Thursday, July 21, 2016
Spent on Rainy Days
A tall Daibutsu stood at the center of the town of Takaoka. I found myself skirting it, zigzagging in a way that kept me away from all the covered arcades. Instead I was treated to a surprising number of old brick buildings. Pasted to the wall of one were old beer posters from the 1970s. That decade remained in mind as I spied a shop with taxidermied fish, and another selling Nehru suits. It’s as if the bubble years of the 1980s never hit here. Despite that fact, our perhaps due entirely to it, the town had an attractive uniform look, anchored in a decade 100 years before the bubble. Unlike a place like Kyoto where the old shops have been converted into cafes and galleries, here were actual old cafes and galleries. Between them were the true survivors of those earlier days: the beauty salons and the obligatory wristwatch-and-eyeglass shops, the latter always paired. These can be found all over the country and tend to look like they are hanging on from another era. As if to prove my point I spied a Seiko ad with an actor from a Kinoshita film from the early '60s that I had recently seen. This time capsule Takaoka is one of Japan’s hidden secrets.
The sky turned dark and went to rain. Central Takaoka petered out to become a posttown, on whose broad street I saw a stone stele marking where the Meiji emperor had stopped for a brief rest. I’ve passed hundreds of similar stones on my travels, but today I felt a closer affinity with the man, having just finished Donald Keene’s encyclopedic biography, written in such detail that it could have been His Majesty’s Twitter feed.
I passed a long row of temples, many of them of the Jōdō sect. Rennyō hadn’t really gone much further than Kanazawa on his journeys, but certainly his followers had. Above the temples, blue streaks were coming into the sky, and I blessed my good fortune with the weather, until I noted the black wall coming in from the west, nearly hidden by grey tiled roofs. My pace quickened.
The weather held until the next village. One field at its front edge had been only 2/3rds planted. I wondered if they had misjudged the amount of rice they needed. The town itself, as scented with a curious mix of mosquito coil and rain.
Further on was a large cluster of new homes built on what must have been rice paddies a few years ago. Nothing here had any age to speak of, all bright and shiny. My steps carried on, matched in time by the hammering together of yet another structure.
And the rains never came. But the next village did. And another. And yet another. A forest of windmills on the hills to my right cleared the clouds from the sky, or at least had held them at bay. The rains of earlier had kept the fields flooded, and the streams that flowed between them smelled of the sea. As with all of my walks along Hokuriku’s shoulder, I never saw their waters, not even from the train that led me home.
On the turntable: Boards of Canada, "Music has the Right to Children"
On the nighttable: Alberto Moravia, "The Woman of Rome"