creates rail-specific forms of human relationships.

Contributor Notes

Robert J. Simpkins is the 2019/2020 Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures. Specializing in youth, creativity, and precarity, his work also concerns issues related to urban space and contemporary music cultures. His doctoral research investigates the lives of musicians seeking a career in the music industry in Tōkyō, the adversities they face and the readjustments they make in order to keep going. He explores how a train station forms the center of their performing lives, and challenges common categorizations such as the division between public and private space. E-mail:

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Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies