HJ 1

Being a guy who likes driving but has a pretty bad sense of direction, when I lived in Southern California I kept a copy of the local Thomas Bros. road atlas in my car. Having grown up with cheap, easy-to-use paper maps made GPS seem like a nice but exorbitant luxury, and when I first moved to Japan I couldn’t understand why navigation systems were so universally considered a must-have by drivers here.

Then I saw things like the crazy Hakozaki Junction of the Tokyo expressway, and the need for some high-technology guidance started to make sense.

Unlike a lot of the world’s other major cities, Tokyo isn’t laid out on anything resembling a grid pattern. From its earliest days, the city’s streets were designed to wind and curve in order to confuse possible invaders. The high price of land makes developers and home owners keen to utilize every last square centimeter of real estate, resulting in irregularly-sized lots and buildings, which lead to still more twisting roads. Sitting in the middle of the whole tangled mess is the Imperial Palace, a 3.4- square kilometer (1.3-square mile) roadblock that can’t be intersected by any thoroughfares and further frustrates civil engineers wanting to lay down streets in straight lines.

None of this changes the fact that Tokyo is one of the busiest places on the planet, with goods and people flowing into, around, and out of the capital every day. As a major hub of the expressway network, Tokyo is connected to the northern Tohoku region by the Mukojima Line, Chiba by the Komatsugawa Line, and Kanagawa by the Fukagawa Line.

All three of these transportation arteries run into each other in the Shimbashi neighborhood, not far east from Tokyo Station, at a point next to the Edo River called the Hakozaki Junction. From the air, it doesn’t look too complicated.

HJ 2

From street level, though, things look a lot different.

HJ 3

Aside from the three expressways, the Hakozaki Junction also includes a parking area. The way the ramps snake past each other makes the junction look like a gigantic heart made out of asphalt and concrete, which is appropriate since it’s located near the heart of the city.

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As a matter of fact, being right next to the Suitengumae subway station means it even has pedestrian-accessible portions.

HJ 6

There seems to be some debate online as to whether the interchange looks most like a spider, octopus, or the eight-headed dragon Yamato no Orochi from Japanese myth. While you could make a point for any of those, we can’t help but be impressed by how much functionality the designers managed to cram into one spot, even if the Hakozaki Junction has earned a reputation as driving motorists to tears.

▼ Don’t forget to use your turn signal.

HJ 7

Source: Himajin Sokuho
Top image: FC2
Insert images: Wikipedia/National Land Image Information Color Aerial Photographs, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Livedoor, Marsh of HRD, FC2, Ninja X