Amakusa: Islands of dread

As is commonly known, the term karayuki-san is a contraction of karahitoyuki (a person going to Kara, i.e., China, or abroad) or karankuniyuki (going to China, or a country overseas). It refers to the overseas prostitutes who, from the final stages of the Tokugawa shogunate in the mid-nineteenth century through the Meiji period (1868-1911) and until the middle of the Taisho period (1912-1925) at the end of World War I, left their native country behind and traveled north to Siberia or continental China, or south to the various countries of Southeast Asia, to sell their flesh to foreigners. These women came from all over Japan, but it is said the vast majority came from the Amakusa Islands and the Shimabara Peninsula.

 Sandakan Brothel No. 8, Tomoko Yamazaki (1972)

Some places are born cursed, while others are cursed by the whims of history. It has been Amakusa’s tragedy to suffer both fates. Amakusa’s woes began at birth, in the course of the Paleogene, 65mn-23mn years ago, as volcanoes shaped the islands over millions of years and cursed them with a thin gruel of a soil, fit for millennia only for the coarsest barley, until the arrival of the hardy sweet potato from the New World in the 16th century. Rice never made it to the islands until the advent of cheap phosphate fertilizers and improved strains in the 20th century. The convoluted currents created by the tortured ria coastline of west Kyushu conspired to keep the bounty of the ocean unfishably far from shore. Besides, Amakusa had been blessed with only one good natural harbor, at the port of Ushibuka in the remote southwestern corner. Nature’s cruelest trick, though, was to make Amakusa islands at all: the two principal and most of the eight minor islands are separated from each other by the narrowest of channels, never more than a few hundred meters wide, and the island nearest the mainland is scarcely more than a skimmed stone from it. But islands they are, and the straits and seas that engird them were to keep them isolated for centuries—and in many ways still do.

The first man-made misfortune to befall Amakusa was the arrival of proselytizing and trading Portuguese-sponsored Jesuit missionaries on Kyushu in the middle of the 16th century. Jewish-born Jesuit missionary Luis de Almeida (1525-1583) pitched up on Amakusa in 1569 and swiftly won converts to the faith, including local daimyo lord Konishi Yukinaga (小西行長, Don Agostinho, (1555-1600). Konishi made the fatal error of backing the losing side at the Battle of Sekigahara (1600), a fight that was to determine the fate of the nation for the next two-and-a-half centuries, and was executed for his pains, his demesnes being awarded to the Lord of Karatsu, Terazawa Hirotaka (寺沢広高, 1563-1633), a lapsed Christian, whose first act was to have the islands surveyed so they could be taxed to within an inch of their lives to fund the construction of his self-glorifying Karatsu Castle. Christianity, subject to intermittent prohibition from the late 16th century, was finally banned outright by the Tokugawa shogunate in 1614. Fierce persecution of recalcitrant Christians became the rage: on the Shimabara Peninsula to the north of Amakusa, the daimyo Matsukura Shigemasa (松倉重政, 1574?-1630) proved partial to boiling them alive in the scalding springs of Mount Unzen.

Stirrings of revolt began to brew among dispossessed masterless samurai, oppressed peasants, and repressed Christians, culminating in the Shimabara-Amakusa Rebellion (島原天草の乱) of 1637-1638, the very last uprising of any size in pre-modern Japan. The rebellion was led by a charismatic 15-year old, Masuda Tokisada, (益田 時貞, 1621?-1638), who took as his nom de guerre Amakusa Shiro (天草四郎literally “the fourth son of Amakusa”), in tribute to the prophecy of Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier (1506-1552) that a “fourth son of heaven” would lead the conversion of Japan to Christianity. The rebellion culminated in a five-month siege of Hara Castle on the Shimabara Peninsula, defended by some 35,000 rebels, ultimately no match for the besieging forces, who came to number some 120,000 men. Every last rebel was executed and the severed head of Amakusa Shiro taken to Nagasaki, where it was displayed on a pike, in awful warning of the folly of insurrection, until the flesh fell off.

All of this is familiar enough to the history books; there is a solid account of the rebellion, albeit one narrated from a Catholic perspective, here. What is less well known is the fate of Amakusa in the wake of the revolt. The islands, deemed too overrun with malcontents for daimyo rule, were made “heavenly territory” (天領) under the direct jurisdiction of the shogunate. A new magistrate, sent to administer them, appealed for a lighter tax burden, was rebuffed, and disemboweled himself. The population of the islands had been halved by the rebellion, from around 16,000 to 8,000: Tomoko Yamazaki notes that, “in the villages close to the Shimabara Peninsula, it was unusual to see smoke rising from a human dwelling.” To repopulate Amakusa, the shogunate instituted a resettlement policy, forcing peasants to move there from elsewhere in Kyushu and using the islands as a dumping ground for unwanted convicts, ne’er-do-wells, and other undesirables.    

The result was a population explosion unparalleled anywhere else in the nation in the Edo era (1603-1868). While the population of Japan remained almost unchanged over these two-and-a-half centuries, Amakusa’s soared. It regained the level of the 1637-1638 rebellion in 1659, then swiftly doubled, doubled again, and doubled yet again.

1691: 34,357

1746: 74,650

1784: over 100,000

1794: 112,000

1818: 132,200

1832: 143,041

1868: 156,161

1924: 195,344

1955: around 240,000

So unfolded one of the world’s first encounters with a very contemporary, if barely acknowledged problem: overpopulation. By the dawn of modernity at the Meiji Restoration in 1868, more than 150,000 souls were coaxing the most impoverished of existences out of the mostly rocky, barren, and mountainous lands of an archipelago with a total area of only around 1,000km2.

It was into this world that Osaki, the child-prostitute who is the subject of Tomoko Yamazaki’s Sandakan Brothel No. 8, was born in or around the year 1900. The daughter of a farmer father who gambled his land away and died young and a mother who abandoned her three children on remarriage, Osaki was born on the very lowest rung of society:

There were days when I would have nothing to swallow but water from morning ’til night. Even when noon came around, or when the sun had set, I still hadn’t even had the neck of a sweet potato to eat. … By the time winter arrived, the barley box and the potato tub were empty, and days would go by when not only was there no barley gruel, but we couldn’t even sip potato broth.

The karayuki-san prostitutes derive their name from the girls and women of the Amakusa islands and the Shimabara Peninsula, who, once the travel restrictions of the Edo era were lifted in the 1870s, poured first into Nagasaki as the maids and mistresses of wealthy Chinese merchants, on occasion travelling to China with them as concubines. From these origins, the karayuki-san trade came to encompass much of East and Southeast Asia, extending as far as Siberia and North America. At its peak around 1910, there were perhaps some 30,000 Japanese women—almost all from Amakusa and Shimabara—working overseas as prostitutes everywhere from Rangoon to Mukden, San Francisco to Vladivostok, compared to only around 50,000 prostitutes in the home islands.

After many adventures, much exploitation, and some loving bonds forged, Osaki is discovered, now well into old age and back in the Amakusa village of her youth, by a young Tokyo ethnographer and feminist, Tomoko Yamazaki, in 1968, four years after the Tokyo Olympics and the year Japan overtook West Germany to begin its 42-year reign as the world’s second largest economy. This is how Yamazaki describes their first encounter, in a tiny restaurant in the tiny port of Sakitsu: 

She had already finished her rice and was using a toothpick as she drank tea. … She was of slight build, and about one meter and thirty or forty centimeters tall. Her entire body was thin and frail, her arms and legs no more than chicken bones. She wore a faded blue skirt with a well-laundered shirt, and on her feet were a pair of worn rubber thongs…

Withdrawing a slender pipe from a cloth bag and pulling a partly smoked cigarette out of a pack of Shinsei, she stuffed it into the pipe bowl and began smoking. As she contentedly exhaled pale purple smoke, she reached out for the three ashtrays in the small shop and, collecting the smudged out cigarette butts one by one, she knocked off the ashes and stuffed them into the Shinsei pack.

Due to an extreme tobacco shortage during World War II and shortly afterward there were a number of people who would pick up cigarette butts dropped by others, but today, no matter where you went, you would never even hear that sort of thing mentioned. Yet here, right before our eyes, was an old woman totally engrossed in collecting cigarette butts.

 A railway line was laid out up the Uto Peninsula to the now sweetly slumbering town of Misumi, the gateway to Amakusa, as early as 1899, but never extended further, and Amakusa remains about the most populous place in Japan outside Okinawa to be bereft of the pleasures of rail. Utterly deserted and overrun with grass and weeds, Misumi station had, like many a rural terminus does, a mournful end-of-the-pier feel.

The five short bridges needed to connect Amakusa to the mainland were finally built in 1966, largely depriving the railway of its raison d’être. Freight services were halted in 1982, expresses in 1986. Passenger volume fell by more than 40% between 1986 and 2007 and the line loses more than Y30 for every Y100 it generates in revenue.  

It was with some shapeless trepidation that I crossed the first of the five bridges to Amakusa.

Immediately I was stricken with the apprehension that something, somewhere, was wrong.

The shops in the strip-malls of the first island, Oyano, wore jaunty expressions. Where was the spectral gloom for which I had come in quest? And why, I wondered irritated, does a “London” bus always turn up in the unlikeliest of locations, in this case with its downstairs windows papered over with a London evening newspaper from just months before?

This Leyland Atlantean from 1981, GSC655X, once pounded the stately pavements of Edinburgh and York and as recently as February was kitted out in slate blue and white livery. But why was the URL for a Japanese restaurant in London’s West End and the phone number for an Amakusa stationer’s, neither of which were called Sophie’s Kitchen? This was not the last of the islands’ mysteries that was to prove unfathomable.

After peaking in 1955 at close to a quarter of a million, Amakusa’s population went into precipitous reverse, as youngsters flooded off the islands in search of work at lathe or till or jackhammer, falling to around 173,000 by 1980 and almost halving to below 127,000 in the summer of 2010, already back to the level of the early 19th century. From here it is poised to fall by more than a third over the next quarter century, to perhaps 80,000 in 2035, the mid-18th century level. Further out the demographic crystal ball grows murkier, but it is at least conceivable that Amakusa will return to its population level at the time of the 1637-1638 uprising by the end of this century, completing an extraordinary half-millennium of rise and decline.

While once beset by the burden of too many mouths to feed, the whole of Amakusa is now deemed by the state to be a zone of underpopulation (過疎地域), a designation that covers an astonishing 50% of the land area of Japan, if only some 6% of its people—although this is bound to rise in coming years, as the avenging angels of depopulation sweep down from the mountains to lay claim to ever larger conurbations. 

Overpopulation has a biological definition—the number of people exceeds the carrying capacity of the habitat—but underpopulation, at least in a Japanese context, is more of judgment call. The word for underpopulation (過疎) only appeared in the language in 1966, and it was initially defined as falling population densities, ageing, and a growing difficulty in maintaining established lifestyle patterns as the result of a declining population.

The population of the islands’ largest constituent municipality, Amakusa City, is falling faster than any other city of its size (50,000-100,000 people) in Japan, tumbling by more than 8% between 2005 and 2010 alone, due to a combination of continued outmigration by the young (there were 1,031 17-year olds but only 396 19-year olds in the city in 2005), a birthrate that has in recent times fallen below even the already low national average (there were 1,088 14-year olds but only 740 babies under one in the city in 2005), and a high and rising elderly ratio (nearly a third of everyone was over 65 in the city in 2005).

But where were the ruins?

It’s not that there weren’t any: this blot on the seashore landscape of a ryokan hotel had seized up some years before. In the lounge, slabs of green leatherette armchairs, as listless as caged big cats, bore the crinkled imprints of posteriors of yore and the sturdy ashtray stands beside them still held the last guests’ stubbed-out butts. Eerily, the ghost of the ryokan website still haunts the cobwebbed corners of cyberspace, not updated since at least 2004.

Ruination had not taken hold in the way I had expected, though. Ruinology—the divination and detection of ruins—is an imprecise discipline, more art than science. As populations tip lower (and the population is falling in 535 of Japan’s 786 cities, 639 of its 757 towns, and 154 of its 184 villages), the first rubble generally builds in downtown shopping districts—the dead don’t spend—followed by the humbler sort of roadside pit-stop—the dead don’t eat—and the gasoline stand—the dead don’t drive. It takes truly monumental population loss, however, for housing to fall into shell-shocked ruin.

Amakusa’s other city, Kami Amakusa, is a good illustration of this. Its population, 51,000 in 1960, had fallen to 32,500 by 2005, yet the number of households rose to 11,400 in 2005 from 10,200 in 1960, as the average number of people per household fell from over five to under three. By 2035, though, when Kami Amakusa’s population is projected to fall to around 18,000, the ruination will be general. A parallel story plays out on the national stage: although the population started its long slide in 2005, the number of households does not peak until 2015, at about 50.6mn, and even by 2030 is barely back to its 2005 level. Take heart, though, connoisseurs of ruin: in part because of the geographical mismatch between supply and demand, the total housing stock is expected to reach 60.4mn units in 2015, meaning that a staggering 9.8mn houses and condominiums, or 16% of the total stock, will lie vacant or derelict across the land (aside from a clutch of of holiday homes).  

On the shores of Shimabara Bay, I was joined for lunch by the signed poster of a singer of enka folk ballads, a local boy made good.

Born on Amakusa in 1971, Ryuji Hamasaki worked after graduation from high school as a salariman at an electrical design firm for many years before chucking it in to serve as an apprentice to a famous songsmith, Toru Funamura, and finally releasing a debut single in 2005 under the stage name Amakusa Jiro (天草二郎, “the second son of Amakusa”), in tribute to Amakusa Shiro, the leader of the Shimabara-Amakusa Rebellion. Those legendary lines of William Faulkner, about a very different time and place, sprang to mind: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

The moral rectitude of the balladeer’s hairstyle, which could have been cropped into its just-so contours at any time over the last half-century, is underscored by the catch-copy:

こんな時代に律儀な奴!!

An honest fellow for times like these!!

The poster is for the debut single, Amakusa Katagi (天草かたぎ), which might be rendered, with a nod to Billy Joel, as Amakusa State of Mind. The lyrics cover familiar enka tropes, a formulaic directory of expressions and images designed to summon forth instant nostalgia for the hometown—in this case, it’s the cold comforts of sake for the sons of fisherfolk marooned in Tokyo, who recall fondly the house on the cape, the drying persimmons, and of course mother, while bewailing the impossibility of return—but it ends with an ambiguous couplet that departs from the familiar

赤い血潮の
天草かたぎ

and which could be interpreted in two ways: “Hot-bloodedness/Amakusa state of mind”, which is in all likelihood what the lyricist intended, or “Red rivers of blood/Amakusa state of mind”, in a nod to the islands’ blood-soaked past.

Crossing from Kamishima, the upper island, to Shimoshima, the lower island, I paused awhile in Hondo, the largest town on the archipelago, replete with a 24-hour drive-in McDonalds, a Uniqlo, pachinko parlors with giant LCD screens, gaudy car dealerships and all the other delights of the contemporary urban experience. This has been post-war Japan’s great genius, to spread the light of a modicum of prosperity to even the most benighted places of the land.

Downtown, however, the Gintengai shopping arcade, finished in 1973, was more exquisitely deserted than any I have ever strolled.

The entranceways to the arcades were adorned with monstrous signboards featuring collages so nightmarish they would scare the most determined shopper away.

While perhaps only a third of the stores had given up the ghost, doom hung heavy in the air for the rest.

One of the survivors was a rare combination these days, and one that might require elucidation for younger readers: an independent retailer of compact discs. Compact discs, familiarly known as “CDs”, were optical discs used to physically store digital data, often music, and independent retailers were those not affiliated to any larger chain.

Being a stick-in-the-mud technophobe, I only have a CD player in the car, and it so happened that I was after a particular CD—Lily of da Valley, an album of metal-tinged candle-in-the-air hip-hop anthems by Dragon Ash, not out of any longstanding affection for the band but because a few days earlier I’d bought a T-shirt designed by leader Kenji Furuya and in an inversion of the usual process (“You loved the songs! Now buy the T-shirt!”) wanted to hear the music.

I was in luck; it was in stock. Behind the counter stood a graying woman in a cardigan.

“This is Japanese music, you know?”

Does she, I wondered, ask the obverse of a Japanese customer buying a Beatles album.

“Yes, I know. In fact, I’m wearing a Dragon Ash T-shirt.”

She peered blankly at the T-shirt, which bears the opening line of William Blake’s Lily:

The modest Rose puts forth a thorn,
The humble sheep a threat’ning horn:
While the Lily white shall in love delight,
Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright.

Across her face, the waters of cognition receded from the shores of reason. Snapping back to the present, she mumbled, “That’ll be Y3,045 ($36.50), please.”

No wonder piracy is killing music. She entered the purchase in pencil in a ledger, as I strained to read it upside-down and tally up her sales: over Y20,000 ($240). Not bad for mid-afternoon, I thought, and then realized this was the total for the week to date. It was Thursday.

Still the nagging feeling that something was wrong was dogging me.

The real reason I had come to Amakusa was the discovery that in the January 2010 Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport land price survey, the price of residential land had fallen faster at two locations on Amakusa than anywhere else in provincial Japan—down by 16.1% and 15.8%, following declines of 14.4% and 15.2% in 2009, when they ranked third and first fastest fallers.

In the aftermath of the housing bubble across the West, drops of a third or so in couple of years might not sound exceptional, but residential—and commercial—land prices have been falling across provincial Japan without interruption since 1993, with the regional residential average down by nearly two-thirds from the peak. The situation is not so different in the big cities—Tokyo residential land prices are 40% of their 1991 peak and commercial land prices just 25%—but there were glimmers of stabilization in 2006 to 2008, hopes snuffed out for now by recession. No such hopes were sparked across provincial Japan: you don’t have to be familiar with the theory that the worth of a piece of land is the discounted present value of its future cash flows nor an expert in hedonic regression analysis to sense instinctively that land price stability remains a distant daydream across swathes of the nation.

