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Accepted Paper:

Essential mobilities and neglected viral risk: the case of Tokyo's crowded commuter trains  
Christoph Schimkowsky (The University of Tokyo)

Paper short abstract:

This paper asks why Tokyo's crowded commuter trains were largely excluded from Japanese public health guidance and discourses during the COVID-19 pandemic. It links this conspicuous absence to the urban railway network's essential role in the operation of socio-economic life in the Japanese capital.

Paper long abstract:

The COVID-19 pandemic has not just prompted the widespread deceleration and halting of human movement, but also reconfigured enduring mobilities. One example of this is many Tokyo residents' continued use of the city's urban railway network throughout the pandemic (Schimkowsky forthcoming). Even as case numbers rose and multiple 'states of emergency' were declared, Japanese government authorities avoided placing official restrictions on 'non-essential' urban mobility flows in Tokyo. This paper presents a theoretic exploration of this lack of urban mobility restrictions through the lens of essential and existential mobilities (Salazar 2021). Although Tokyo's notoriously crowded commuter trains are potentially dangerous spaces in terms of viral risk, they were largely absent from Japanese public health guidance and discourses related to the COVID-19 crisis. This paper inquires into this uncomfortable position of urban railway commutes within Japanese COVID-19 discourse and responses, asking why urban railway commutes in Tokyo withstood the immobilizing effect of the pandemic even though many commuters were concerned about the new viral risks of urban mobility practices. It argues that crowded commuter trains were not allowed to be problematized by COVID-19 discourses and measures due to their integral position in Japan's socio-economic order and their function as a platform of essential mobility.

Panel P010b
Navigating hurdles and pacing (im)mobilities in times of corona [AnthroMob Network] II
  Session 1 Wednesday 27 July, 2022, -