Saturday, June 15, 2019

On the Great Eastern Road VI

Maybe it was the early start, or maybe it was simply that the signs for the train system made sense to somebody, but not to me.  Whatever the case, I'd gotten on the wrong train which, despite leaving from the platform marked for Yokohama Station bound trains, surprised me by terminating instead at Higashi Kanagawa.  I'd assumed I'd be immune to such things after 25 years, but no matter, it was only a 20-minute walk to set things right. 

The mistake enables me the opportunity to pass Hongaku-ji, the site of the first US Consulate, and the place where they took the body of Richardson after the Namamugi Incident.  The bombing of Kagoshima that followed led in some part to Japan's eventual opening to the west.  But it was in another bombing in May 1945 that the Americans destroyed the temple itself, incinerating all but a few trees. 

I meet the Tokaidō where I left it two years back. The road begins to rise, as does the humidity.  This first section is layered with apartment blocks, all recent, hinting that the massive scale of the wartime bombings, which destroyed over 40% of the city in just an hour.  Today, the apartments discharge housewives who make their way to the local stores as they open.  The only evidence of the old are the historic signs, which appear with surprising regularity. I forget sometimes the richness of Yokohama's history, and make a mental note to return to explore more deeply.

The newer residential areas have metal posts that divide the sidewalks from the streets, a passive aggressive attempt to stop illegal parking.  Each post is topped with a little soccer ball, which gives them a definitively phallic look, like saying "F.U!" to wayward parkers.  Speaking anachronistically, this could have been dealt with by the old samurai who used to man the nearby barrier gate, erected to prevent the wave of anti-foreigner violence that accompanied the incorporation of the first consulates.  While they are at it, the samurai could also issue citations for bad haircuts, of which this area seems to have an affinity.  Though it could simply be a fad, led by one female candidate on an election poster.

I move steadily along, but for a short detour up to Sengen Jinja, affiliated with the Fuji cults that would have climbed a mock mountain built on the shrine grounds.  This is long gone, as are any remaining views of the original muse. But the spirit lives on perhaps, at a small festival at the Matsubara arcade.  Stalls have been pulled out onto the narrow street, just beyond the division with the old Hachioji Kaidō.  The temple that once stood here hosted a trio of Nikko's See-Hear-Speak No Evil Monkeys of an ancient vintage, though the monkeys aren't tellin'.   (Actually, a thorough and interesting and thoroughly interesting explanation can be found here.)

I spend the entire morning moving across Japan's second largest city.  At some point I pass an old building standing where the Hodogaya honjin used to stand. It is not of an Edō vintage of course, probably early Meiji, with nice wooden framework, a stone storehouse, and corrugated tin covering what would have been a tiled roof.  It's amazing that the building has survived, as almost nothing else I've seen today pre-dates 1923, let alone 1945.  Perhaps that's where all the tiles have gone, shaken off during the quake of that earlier date. This design feature was certainly deliberate as it lightens the structure, like a dog shaking off water.

I pass an Inari shrine whose tunnel of arches are being hemmed in by high, unkept grass.  Nearly lost in these is a small statue of Battō Kannon, the horse-head on the helmet a manifestation of compassion for the pack animals who suffered on their way up steep hills. And as expected, those same hills soon begin.  I climb and descend and twist, moving deeper into suburb.  The gleaming towers of Yokohama's waterfront look bound by a cat's-cradle of electrical lines.  One hillside is crawling with colored houses that remind me of Valparaiso, Chile.   One apartment complex, called "Fuji B," can't be older than a dozen years or so, a time when any view of Fuji would have long been hemmed in.       

I eventually rejoin the main road.  There's a small arcade here, with a butchers and a cafe.  I am getting a strong scent of garlic and olive oil from somewhere, and my stomach begins to do gymnastics.  I detour around looking for the source, looking forward to a nice plate of pasta.  But sadly, the mystery is solved when I pass a school across the road, and the army of women at work in the kitchen.

I begin to trudge up the next set of hills, my nose filled with a vinegary smell.  Unfortunately I'm keeping pace with the garbage collector, and the scent that accompanies me with each deep breath is that of rubbish.  My stomach again does gymnastics.

Luckily I'm eventually rewarded with an Italian lunch, which I spy by accident on my GPS.  The shop is a bit untidy, run by a friendly man with slightly flamboyant gestures. The interior is a mish-mash of art and styles, but all with the common denominator of Europe.  I love these little type of places, where passion for a hobby leads to an alternative way of living.  Unfortunately, the owner cooks like a bachelor, the food simple and without much creative thought.  The muggy heat outside calls for a beer, but the scent is skunky and beginning to go off.  I ponder for while then politely suggest he might change the keg.  He does, but this next glass isn't much better.  Looking around again at the shop I come to the conclusion that he doesn't clean the lines.  I poke around at the rest of the food, leaving a fair bit behind.  As I pay, the once friendly man begins to tutter, mainly since he's given me a fresh beer, which I only sipped at.  Embarrassed, I make a great show of taking few gulps, then am out the door.