Amakusa, though, was playing hard to get: while Hondo had the odd roped-off gas station, pumps pulled out like so many rotten teeth, and its share of shuttered curbside laundromats and patisseries and dry cleaners, the blight was not as dismal or general as I had expected. What I needed, I decided, was a real estate agent.

Half of Mori Fudosan’s window was taken up with rental apartments, priced in the Y30,000-Y50,000 a month ($350-$600) range, which would consume a fair chunk of an Amakusa salary—and you would obtain scant gratification from living in any of them. While Japan excels at food porn and fashion porn, it cannot but help falling flat on its face when it comes to property porn.

Mr Mori, in his fifties, and his comely twentysomething daughter betrayed no foreknowledge but also no trace of surprise when I told them of Amakusa’s latest claim to notoriety. To what did they ascribe the plunge in the price of land, I asked.

Immediately Mr Mori took charge and launched into a tirade against the new Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) administration.

“Things might be all very fine for you folk up in Tokyo, but we’ve got nothing to survive on but construction down here.”

He was clearly a fervent believer in concrete over people rather than the DPJ slogan “people over concrete”. Certainly, dotted around Amakusa were hoardings demanding more roads, including one that fancifully demanded a bridge, which would need to be at least a couple of kilometers long, to the island of Shishijima (pop. 1,050 and heading in only one direction). These hoardings often sign off with “this is the ardent desire of the people”, although as they are erected not by people but by bureaucrats, it’s hard to be sure how ardent the people’s desires are. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the DPJ had only been in power for only four months when the land price survey was conducted and that even the most ham-fisted bunch of merry incompetents could not have contrived to send the price of Amakusa land spiraling lower in such a brief spell.

“What we need is an expressway to the mainland.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the “straw phenomenon” (ストロー現象), whereby improved transport infrastructure paradoxically causes the district it was designed to invigorate instead to atrophy, as people and life are sucked away to the big city bright lights which burn with even greater luster, just as a drinker drains a glass, means that an expressway is the very last thing Amakusa needs.

“What about tourism?”

“Oh, that’s a non-starter. We’ve got nothing to see, well, nothing special anyway, nothing people elsewhere don’t have themselves.” Amakusa’s brooding past does indeed hang heavy over the islands like a malignant vapor; tales of insurrection and execution are not the stuff of holiday postcards home.

“Jumbo Ozaki [94-time Japan Golf Tour winner] was going to build a resort here, but it all came to nothing.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that was probably for the best, as Jumbo declared bankruptcy in 2005, with liabilities of over Y5bn ($60mn), due to a string of golf course development failures.

“They tried cultivating olives, too, but that didn’t work out either. The boars ate all the olives.”

I thanked the Moris for their time. They had plenty of it; in the half-hour I was with them, no phone rang and no customer darkened their door.

Changes in the price of land are best thought of as a subspecies of inflation (or deflation, which is only a subset of inflation). Large moves in either direction, like inflationary and deflationary spirals, are best avoided, as the West has learned to its great cost over the last decade.

Japan’s Bubble, though, was almost an order of magnitude greater than anything seen in all but the frothiest property markets of the West: from 1974 to 1991, the price of land essentially quadrupled in Tokyo and tripled nationwide, with the price more than doubling in Tokyo in just two years, from end-1986 to end-1988. The US median house price, by contrast, took a decade, 1997-2006, to rise to $250,000 from $150,000.

While the run-up in land prices teased some nasty creatures from the woodwork, such as the jiageya land shark mobsters who specialized in turfing folk off their land or out of their homes to make way for redevelopment projects for rapacious realtors, the achingly long descent has on balance produced more, and more enduring, pain. The one thing that can be said in its favor is that growing affordability has lured people back to city centers: the population is rising in all but one of Tokyo’s 23 wards. On the debit side, many buyers were trapped at the top and are sinking further underwater two decades on. Even those who bought on the way down must confront the ugly reality that real estate is now not in any way a store of value, but, due to falling land prices and built-in housing obsolescence, a one-way losing bet—and nowhere is it a losinger bet than on Amakusa.

Heading out of Hondo, I detoured to Amakusa Airport, which was celebrating its 10th anniversary.

 

Of all Japan’s provincial airports, Amakusa is in many ways the most ludicrous. It is a bastard child of the Bubble, though it wears its Bubble inheritance lightly. The idea for an airport on Amakusa first surfaced in 1982 and it was given the imprimatur of the Minister of Transport in 1990, that fateful year of imagined infallibility, with construction beginning in 1992 and services in 2000.

So marginal is it that in Japanese it is dubbed an aerodrome rather than an airport; so marginal is it that no airline could be found to fly to it, so Amakusa and the prefecture had to create their own, Amakusa Airlines, from scratch; so marginal is it that it will be forever hamstrung by its 1,000m runway, too short to accommodate the latest generations of commuter planes.

Money was seemingly still no object as late as 1999, when the nascent airline bought a brand new 39-seater Bombardier DHC8-103, which remains its only aircraft. By the fiscal year to March 2004 (FY3/04) the airline was in the red, where it has stayed ever since. Cumulative losses had already stacked up to Y350mn (about $4.2mn) by FY3/07. Because the sole aircraft is pressed into such heavy duty, with three round trips a day to Fukuoka, Kyushu’s largest city, and one a day to Kumamoto, the prefectural capital, it has been beset by mechanical woes and is frequently out of commission, as it was on the day I was there.

All flights were cancelled and would remain so for a fortnight.

Passenger numbers peaked in FY3/06 at 85,600. In the six months to September 2010, they were down to 32,400, an annual run-rate of about 65,000. The passenger load factor on both routes was around 54%, far below breakeven at around 65%-70%. In FY3/09, revenue was down 12% from the year before and the operating loss margin an eye-watering 44%, which means the airline was effectively spending Y144 for every Y100 it took in. With its capital almost depleted, the fate of Amakusa Airlines hangs by a gossamer thread.

Amakusa Airlines is but a microcosm of the woes of the airline industry, plagued as it is with too many airports, too many airlines, and too many flights: of the 21 commuter airlines, only five were consistently profitable from FY3/07-FY3/09. JAL, the nation’s largest carrier, began axing domestic routes in October as part of its post-bankruptcy rehabilitation plan: with 30 routes going and reduced services on a further 13, the skies over Japan will grow quieter and emptier, although not yet quiet and empty enough.

Deeper and deeper into the fastnesses of Amakusa I drove. In the sleepy onsen resort town of Shimoda stood an excrescence of the Bubble so hideous I feared it would shatter the camera lens. 

In general, the more wincingly random the agglomeration of languages in the name of a place, the closer it is to the epicenter of the Bubble, and the hotel Jardin Marl Boyokaku (“the tower with ocean prospects and a garden of kaolin”) must have been at ground zero.

We are stuck with the word “bubble” to describe asset manias, thanks to the South Sea Bubble of 1711-1720, but its childish overtones, suggestive of the soap bubbles blown by a toddler, the bubbles rising from the mouth of a child’s drawing of a fish, or the bubblegum bubble blown by a teen, fail to capture the damage done by real-world asset-price bubbles, which are more like malevolent pockets of methane gas lingering in some forgotten pipe missing from the plat which, hit by some contractor’s drill, explode to kill and maim those known in movie credits as innocent bystanders.

When the ban on Christianity was revoked by the Meiji government in 1873, the missionaries returned, although they were not to meet with the proselytizing successes of three centuries before: the church at Oe, completed in 1933 by French missionary Louis Frederic Garnier, who arrived on Amakusa in 1892, is one of only three on the archipelago, and their combined congregation accounts for less than 1% of the population. 

It was abidingly eerie to see a church of such heft in such a lofty location: what with the sultriness of the afternoon, the subtropical verdancy, and the buzz-sawing of the cicadas, I felt as though I had stepped into a scene from the Philippines.

Not far beyond Oe rests the tiny port of Sakitsu, where Tomoko Yamazaki first encountered the former child-prostitute Osaki, who lived half-an-hour’s walk away, and home to one of the other two churches.

The first church at Sakitsu was erected by Luis de Almeida in 1569. Persecution of believers was particularly merciless in Sakitsu, according to the commemorative plaque beside the church, forcing them underground to become the hidden Christians of lore, who kept their faith secret in midnight masses and faintly recalled Latin prayers for two-and-a-half centuries before the return of the missionaries. Rebuilt three times since the Meiji era, the last time in a Gothic style in 1934, the altar of the church at Sakitsu stands on a spot where Sakitsu’s hidden Christians, or those suspected of being so, were made to go through the annual ritual of fumi-e, the trampling of icons of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, with those who hesitated tortured and executed.

