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My way is the highway: road junction fans multiplying across Japan

Awaza Junction in Osaka's Nishi Ward is seen on Sept. 19, 2019. (Mainichi/Kentaro Ikushima)

OSAKA -- The surging popularity of road junctions has driven fans fascinated by the beauty of their shapes to post photos online of the infrastructures taken at night and to visit places where multiple expressways meet, to the extent where a junction-themed exhibit attracted about 1,000 people.

Hanshin Expressway Co. employee Yoshinori Obata explains ways to appreciate junctions by using a 3D model, in Osaka's Kita Ward, on Sept. 6, 2019. (Mainichi/Koki Matsumoto)

In late August, Moeka Kudo, 26, who works part-time in the central Japan city of Nagoya, and five other fans gathered right below the Awaza Junction of the Hanshin Expressway in the neighboring city of Osaka's Nishi Ward shortly past 9 p.m.

The six sat on curbstones looking up at the layers of highway bridges stacked on top of each other, occasionally taking photographs. It was the first time they had met in person, as they came to know each other online. Her eyes glued to the junction, Kudo stated, "It blows my mind."

Awaza Junction, popular for its huge size, is as famous as Hakozaki Junction on the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway and is known among fans as a "yokozuna (grand champion) rank" junction in western Japan. Four more roads were built around 20 years ago, and a total of eight bridges now crisscross over an intersection.

In contrast to architectural works, junctions are not built for people to appreciate their appearance. However, designs made to fit requirements such as road traffic safety, construction efficiency and geographical conditions fascinate fans.

Hanshin Expressway Co. employee Yoshinori Obata, 47, who is also a fan of junctions, says there are three ways to admire the infrastructure works. The first option is to appreciate their geometric design via aerial images using smartphone map apps and other software. In the second method, which Obata recommends, people observe models and other 3D items of junctions to see how roads intertwine. Many fans opt for the third choice and view actual road junctions from below, which is why so many photos of them taken from underneath are posted on social media sites these days.

Fans are said to have become active since a photobook of junctions taken by Japanese photographer Ken Oyama was published in 2007. Since around 2010, the 46-year-old has hosted tours of junctions at least 30 times, which he says have attracted 30 to 50 participants each time. His activities contribute to the growing number of fans, with some participants later conducting their own tours.

On the increase in fans, Oyama commented, "there were potential fans interested in junctions" before the craze. He analyzed that the photobook and internet helped those individuals "realize that there were people besides themselves" who were fans of the structures.

In August, six expressway operating firms supervised the creation of a book introducing ways to appreciate junctions. Hanshin Expressway, one of the companies, said an exhibition of photos and 3D models of junctions it held in Osaka's Minami entertainment district last November attracted a non-stop flow of visitors, including many young women.

Hanshin Expressway employee Obata stated, "We'd really appreciate it if through curiosity about road junctions, people also become interested in structures and functions of other infrastructure works that usually go unnoticed."

(Japanese original by Koki Matsumoto, Osaka Science & Environment News Department)

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