My stomach still does gymnastics, and the scenery does little to distract.  At the edge of the next town is an empty lot, at whose center is a towering kusunoki, undoubtably famous, marked as it is in my guidebook, which has saved it from destruction.  But all around it is ruin.  The Tokaidō adjoins here the busy Route 1, which originated at Tokyo's Imperial Palace and runs all the way to Umeda.  And not an inch of it has any charm.  Sadly I'm forced to follow this busy road for the rest of the day.

There are a few short reprieves, but these are hardly much better.  One segment has me moving slowly downhill, the road too busy to walk on, and the adjacent sidewalk running up and down like a children's rollercoaster.  A sign mentions the famous namiki that used to line this section, but these too are long gone.  All I get now is the roar of fast moving traffic.  In fact, the only real history I see are the occasional older houses set back from the highway, surrounded by high walls and completely overgrown by vegetation.  The only beauty I see is the color of potted flowers.  This is Japan walking at its worst.

The old post town of Fujisawa offers a few minutes of respite, as the road jogs around to cross the old Yugyōji Bridge, decked with copious signs that suggest a certain fame, but no amount of digital poking around suggests nothing more special than just being an old bridge.  (And not even old, being a 1955 concrete monster.). Not far away is a historical center that has a few displays and some information about the town.  I also see a mother-daughter team who I saw a half an hour ago, as we leap-frogged along for awhile.  I had suspected that they were simply locals going about their business, but I suppose they are also walking the Tokaidō.  A woman offers to turn on a video about the old town, but we all beg off.   The busy highway has worn us so down that even a history buff like me doesn't give a shit anymore.            
I finally get to the outskirts of Chigasaki, as building rain clouds prematurely darken the day.  Then the drops begin.  But at least here there actually are namiki, and these red pines are doing their job in sheltering me from the weather.  Then I find the marker for the old ichirizuka, and turn myself toward the train station. 

I am hoping that I don't have to detour widely around, but a escalator suggests otherwise.  And bizarrely, when I reach the top I see Pat, who I'd been intending to meet.  Both of us being big fans of Ozu Yasujiro, we'd decided to stay the night at the Chigasaki-kan where the director and his screenwriter Noda Kogo wrote some of their scripts, most notably Late Spring.  To quote Noda: 

One scenario usually took us from three to four months, that is, if we weren’t adapting something but were working from scratch. That’s how long Tokyo Story took. We did it at this inn in Chigasaki. It was more a boarding house [yadoya] than an inn [ryokan]. We had this eight-tatami room which looked out on the east and south to a long garden and had good sunshine. The buds came out, then the flowers, then the fruit, and we still weren’t finished. Whenever we went for a walk we’d do the shopping. Ozu used to buy meat and make hamburgers. And we drank a lot, too. By the time we’d finish a script we’d sometimes have over a hundred big empty sake bottles—though our guests would help drink them up, too. Ozu used to number all the bottles. Then he’d count them and say: “Here we are up to number eighty already and we haven’t finished the script yet.”

 Our own goals weren't so lofty.  I was planning to continue my walk the following day onward to Hakone, with Chigasaki  the midpoint, and therefore a good place to stay.  But as we go out later to meet another pair of blockheads, I begin to toy with the idea of giving up on the walk and just hanging around town instead. This is unlike me, as once I get my teeth into an idea I rarely let myself get distracted.  Yet I want more time at Ozu's inn, and I really like this little surfer -beachbum kingdom, hemmed in as it by the busy and concreted modern world.   But it was my feet who had the final say, coaxed by the mellow pace of the flip-flops I'd slipped on as we headed toward a night of craft beers and talking books.

Later, Pat and I buy a bottle of sake to take back to the inn to honor our filmmaking heroes.  Along the way we nearly reconsider, spying a jazz trio blasting away to a nearly empty bar.  It seemed the perfect way to close out an early summer night. But our love of film wins out in the end.  We wander back to our room, to sit and overlook the spacious garden, as we begin to reel through our own Ozu stories, the bottle gradually moving toward the character "無." 

On the turntable:  Fleetwood Mac, "25 Years the Chain"
On the nighttable: Tom Wolfe, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test"      

1 comment:

Julian said...

Great to read the details of that day. And that you guys took a bottle of sake to the Ozu/Noda yadoya. The ultimate homage!