The church at Sakitsu was the inspiration for the opening passage of Sandakan Brothel No. 8:

As I sit before my desk preparing to write about the category of overseas prostitutes known as karayuki-san, I find that one particular scene continues to surface in my memory. The setting is Tenshudo, Lord of Heaven Chapel, in the town of Sakitsu, at the southern end of Amakusa-Shimo Island…

It must have been about three o’clock. Although it wasn’t the time of day you would expect people to shut themselves up in their homes, in the vicinity of the Tenshudo not only were there no adults, there wasn’t even a single child at play. Sakitsu was so quiet, it seemed to have been abandoned…

The doors of the Tenshudo stood ajar, as if it, too, were deserted. I walked in and looked around as my eyes adjusted from the outside light. When I focused on the form of a person crouched before the altar, my eyes interpreted it at first as a stone sculpture of a person in prayer. This was because, as the minutes flowed by, the old woman kneeling on the tatami, a rosary hanging from her clasped hands, neither uttered a word nor made a single movement. However, as my eyes grew accustomed to the dim interior of the Tenshudo and I could clearly discern everything from the image of the crucifixion, the statue of Mary, and each of the candlesticks on the altar in the front, to the stained-glass windows on either side, I realized that what I had mistaken for a stone image was actually the living flesh of an old peasant woman…

She looked to me as if she might have been seventy to seventy-five years old, and that was exactly the age of the karayuki-san that one might find still living on the Amakusa Islands or the Shimabara Peninsula. This old farm woman in silent prayer like a stone image—might she once have worked as a prostitute overseas?

…Her face, which I can see clearly now, two years later, as if she were right before my eyes, was furrowed with a number of wide wrinkles, while her fingers were short, with knotted joints. Different patterns at the elbows and knees betrayed the patches on her work clothes. If her attire indicated the poverty in which she now lived, and the wrinkles on her face spoke of the many difficulties she had faced during the course of her life, then I would probably not be going too far in interpreting the true intent of her fervent prayer, not as an idealistic request for the deliverance of humankind from original sin, but rather as a heart-rending wish that she ultimately be saved from a life of poverty and hardship.

More than forty years on, Sakitsu was unchanged, although nowadays it’s no longer possible to register surprise at there having been no child at play. Time appeared to have ground to a halt in the 1950s. An old man, naked from the waist up, squatted to chisel contentedly away at a block of wood, while down a narrow alley a stooped woman fed stray cats, just as Osaki did.

And there was the harbor at Sakitsu, from whence Osaki had sailed, aged 10 or so, some hundred summers before I stood on its shore, to Nagasaki and ultimately Sandakan in the British protectorate of North Borneo, a journey that took many months, to serve first as an indentured maid and then, after a couple of years, as an indentured prostitute, bound by largely fabricated debt from flight.

Given the grimness of its subject matter, Sandakan Brothel No. 8 could be a monstrously dispiriting book. That it is anything but is testament to the way it straddles genres, its academic pretensions constantly undercut by the passion of the author. It is by turn quest, travelogue, oral history, and the tale of an implausible friendship that blossoms between two women across the boundaries of time and age, place and class. Above all, it is a celebration of Osaki, the talker to frogs on paths, the adorer of children, and the shelterer of cats without homes, whose antecedents span holy fools like the Zen monk and hermit Ryokan but also the wise old women of European fable and folklore:

Although she had emphasized that it was “a dreadful house”, I was amazed that a human being could actually live there. … Although the black pillars that supported the house somehow stood up straight, the miscanthus-thatched roof, which had not been rethatched in decades, looked like a heap of compost. On the south side grew wild chrysanthemums and dandelions, while various kinds of ferns had colonized the north. To me, it looked just like a witch’s house described in fairy tales…

Cobwebs three feet long hung from the low ceiling. Here and there the roughly plastered clay walls had crumbled in, and both the interior and exterior paper sliding doors, the fusuma and shoji, had been reduced to the skeletal structure of their wooden frames. The tatami mats in the sitting room appeared to have rotted entirely, for as I stepped into the house on her invitation, my feet sank into the mats as if I had set foot in a rice paddy. Not only did the dampness of the mats cling to the soles of my bare feet, but as I braced myself to bend down, a number of centipedes crawled up toward my knees. Overcome with revulsion, I peered down at them, only to find that the straw mats had become one giant centipede nest.

The tides of trafficking have long turned since Osaki’s day, and Japan is a destination rather than a source of trafficked women, although clampdowns by the authorities and downturns by the economy have improved matters meaningfully since the gory days of the Bubble and its aftermath, when—as I know from personal experience—every flea-bitten hostess joint in every two-bit town from Nemuro to Nagasaki was staffed by Southeast Asians and even the remotest ryokan was not replete without an “entertainer” from Manila or Medan. More needs to be done—Japan remains a signatory to but not a ratifier of the 2000 UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocols, in particular the one to “Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children”—but however horrific contemporary trafficking is, one can’t help but feel it was worse a century ago:

[There are also tragic tales] about women hidden as stowaways in water tanks. One such account tells of a number of women who hid in a tank that the trafficker and seamen involved assured them would remain empty. However, through some human error the water was turned on and the tank began to fill. The terrified women broke their promise of silence and began beating on the metal sides of the tank and screaming. The water gradually rose to their ankles, then to their knees, and then up to their chests and continued to rise. After the ship had been underway for several days, a seaman turned on a faucet and began to drink, when he noticed a long hair come floating into his glass. Strange, foul-smelling bubbles rose up through the water. When crew members investigated the water tank, they found the bodies of women, so badly decomposed they no longer retained their shape. In the high temperatures of the southern route, bacterial decomposition was a rapid process.

Sandakan Brothel No. 8 went on to sell more than a million copies and be translated into five languages, while the film of it, shorn of the troublesome “brothel” word, was nominated for the 1975 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Osaki, her last years leavened a little by income from the book, died on April 30, 1984, as old as the century.

The dull and timid day, harangued by clouds, had grown tired of itself and was ready to surrender to dusk as, vexed by an amorphous discordance, I entered the town of Ushibuka, to which I took an immediate, unusual, and visceral dislike. Perhaps it was the bleak walls of the junior high, more concentration camp than place of learning.

Perhaps it was the dreary shudder brought on by the monotony of the lifeless tenements.

Perhaps it was the way the bridge, another Bubble era vanity project, completed in 1997 and designed by Renzo Piano, architect of the Pompidou Center in Paris, disfigured the bay.

It was then I spied them: two crude effigies severed at the bottom of the torso, one with matted Jesus locks, one covered, repulsively, in flying ants, strung up on trees outside a wholesale produce market.

Was this, I feverishly wondered, a modern reenactment of the fate of Amakusa Shiro and his band of rebels, a macabre admonition by some nameless authority of the futility of revolt? It was all I could do to raise the camera before turning tail and taking flight to the mountains and the haven of a rustic onsen, where I found, to great relief, that the unease that had been stalking me had shuffled off, to be replaced by a fragile composure.

Next morning, the ferry schedule allowed a few moments to capture the spent melancholy of Ushibuka, where the price of land is falling fastest in all the nation, through the exhausted sadness of its signs

before the ferry carried me away to other, sunnier, islands, islands not of dread.

[With many thanks to A.E. for the karayuki-san tip-off.]

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139 responses to “Amakusa: Islands of dread

  1. Fantastic! You are such a great observer!

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  3. This is one of the most profound and, may I say, painful write ups on the bleak state of so many places in Japan. It is these sagas that politicians still mistakenly use to argue for even more tax money for bridges and dams to nowhere…

  4. Literally just a few nights ago, I was planning a motorcycle ride all the way up the western coast of Kyushu. Looks neat, I thought, with a bunch of funky islands and bridges.

    And as if by magic, a Spike Japan essay appears on my upcoming destination! Now, thanks to this site, I know I the ragged coastline that caught my attention on the map is called a ria.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ria

    But still: Shudder. It will be tough to enjoy the island scenery with the weight of history and hard times pressing down on Amakusa.

  5. Another excellent article. I enjoyed the background history from the Edo period and the Shimabara rebellion. It really adds to the image of Amakusa. It seems like such a sad a dreary place but maybe the people are relatively content…. or unaware.

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  7. Love it! I`m curious to go see it myself now. Contrary to Mr Mori, there are a couple of natural attractions, though being natural, they may not really appeal to the domestic market. There are a few boats offering dolphin watching and chances to swim with dolphins.
    I really wonder what will be the fate of Amakusa Airlines. Perhaps it will just run at a loss until Kumamoto cuts the money? I imagine the Fukuoka route (and sole Dash 8-100) could just conceivably be taken over by JAC and cut to once a day. I wonder how much money the airport itself loses.

