One interesting phenomenon this year has been the growing popularity of tours to such unlikely places as factories and old bridges, where grimy stone walls, rusting mazes of pipes and crumbling concrete constructions have become a lure for worshippers at the altar of brutalism. In many ways, these tours resemble school excursions designed to broaden students' social horizons through visits to companies or factories — except that the participants are adults.

When I first heard about a "technical tour of lock gates on Tokyo's rivers," I was intrigued in two ways. One was to find out what kind of people join such jaunts, and the other was to discover the aim of the organizer — in this case the Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association, an affiliate of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

"This is the first time we have had a lock-gates tour," said Atsuko Uemura, an official of the association, "though actually this is our sixth technical tour this year." Previous tours included an aquatic adventure that saw paying parties of the urbanly curious taking a boat trip to check out 19 bridges over the Sumida River in Tokyo. These expeditions, Uemura noted, had attracted a steadily increasing number of the conurbatory curious.