Thursday, 25 November 2010
Kasukabe, thirteen years after JET.
What really surprised me is apparent in the photo: it's a low-rise and spread out town, for Japan. Or as my wife noted as we took a train through it on the way to Kinugawa-Onsen, "田舎だもん！田圃だけ。" ("Nothing but effing rice-fields.") Given she is from Matsudo, I think she "doth protest too much." On the other hand, I thought of Kasukabe as a bedroom community of Tokyo, because I most often took the train from Kasukabe south into Tokyo when I wanted to sight see, shop, or drink with attractive women. The thing is, not one and a half kilometres north of my station it is rice-fields all the way to Nikko. Three years of defending 'da-Saitama', and they were right!
I knew from Google-Maps that my old apartment building was gone: it was in poor enough shape when I lived there that they rented apartments to the city for five of us Gaijin. I found two of the junior high schools where I pantomimed English, and they still look like prisons, complete with yards (why do Japanese institutions prefer sand over grass?). I walked past the City Hall where old ladies paid to flirt with me ostensibly to learn English, but really to get away from their husbands. I walked through Kasukabe's 'Kabukicho', but though never using any of the services, I was surprised to find it occupied a larger space in my memory than geographically. The 'red-light district' I remembered amounted to two 'Snacks' and a single 'Soapland'. I sauntered past the windows of the Board of Education, where the people in the Shidou-ka may have been replaced, but the suits are the same. I'd wager each section still details their daily schedule in the morning meeting, all summer long, with "Arimasen!" Only once followed by giggling.
I was really surprised by my east entrance to the station (see picture) which I remembered as lively, and of medium-density. Not so much, eh? I do not know how I retained that impression, because: I wasn't that drunk all the time, and I did go to Tokyo several times a month. Three to four o'clock on a weekday may be an off time, but it was dead! Whereas Tokyo's downtowns have a high turnover of shops and restaurants, even the noodle shop at the far left of the picture is unchanged. The 魚民* that was opened while I was there is not only still there, but it has the same, now faded, sign. In fact, what changes there have been have been for the worse. The city has done 'urban renewal' on the east side of the station, which has managed to destroy some of the old charming buildings, and replace them with charmless buildings or parking lots.
Outside of the cores of the biggest cities, and the busiest tourist towns, a three-decade recession is really starting to show. It does not help that post-war housing is made to fall apart in forty years, so much residential stock is old enough not to be worth maintaining, and looks it. Kasukabe is no Marugame, which is the worst case of urban-decay I have seen in Japan, but I would not want to have any money in real-estate there. Neither am I likely to return to the town. Sayonara.
* 'Uotami', not 'Sakana-min', as one friend had to teach me while trying not to choke on beer: damned kunyomi/onyomi!