    • You’re right – I didn’t mention the dolphins, but certainly a little tourist trade has been built up on the islands closest to the mainland in dolphin watching and swimming with dolphins, which is certainly an antidote to “The Cove”… These islands are attractive, because small islands just generally are. The big two – not so much, to be honest. I didn’t mention it in the post, but Amakusa has a third municipality, Reihoku Town, with around 8,500 people, which has been able to keep its independence because it sold its soul to Kyushu Electric Power in the 1990s and is now home to a huge coal-fired power station that supplies two-thirds of Kumamoto Prefecture’s electricity. Not a pretty place.

  8. Great post – must have taken a lot of time to get this finished. Keep up the good work, please!

  9. Hi there, would it be possible to use the photograph of the Leyland Atlantean on my website? It would be credited to you!
    You have linked to my site with a photo of the bus… A better one is here; http://northeastandyorkshirebus.fotopic.net/p61373815.html
    I am interested in the history of these vehicles, as I am with any vehicles from the UK now in different parts of the world… I am especially interested as it ran in North Yorkshire and in York…

    Thanks

    James

    • Sure, no problem. I wonder if you know any more about how it ended up in an obscure corner of Japan?

      • Hi,

        All I know is;
        It was bought by a bus preservationist / dealer in Tyneside, it was then painted red, it was planned for use as accommodation, or as some sort of living / promotion bus, it was then sold to a buyer in Japan.

        Could you send me the photograph to my email? Who should I credit it to?

        James Stoker

  10. Richard, I’ve complimented your writing before, but found I was a bit bemused by this one. A combination of what it made me think about briefly, then.

    I wonder about perspective here, in a number of dimensions. This is an area that clearly has been thought of for a recreational destination, and people talk on travel sites that way about it – a kind of pleasant, leafy outback of Japan.

    With this in mind, a link like Renzo Piano’s bridge may be very appropriate, at least at the stage all this was being planned. That the world hit a tremendous bank-driven collapse and cut the possibilities may be what makes things seem as pointless to you as you describe.

    The housing — well, having lived in your part of Asia, it looks rather natural to me, for a provincial area, and I can remember much worse housing in various areas of Tokyo not so many years ago. The apartments in fact remind of the one Ken Takakura lived in as a metropolitan detective in Black Rain, for another view.

    I found myself thinking of the tourist possibilities then, and somehow the faux-Dutch town came to mind. It turns out the Huis Ten Bosch is actually in this area, south of Nagasaki I believe. So this puts the point about the tourist intentions. It may not be the most attractive theme of recently modern life, but the Amakusa vicinity is not the only place in the world to turn to this for economics — and such is nothing new in historic Japan either. One needs only to read Spring Snow to see how embedded this fashion was in the north of the country; and there are various spas and so forth in Hokusai’s woodcuts.

    All things balance, rebalance, change — you know that. Living a bit longer, I see it more, and look rather deeply these days into many things that are not discussed, as to how we will develop our personal lives and culture now. Gut sense is that very much really will change. Dynamism, and even the ways banks view it can take many forms. Kawabata’s senses of many things can even be a guide, in my mind’s eye at the moment, anyway.

    Richard, I recommended to you before I (Yi, Lee) O-(R)yong (lots of ways to spell it romanized). I found where you can get the specific book mentioned, and it is here:

    http://raskb.com/site/bookstore/book/in_this_earth_and_in_that_wind/

    He wrote rather directly and with feeling of his countrymen, when things were a lot harder than they are in Japan today. I suspect you’d enjoy and get something out of what he did, and maybe this would open new avenues to try with your strong writing abilities and wonderful linguistics.

    I enjoy a lot of what you do, Richard. Somehow I think expressing a more positive nose for life wouldn’t take away from it.

    I remember, as an anecdote, that I was in Oxford 20 years ago, en route to see if I would take a consulting job in the North. I was pretty disimpressed with the rude life on the street from Cowley and those living rough in Oxford – and then met the mystical silences within the colleges, the roe deer parks, the flavours in old pubs on the periphery. But I also met a book of life in the Preston area by a London ‘artistic’ writer, and nearly cancelled the consulting. I spoke with my friend-to-be who was running the project, and he quietly suggested I come and see. What I found showed how the book was true; and how much and in what ways it was not. A long and engaging story in the real followed….

    Take care,
    Clive

    • Here’s an excerpt from a review I came across recently that I felt applied somehow to Spike. Make of it what you will. It’s by Martin Amis on (obliquely) another British writer, VS Pritchett, from 1980.
      “Actually, all writers are lovers of life, even the blackest of them; they all know that life has everything to be said for it. Few lovers are as generously inquisitive as Pritchett, and have such affection for vagaries and wrinkles—‘preserving especially’, as he says of Saul Bellow, ‘what is going on at the times when nothing is going on.’”

  11. Richard, that’s a thoughtful reply, and one that prompts reflection, much as I suspect is in the meaning of Amis there; perhaps as much about himself as Pritchett? Thank you.

    I by the way crossed titles on the mention of ‘Spring Snow’. It should be of course to ‘Snow Country’, by Kawabata Yusinari; and then the references make sense.

    Well, I am still on the reflection, on the shadows and light. In fact there’s a wonderful episode on a train early in Snow Country which is also about transparency and reflection, optical in sight at first, likely out of Kawabata’s painterly sight. I would think you to enjoy it even more being able to read it in the native.

    It does have to take place in darkness…and there I leave it for the both of us, for this note.

    Best fortune, Richard.

    Clive

  12. great site Richard-pls keep the writes up!

  13. Holy cow, what a post…!! Amazing work!

    “Across her face, the waters of cognition receded from the shores of reason”
    Well done :P haha Great writer.

  14. KICKING AGAINST THE PRICKS

    It is a great article and so very well written and with certain rays of truth shining through. However it betrays a suggestion of cultural and historical baggage the journalist has brought along to further a predisposed agenda.

    What of the finest beaches in Kyushu? What of the benefits of living in a ‘de- growth’ region of Japan and all that means; more space, cheaper property, plenty of food, water and sunshine? What you laser in on is merely ”All Our Futures”. Get over it. Amakusa is simply first past the post. But be sure there will be no finer place to survive the whims of Japan’s future coming shock than some quiet corner of Japan. Isolation does have her benefits. But these are often realised too late by city dwellers. Tough shit for you guys. But good luck!

    It is such a well written piece that it is difficult to counter without the skill of the writers art. But you are also under researched. For example Reihoku did not sell her soul to a power station. Rather she retained her independence and her future sustainability. The rest of Amakusa went belly up into a merger which has but a few years before total bankruptcy. Such is pork barrelling. Also the incomers to Amakusa were not simply criminals and hicks. They were enemies of the state of then (hideous) Japan and some of them were noblemen and ronin samurai.
    For 240 years after the Amakusa rebellion the hidden Christians of the west coast practiced their faith unnoticed without a shepherd and under extreme duress of persecution and death. This may be a good thing or it may not. It certainly shows some character that these people had. To persevere in adversity.
    Your depiction of Amakusa City (actually ‘Hondo’- Amakusa City is the name for the whole merged 7 towns or so) is also off the mark. Hondo is growing. Its schools are bulging, its population growing. What you refer to is the outlying areas-Ushibuka, Kawaura, Shinwa, Amakusa Town. These are the dying/dead areas which would do well to switch to supplying total agriculture for Hondo.
    Amakusa may be first into and first out of the worst of the population horrors facing the whole country. A smaller population is the future, for sure.

    But what did you expect before coming to Amakusa? Beaten up christians and whores? It is not the hell hole you portray by any means. Nor the artful denouement your excellent photos and essay suggest. Far from it. It might in fact be your idea of heaven given what is coming Tokyo’s way.

    I challenge you to come back or at least present a better place. This little shit hole gave this country her only ever rebellion and they paid bitterly but not without a good fight and a few victories. I have much enjoyed your articles in the past but now I see your writing as simply good journalism.

    • Nice tirade (and I do mean that). I knew there *must* be a gaijin out there with a bit of Amakusa okuni jiman in him. Let’s get a few things straight. I’m not a journalist. I didn’t go to Amakusa with any “predisposed agenda”—I was barely conscious of the Shimabara-Amakusa rebellion and knew nothing of the karayuki-san, which I wove into the story after. I went because the price of land is falling faster in Ushibuka than anywhere else in provincial Japan. The rest was icing on the cake.
      You seem a bit schizophrenic about Amakusa’s future: at one point you say: “there will be no finer place to survive the whims of Japan’s future coming shock than some quiet corner of Japan”, then you say that aside from Reihoku, “the rest of Amakusa went belly up into a merger which has but a few years before total bankruptcy.” That doesn’t sound much like a “no finer place” to me. Am I missing something?
      Hondo’s population is not growing, sorry to disabuse you of that notion. See here:
      http://www.city.amakusa.kumamoto.jp/statistics/upload/p10377511_775_21_x5euzmc4.pdf
      Quite disturbing that you believe this, being an islander and all, when I’ve only spent about 30 hours there.
      Everything else is a matter of interpretation.
      I don’t share your optimism about rural Japan, as should be obvious. Much of Amakusa’s budget, as I’m sure you know, depends on largesse from the central government, and as you will find out over the next decade or two, this will disappear. Few places will be needier than Amakusa. You seem so confident about dealing with population decline. I suggest you think again.

