You leave for a few weeks and everything changes on you

I just got back to my home in Tokyo after a summer trip with students to the States and Canada. Had to pay some bills, go to the post office, do a little shopping, so I walk down the hill towards Gotanda Station. Hey! Wait a minute… The six storey building with the fruit stand in it is gone. But, there is a new hotel half-finished over there across the street. The constant turmoil of demolition and construction can make your own neighborhood new almost overnight. Those six to ten storey buildings just appear or disappear as if city planning is run by an eight year old with ADD and a box of Lego.

One of the best examples of this happened a few years ago. I was finishing packing for a long trip to Thailand and Laos, when I realized I had two video tapes out. Six weeks of late charges would kill me, so I trudged up the hill only to realize this mom and pop shop had no after hours drop box. What to do? The very late hour and very early departure meant I couldn’t really ask a friend to do it for me, so I went to the convenience store and shipped them 100 meters by takkyuubin. When I got back from my trip, I went to check out some new tapes, but the whole shop was gone and there was a new bookstore in its place in an entirely new building.

Don’t get me wrong, Japan has some wonderful old buildings, but so much of the architecture seems provisional- just make do. Staple the new electrical run to the wall. Build your new prefab house out of plastic. Don’t worry what it looks like because a flood, fire, or earthquake might be just around the corner. Besides, nobody will pay good money for an old building anyway. They just want the land and will scrape whatever is on it to start fresh.

Any kind of long trip really does mean that you can’t go home again. Your apartment will probably still be there, but your corner store might not. The old lady who watches everything like a hawk will still be there to scrutinize your comings and goings, but she may soon have a whole throng of new hotel visitors to contend with. Returning to Tokyo is a kind of travel in itself- you never know for sure what you are going to find when you get there.

Let’s hope they put a good restaurant in the ground floor of that hotel. I can’t even remember what used to be there, so it can’t have been very good.

2 Comments so far

  1. Theo (unregistered) on September 16th, 2004 @ 5:25 pm

    Great post, Ted!

    You eloquently summed up all those wordless thoughts which were swirling around inside me about all of this sudden and concentrated “bursts” of construction which constantly change the way our neigbhorhoods look. Sadly, I can’t even remember what it looked like around my building 5 years ago, but I DO know that it looked VERY VERY different, and…a little more peaceful-looking…

    I kind of feel like that old mare, Clover, staring up at the Seven Commandments in the final chapter of Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM…(kind of the wrong allusion, but that’s what came to mind)

  2. Theo (unregistered) on September 16th, 2004 @ 5:26 pm

    Oh, and when I say “our neighborhoods”, I’m talking about Japan. I live in Tokyo, like yourself!

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