markets and non-place: haneda airport, tokyo

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It’s been 20 years since Marc Augé’s work on non-places, or the spaces of super-modernity, was published in English. The non-place is a space which is ‘formed in relation to certain ends (transport, transit, commerce, leisure).’ (Augé, 1995, 94) In other words, the non-place functions as a conduit for flows of human and material capital; it is negotiated, as opposed to inhabited, and as such it inhibits the development of, or identification with place.

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The volume of bodies passing through it leave little impression, and in turn, those who pass through this space are left unmarked by their contact with it. The non-place is ultimately absurd because it is replete with the physical presence of humanity while effacing human inter-relations with the material environment. Jacques Tati in his 1967 film Playtime used the non-place – the airport, the office block, the hotel foyer, the convention centre – to comment on the absurdity of modernity and on the society of the urban spectacle (in a far more charming way than Guy Debord).

In Playtime the contemporary city is an agglomeration of non-places that eliminate the local and domestic, and by extension, the personal and the intimate. Playtime’s opening is set in a space that has characteristics of an airport, yet could be any other non-place where people are instructed by functionaries and signs on how to maximise the efficiency of flows. In this scene, language that is articulated outside the language of the bureaucratic and the regulatory is a global patois, belonging to nowhere and everywhere at the same time.

The airport is therefore a non-place par excellence. With the explosion in global travel, and increasing numbers of people moving through these non-places, airport designers have attempted to make the transit time experience more distinctive or pleasurable without really moving beyond the leisure/entertainment/consumption paradigm. Airports now have cinemas, swimming pools, koi ponds, butterfly enclosures, and giant slides. Some of these are articulated within a discourse of the local; for instance, locally inflected souvenir shops, chain stores, or services – such as a Thai massage at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. On the whole, however, these local iterations are placed within an infrastructure and architecture of consumption and mobility that connotes the global in its design and delivery.

At Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (also known as Tokyo International Airport), the reference point for place within the archetypal non-place is the market. Haneda’s Edo Marketplace models the standard formula of airport consumer culture (shopping and eating) on the intimate scale of a market street in Edo-period (17th century) Tokyo.  Dining options that offer yatai or Japanese street food can be eaten under the Nipponbashi Temple Bridge in emulation of a marketplace experience.

The spectrum of consumer options is typical for an airport, and their presentation is themed as historical, and therefore as belonging to a past urban landscape. However, the small wooden shopfronts with noren hanging at the entrance, and their organisation along narrow alleyways approximates the spaces and scale of the contemporary built environment one encounters in the backstreets of Tokyo’s neighbourhoods like Asakusa.

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The market, as it is conceived in Haneda airport, is nostalgic, yet the involvement of architect Yoshiaki Nakamura, a specialist from Kyoto in Sukiya-zukuri design and craft, suggests a serious engagement with the construction of the market’s ‘streetscapes’, rather than merely creating a scene of historical re-enactment.

Edo Marketplace’s deployment of the scale, practices, and spaces of the local market is surprisingly successful in distinguishing Haneda from the average airport. Indeed, the airport’s experiment with place is ongoing through the staging of the festival, the market’s counterpart. The notion of a festival in an airport might seem bizarre at first, but if we think about it, the carnivalesque of the festival, its licenced, topsy turvy inversion of the hegemonic, is completely apposite for such a highly regulated environment.

Works Cited

Auge, M. (1995) Non-places. London: Verso.

Tati, J. (1967) Playtime.