      • Hi P,
        Those graphs and charts only go to 2005! That’s when the merger was created. Thats 5 years ago. Light years in Japan. Since then the outlier towns have been decimated (like Ushibuka in particular) as the population has poured into Hondo City now renamed, to your confusion, ‘ Amakusa City’- which now includes all the other towns on Shimo Shima except Reihoku. ( This is one reason for Ushibuka property falling flat on her face).
        So yes it LOOKS like population is falling everywhere in Amakusa Shi but in Hondo, at the moment, it is not. You try get your kid into Sho Gakko there. Schools are jammed and empty(ing) in other towns.
        As to the crap flats, who wants to live there when you can choose nice newish ones?
        I’m not a McDonalds fan myself but at least the one in Hondo is a tasteful replica of the 1st McDonalds in the USA. Before Uniqlo Amakusa people could only buy poor chinese replica shirts with bad english sweaters, like the ones on the scarecrows. Hardly a Dark Tower and reason to catch the next ferry outta here. Should we lowly downtroddenexchristiandescendantsofprostitutes not be allowed to wear the relative crap of Uniqlo? (all the rage in Tokyo too right now, no?)
        I am not a fan of your average Japanese suburban strip mall ,drag and drive to it store etc and you say it so well yourself. But Hondo is actually fairly well laid out of late and better looking than most urban dumps. It is easily the most popular city in Kumamoto (whoo har). Have you ever been to Yatsushiro or Hitoyoshi? The whole joint looks like the inside of the empty shopping mall (from the 50′s btw) in Hondo. At least Hondo is clean as a whistle.

        The reason for the disappearance of the youth is that there is no college or uni. So they go to where they can get an education. And most don’t come back because there are no jobs, except Yakuba. Besides the bright lights attract the moths to their death…but thats another rant.
        By ‘no finer place’ I meant as a percentage of workable land to population. Yes, Amakusa is screwed when the subsidies stop. So is everywhere. They wont stop… till they all stop. And they will IMO all stop eventually because the country is utterly bankrupt. Your investigative articles all point to that place. But run the numbers on the Tokyo basin (or any city) and available land use. It isn’t a pretty graphic. You may find yourself more needy than places like Amakusa. Remember the people here are not used to luxury. They have hardship in their DNA, right? I think many here wouldn’t notice nor care if there was a boom or a bust. Their lives remain unchanged. Sometimes I envy them. But Dude, wakey wakey. You city people are going to be like pigs to the slaughter. You think Tokyo is going to operate whilst the agriculture goes to hell. Like where do you get your veggies? There is simply too many of you. Period. I fancy my chances in the countryside.

        I am not ‘okuni Jiman’ at all. You report a lot of truth with great observation and wit. But take a look in the mirror some days too. Are you sure LaLa land is not all around you?

        FYI the dolphins watching brings in 8000 people per year. Big deal. I am no fan of that either but some people like it (city folk usually). And secretly culling does go on at night. I’m no fan of that either.
        Goshura has the oldest fossils found in Japan. Big deal? Maybe, if you are into it. Kawaura was once the publishing centre of the world producing more books that the whole of Europe in 1591-7 including Aesops fables. Amakusa Collegio Press, the second only to the Guthenburg press (which ran longer). You can see the original press in British Museum and a very nice replica in Kawaura Collegio Museum.
        I myself relish the History here and the brush with the past. Plus the isloation keeps the riff raff away…most of the time.

        Best, KR.

  15. Kind of melodramatic. Anyone who has spent time in japan will have seen places like this. Go to east Tokyo.
    The history was interesting, but really hyperbolic writing. That building would shatter a camera lens? Come on. I’m an architect and see this kind of thing everyday.

  16. I have been trying to remember what it is that your article reminds me of and with this quote:

    Where was the spectral gloom for which I had come in quest?

    Burningly it came to me too, Brownings ‘Child Roland To The Dark Tower Came’.

    ”For, what with my whole world-wide wandering,

    What with my search drawn out thro’ years, my hope
    Dwindled into a ghost not fit to cope

    With that obstreperous joy success would bring,
    I hardly tried now to rebuke the spring

    My heart made, finding failure in its scope.

    VII.

    Thus, I had so long suffered in this quest,

    Heard failure prophesied so oft, been writ
    So many times among “The Band” – to wit,

    The knights who to the Dark Tower’s search addressed
    Their steps – that just to fail as they, seemed best,

    And all the doubt was now—should I be fit?

    X.

    So, on I went. I think I never saw

    Such starved ignoble nature; nothing throve:
    For flowers – as well expect a cedar grove!

    But cockle, spurge, according to their law
    Might propagate their kind, with none to awe,

    You’d think; a burr had been a treasure trove.

    XI.

    No! penury, inertness and grimace,

    In some strange sort, were the land’s portion. “See
    Or shut your eyes,” said Nature peevishly,

    “It nothing skills: I cannot help my case:
    ‘Tis the Last Judgment’s fire must cure this place,

    Calcine its clods and set my prisoners free.”

    So I suggest you came to Amakusa to flesh out the history and culture you had imbibed (and it makes for great, tragic history-I’ll give you that).

    The post war Japan Bubble (and the repercussions) largely bypassed Amakusa entirely (is that bad or good?). Of course there are few monuments to bad taste. The hotel in Shimoda you point out. Renzo Piano’s bridge seen from the lookout of Tomiyama Park is a compliment to the bay. You obviously never had to put up with the traffic through the town (from the fish industry) before the bridge was built? Is Rainbow bridge so beautiful, I wonder? Ushibuka’s old school has long been slated for demolition and now has been. A nice new shiny school is being built, for less students, I don’t deny.
    I don’t deny that Amakusa has problems largely associated with demographics. That’s no big deal and we will cope with falling population…better than other areas I could mention. More food, less people is good for a future with less and more expensive oil. It’s not the bony, craggy, scrawn of an island you make out. You obviously were having a bad day as the slughorn to your lips you set and blew.

    Why don’t you do an article on how long Tokyo will survive if the supermarket shelves empty in 15 minutes as a response to an imploding Bond market and hyperinflation. Inside the Yamanote- line fashionistas will be clamoring for a piece of inaka like Amakusa. They might not make the journey. And they’d be useless besides. How long would they cope without their hair do’s and ashlock restaurants?

    Rant over. At least this isn’t a muppet comment like some of the sycophants above. I am actually a fan of your ragging on Japan. But there are good bits, too. No doubt you know that. Or you wouldn’t be here, right?

    • Not a muppet comment at all, and I’m glad of it. But you have to negotiate carefully between what I write in jest, half in jest, and half in deadly seriousness. (That may add up to more than one…)
      And will you explain what those bloody scarecrows were, for the love of Pete?

      • Yea, well, my apologies. I’d had a few warm sakes by the time I’d read your article and by time I’d read all the comments I’d had a few more…
        But what I can’t stand is some people ragging on places they haven’t even been to themselves. It’s not exactly a fair trial and you PRESENT it so damn well (backhanded compliment) people take it hook, line and sinker. Perhaps you should try your hand as a lawyer?
        It also sounded like you accomplished what you set out to do, hence my agenda calling. If you were intent on finding out the reasons for Ushibuka presenting the worst property price falls in Japan then you present little in the way of useful information. Ushibuka occupied but a few brief sentences, ffs. And a couple of scarecrows as eveidence. The catalyst for these falls was the merger and the fact that as each town realised the impossibility of getting any more free dosh from Tokyo for their porky schemes in the sticks. So they went heavily into debt on a building spree bender making onsens and kindergartens, tunnels and bridges, hospitals, schools and so on in order to turn up to the merger stark bollock naked and up to their eyeballs in search of someone to pay the debt. Reihoku was furious at their incompetance and economic sabotage/wrecklessness. Reihoku was the only town with any revenue thanks to the power station and without them the merger was really dead in the water at conception. Which is where we are today. Recently Reihoku solar powered ALL their school roofs. Pretty impressive when you think they don’t NEED electricity at all…unless the coal ships stopped for some reason or another (like the rare earth ships just stopped recently).
        So now you have all these towns with shit hot schools and onsens, hospitals and kindergartens…and no kids. One local kindergarten roll call has gone from 95 five years ago to 26 today. Thats the total number of all students. And a pretty steep bell curve nose dive.
        In the ultimate disgrace of economic sabotage though are the civil servants who by and large buy their way into office anyway-or are the same family. Not content with a job and security of tenure and pension they all decide they should build houses in Hondo. Oh, whither ye furosato. What a wheeze! Dump the town that gave you your job, lets live near Tsutaya and Uniqlo. So Ushibuka is dwindling, the private buisnesses strangled and sentenced to slow death. Their only retort is that there is no income to tax. I imagine this is being repeated all over Japan. It is the result of years of irresponsible governance by the LDP. They bought the country side and gave them cake (or phosphates) for votes. It was more damaging than UK benefits because there were so many more grabbing hands and the civil servants couldn’t help but be part of the system whether they agreed or not. So they looked away and drew down their juicy bonuses. Every kid in 9th grade wanted to be ‘window watcher’ at the local Yakuba. Lol!
        I have heard there is a few years left in Amakusa Shi before bankruptcy. I imagine less than 3. And what then? Maybe all those civil servants will turn up at ‘Hello Work’. That would make my day. In reality like Yubari we’ll have sewage increases and garbage charges. I tell you people will dump in the fields like the olden days and burn their trash. Why? Because they ain’t got money to throw away.

