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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Wooden houses in Tokyo


For all the examples of Tokyo's architectural splendor and grandiose public places, there are just as many old secluded structures that, if you'd been brought to them blindfolded, would have you believing that you were somewhere out in the provinces. I was wandering through a part of Nakano ward I'd never been to before. This old place struck my eye first for its size, secondly for its apparent frailty, and finally, being the bone dry tinder box that it appears to be, it's amazing that it has survived matches, lighters, lightning, fireworks and faulty wiring.
Old wooden house in Tokyo.
While there are still many houses like this to be found, many of the ones I have discovered are unlived in (this one was inhabited by the way, in spite of many of the shutters being overgrown with ivy). Many of them are not only unlived in, but are in the process of being demolished. Seeing mobile cranes fitted with great metal pincers biting into old houses as if they were balsa wood is also a common sight.

By the way, I had only just taken this photo when I was loudly hailed by a fairly elderly woman, probably in her late 50s, walking down the street towards me. 'Good afternoon!' she yelled. I, somewhat nervously, returned the greeting. She then assailed me with the story of her working life, the main point being that she had been a typist on the U.S. "Johnson army base" she said (or was it air force?). She asked me if I was American, and I felt like a bit of a spoilsport for having to say no. She shouted a few more feelgood sentences at me in her backslap English and with a big wave went on her way.

What memories had the sight of this gaijin awakened in her? Good ones, it seems! Some things clearly won't be demolished.

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