        What’s the answer P? Anyone? I’m unsure but I am sure that where there be less people there be more safety, security and food.

        Time for a sake…

      • Kyushu Ranger,

        This is all fantastic, heartfelt stuff, the most passionate and at the same time reasonable response that Spike has generated. I’ve been thinking about what you’ve been saying all day today. I really don’t think we’re far apart on most things.
        On the minutiae, such as the population of Hondo, I will be very surprised if the 2010 census data don’t show a drop versus 2005. You have to realize that the outlying regions of Shimoshima no longer have the youngish people to send to Hondo that they did even in the 1980s, which kept the population stable then. Hondo’s population in 2005 was just under 40,000. Guess how many of Japan’s 100 cities with estimated late-2010 populations between 30,000 and 40,000 registered population growth, according to the extremely well-informed Wikipedia, between 2005 and late 2010? Six. That’s not an auspicious strike rate for a place like Hondo, is it? BTW, I’m not in the least confused about how Hondo merged with Ushibuka, Ariake-cho, and the rest in 2006.
        Of course you have the right, should you care to exercise it, to eat McDonalds and wear Uniqlo. Why do you think I wrote: “This has been post-war Japan’s great genius, to spread the light of a modicum of prosperity to even the most benighted places of the land.” And I thought carefully, believe it or not, before I used the word “benighted”, it can have a neutralish meaning of “lacking the advantages other places have”.
        “Yes, Amakusa is screwed when the subsidies stop. So is everywhere. They wont stop… till they all stop.”
        You—and I—might yet be surprised by the way that they stop. It’s still possible that the spigot will slowly be turned off, although I agree complete meltdown is the likelier scenario.
        “Like where do you get your veggies?”
        From foreigners, same as always! I guess what you’re saying is that in a world of uncertain supply routes, global warming, a dying domestic agriculture, and a calorie self-sufficiency ratio of around 40%, Japan is in trouble. You won’t find me disagreeing anywhere here.
        “Are you sure LaLa land is not all around you?”
        Let’s get this straight: these essays are not about metropolitan condescension to the regions. Do you really think I would spend thousands of dollars and weeks of precious, precious holiday time doing what I do if I didn’t care, somehow? It may come across in some strange ways, because I am indeed, as Keats didn’t say, half in love with the easeful death of rural Japan, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not alert to its implications.
        BTW, do you know how much the Ushibuka Haiya Bridge cost? I’m guessing no, it’s just a hunch. Y12.2bn, according to the prefecture.
        http://www.pref.kumamoto.jp/traffic/artpolis/links/016.html
        That was $103.4mn at the exchange rate on August 1, 1997, the month it was completed. Quite a pretty penny for an 800m bridge in a town of (then) around 20,000 people, wouldn’t you agree? Traffic congestion is a nasty thing—there’s a permanently clogged intersection near me in central Tokyo where two narrow one-lane roads cross that I would really like to see turned into a two-lane strip. With the compulsory purchases and all, it should only cost about $500mn. Should it be built? Of course not. Should Ushibuka Haiya Bridge have been built? Of course not. Look at it this way—the $100mn cost of building it (leaving aside maintenance expenses) would have burdened every man, woman, child, and flesh-eating alien in Ushibuka in 1990 with debt of around $5,000. Do you think if say an Ushibuka male breadwinner in a nuclear family had been surveyed in 1990 and asked to fork out $20,000 from his savings for the bridge, he would have assented?
        But these pork-barrel projects get built because the beneficiaries are few and vocal and the many and silent losers are spread over the whole of the prefecture, and by extension, Japan. So the Ushibuka Haiya Bridge, in its own small way, and because the cost-benefit analysis was so woefully inadequate, as it had to have been in the early 1990s, an era that gave us the Tokyo Aqualine, will have played its part in the destruction of Japan’s fiscal position sometime in the 2020s, according to my stopwatch. What goes around comes around. I’m not an unequivocal fan of Margaret Thatcher by any means, but “the trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of someone else’s money” really should be a cautionary epigram for regional profligacy.
        I realise that I haven’t repsonded to a lot of interesting things in your comments, but I will eventually…

      • A few loose ends:
        “What of the finest beaches in Kyushu?”

        What of the finest tetrapods, such as the ones that maul the shore opposite the Jardin Marl? I didn’t mention them, either—that’s balance for you!

        “But you are also under researched.”

        I resent this, although I’m getting over it… I read Sandakan Brothel No. 8 twice for the piece and spent, conservatively, a hundred hours on thinking, research, and writing back home. Some single sentences took hours to write, such as this one:
        “Amakusa’s woes began at birth, in the course of the Paleogene, 65mn-23mn years ago, as volcanoes shaped the islands over millions of years and cursed them with a thin gruel of a soil, fit for millennia only for the coarsest barley, until the arrival of the hardy—but hardly nutritious—sweet potato from the New World in the 16th century.”
        And out of the hundreds of facts in the piece, all you can call me on is that some of the incomers to Amakusa in the years of post-rebellion isolation were enemies of the state, among them nobles and ronin samurai, who are anyway covered by “other undesirables” in the expression I used, “unwanted convicts, ne’er-do-wells, and other undesirables”.
        Remember, this is not an academic, 500-page history of Amakusa with pretences of impartiality, but a 7,000-word travel essay that attempts to capture the spirit of a place as felt by the author, and also, more ambitiously, to push the borders of what can be done within the genre.
        Remember too, that this is free content: I would love to give up the day job and spend a week or a month at a time in places like Amakusa. Are you going to pay $10/click to fund that? Thought not.

        “It is not the hell hole you portray by any means.”

        Come on, read what I wrote again. Do I really portray it as a hell-hole? “The shops in the strip-malls of the first island, Oyano, wore jaunty expressions.” “The blight was not as dismal or general as I had expected.” “An old man, naked from the waist up, squatted to chisel contentedly away at a block of wood.”

        “This little shit hole gave this country her only ever rebellion and they paid bitterly but not without a good fight and a few victories.”

        Her only ever rebellion?!? Clearly you are not as well-versed in Japanese history as you are in Amakusa history. There are 28 rebellions listed under the category “Rebellions in Japan” on the English side of Wikipedia, and that list won’t be comprehensive by any means.

        “Have you ever been to Yatsushiro or Hitoyoshi? The whole joint looks like the inside of the empty shopping mall (from the 50′s btw) in Hondo.”

        I’m not going to run out of material anytime soon, am I? This was the source of my dating the shopping arcade to 1973:
        http://www.geocities.jp/amakusa_tanken/amakusa_nenpyou4.html
        One look at the architecture will tell you it’s not from the 1950s. The Hondo Greengrocer Business association website here:
        http://www.hondoseika.jp/ayumi.html
        says that there was a major fire in the shopping arcade in October 1964, which fits well with a 1973 completion date for a rebuilt arcade, don’t you think?

        “FYI the dolphins watching brings in 8000 people per year. Big deal. I am no fan of that either but some people like it (city folk usually). And secretly culling does go on at night. I’m no fan of that either.”

        Now that’s the sort of quality insider information I treasure!

        “But what I can’t stand is some people ragging on places they haven’t even been to themselves.”

        You think I didn’t visit Amakusa? That is plain bizarre.

        “Perhaps you should try your hand as a lawyer?”

        Used to be one, actually. I don’t subscribe to your theory, though, that the municipal merger was or is behind the rate at which the price of land is declining in Ushibuka—there are plenty of places in direr financial straits than even Amakusa where land prices are not falling at the rate they are in Ushibuka.

        Many thanks for the comments, though. I don’t share your apocalyptic vision of an urban nightmare about to descend but it is food for thought. Can I ask two questions? How long have you been on Amakusa? And where in the UK are you from?

  17. Richard, Kyushu Ranger, I am still following this, and thinking.

    As in other places in the world I am familiar with, this Japanese area received big support to build infrastructure — from the national government. The bridge amount I think does not sit on the accounts of your Ushibuka breadwinner, does it?

    Instead, the investment was intended so that Ushibuka citizens would have something to trade, and to attract city-dwellers to visit so they do trade. What’s fallen apart is the upkeep of a middle class rich enough to afford to come — the same capital-is-logjammed-with-rich-minorities-and-corporates as now much more of the developed world has.

    We have now even ex-cabinet members in the U.S. talking about what amounts to living wage grants, to bring back the velocity of spending when so much automation and off-shoring otherwise leave the money in too few hands. Robert Reich, to put a name.

    Shouldn’t we be looking at how to break down the logjams to reasonableness like this, as well as serious green programs, etc., rather than wringing hands that the engine is going to stop on nearby horizons of time?

    I wonder afresh how much banking should be able to do, to open adaptive possibilities other than bubbles.

    I think I will leave it just that abstract.

    • Hello rl,
      I don’t think the bridge was primarily designed to attract city dwellers to do trade or tourism (although the much extolled ’5 Bridges of Amakusa’ linking us to the mainland in the mind of the tourists who go that far into Amakusa warrant that I could be wrong). I have never been able to fathom the reason, save for engineers, people would go see a few bridges rather than where they lead to…but the Japanese version of tourism is still something of an anomaly to me. Its like going to see an airport rather than want to fly out of it.
      Anyway Ushibuka Haiya Bridge (the longest bridge in Kyushu) was built to link the fish market with the main port area. The small narrow streets through the town used to take a pounding. That was in the days when there was a healthy fishery industry. Unfortunately however by the time the bridge got built the fish industry was in major decline thanks to radar/sonar kitted out fishing boats and their ability to easily locate and suck all the fish out of the ocean in the minimum of time. Efficiency efficiency… Anyway Renzo Piano wasn’t ever going to put the fish back in the sea but he did design a wonderful bridge the sides of which have huge fish scale- like boulders which reflect beautifully at night in the water. It was a shame it was such a white elephant, as was his other beauty in Kansai Intl Airport, floating on the water. It was also a shame that the people of Ushibuka were clamoring for a new hospital for living people rather than a beautiful bridge for a dying fish industy. (They got their hospital a few years later though).
      I am sure the price was extortionate, but on a relative scale Ushibuka and Amakusa generally have ‘benefited’ little from large scale porky projects in thanks for their long allegience to the LDP. (This is one of the reasons why it retains its (natural) beauty more than other more ‘well rewarded’ areas IMO,-it hasn’t been destroyed or vandalised by too much concrete). Moreover Amakusa’s distance (at least Shimo Shima) from the mainland means that it will basically undeveloped.

      ”…ex-cabinet members in the U.S. talking about what amounts to living wage grants, to bring back the velocity of spending when so much automation and off-shoring otherwise leave the money in too few hands…

      Shouldn’t we be looking at how to break down the logjams to reasonableness like this, as well as serious green programs, etc., rather than wringing hands that the engine is going to stop on nearby horizons of time?

      I wonder afresh how much banking should be able to do, to open adaptive possibilities other than bubbles.”

      I don’t share your optimism (if that is what it is) that these objectives are possible on the scale they are needed. They will try and are trying in earnest or desperation to bring back the velocity of money but I feel it can’t be done. Not without reaching first wherever we are heading. Of course they could overdo the earnestness and produce a currency crisis/hyperinflationary depression. Whichever way you look at it, it looks like a real depression. Japan’s savings are now a mere smidge of where they were when all this started. Debt to GDP is now 300/400%. It doesnt seem to matter any more. Yet it will, soon.
      Enjoyed your comments though,
      Best,
      KR

  18. Hi P,
    I don’t have time to come back to you right away. But I will if you give me a few days.
    Yours is a very good article and throughly readable, much like your other articles which I enjoy. I have said so above. You have a wonderful talent and are a very good craftmen of words and themes…and photos to reinforce those ideas. Generally you are correct, I believe…but my interpretation of your article as ‘Amakusa Hell Hole” is surely no mis-interpretation. It really does read to me like Child Roland (which is why I recalled it (?). From the very title ‘Islands Of Dread’ to your parthian shot,
    ”Next morning, the ferry schedule allowed a few moments to capture the spent melancholy of Ushibuka… before the ferry carried me away to other, sunnier, islands, islands not of dread.”
    is worthy of my interpretation. This is notwithstading the interlocution of some tragic history and the child prostitution trafficking seen through the eyes of Osaki and,
    ”More than forty years on, Sakitsu was unchanged, although nowadays it’s no longer possible to register surprise at there having been no child at play.”
    Am I not forgiven for believing you are portraying a hell hole haunted and tortured by its past,
    ”It was then I spied them: two crude effigies severed at the bottom of the torso, one with matted Jesus locks, one covered, repulsively, in flying ants, strung up on trees outside a wholesale produce market.

    Was this, I feverishly wondered, a modern reenactment of the fate of Amakusa Shiro and his band of rebels, a macabre admonition by some nameless authority of the futility of revolt?
    …all wonderful journalism/travel writing, but more of a journey through the psychology of its writer rather than simple observation?

    Anyway I dont have time now to continue, but as you said we might not be so far from one another as we make out. There is a good quote in one of your (?) comments
    here it is,”“Actually, all writers are lovers of life, even the blackest of them; they all know that life has everything to be said for it. Few lovers are as generously inquisitive as Pritchett, and have such affection for vagaries and wrinkles—‘preserving especially’, as he says of Saul Bellow, ‘what is going on at the times when nothing is going on.’”

    And I can see that you have a deep interest/love, in/of, Japan and her woes to be an excellent observer. Its just that I think you didn’t give Amakusa a fair crack of the whip or came to find what it was that you were looking for.

    As to the hideous tetrapods. I agree with you. But the west coast gets a battering during typhoons and these are merely a measure of protection.
    Mogushi in Ushibuka is a pearl of a beach. Amakusa has some great diving on the edge of the sub tropics. Sakitsu is one of only 2 villages in Japan with Genkans facing the sea. If you took a photo from the other side of the harbour you’d see the beauty and intent perhaps of building a church in a town which had been given over to prostitution through heartbreaking hardships…and no other access traditionally by road.
    I also think Amakusa could be a terrific destination and the history of the rebellion is quite a under noticed epic chapter for Japan which changed her course till the arrival of Perry’s Black Ships.

    I wasn’t meaning YOUR ragging on Japan as obviously I am aware you have been here; rather those in the Comments- ‘shudder’ ditch my biking trip with the sad tragic weight around my neck. But I think you are denying your powers of persuasion and could guard against that. There are plenty of good things here as well as falling real estate.
    I look forward to more correspondence when I am less pushed for time and apologize for mistakes in the brevity of time I have had to write this.
    Regards,
    KR.

  19. This from KR:

    “But take a look in the mirror some days too. Are you sure LaLa land is not all around you?”

    struck me, having just today discovered and read the two “Down the Benjo” articles in the top bar.

    Japan is certainly a puzzle in a puzzle. I share KR’s view that depopulation will be good for Japan, as the marginal areas will no longer be worked and underemployment might be reduced as the baby boom labor force move into first lower-consumption mode of retirements and then the null-consumption post-life mode.

    But my general impression is one of centripetal dynamic — everybody drifting towards Tokyo. When you get down to it, Tokyo’s existing infrastructure only needs to be maintained now and the cost of doing business there should be getting lower & lower.

  20. I had thoughts to write, but the day was full, and grows late.

    Let me just say that rather than optimism, I have intent. We have been digging the current pit for decades, and it is about time we faced up to it and acted more accordingly.

    I am intrigued, as ever, by the idea that somehow we have to have the awful confrontation with our destiny before this can happen, no matter what historicism or current apopletic lunacy might portend.

    I know by now this is how finance thinks; else it would not have set the bonfire. But it is a singularly limited way to think, isn’t it?

    And now it is late…

    Regards to both

  21. Well, in this case the problem is probably that I thought I was replying on Kyushu Ranger’s reply to me above.

    I’m surprised, otherwise. You don’t know about the aesthetics and locations culture Kawabata wrote about in the book about Hokkaido resort life?

    You don’t think that economic learning involves development of appetites and tradable ways to offer tastes to them? I thought last night on going to sleep how perfectly your own wish to go and experience, and willingness to spend effort and money on it is a perfect example, if not exactly the one persons reading cell-phone novels will respond to.

    Maybe it is because I mentioned finance and banks, and my frustration that economics always wants to talk about momenta and measurement, as opposed to generativity. But let’s let that be my frustration.

    I appreciate your efforts and your artfulness, Richard, did that not come across clearly enough as offered?

    Well appreciated from your recent posting, also, just how much effort is involved. I think the results are worth it, and now I understand better how you got those results.

    Regards,
    Clive

  22. Hi P,
    I have been on Amakusa longer than I perhaps should. I am captivated by a beauty here that you couldn’t find on your visit which leaves me sore, (obviously). I am from the UK and have moved all over including North West, North East, South East and the Cotswolds. I know how hideous some power stations can be (Didcot for one) and Reihoku Power Station is almost beautiful in comparison. It is also a sad necessity to have to put power stations somewhere. If I had my own way (lol) then I would place them, especially the ‘safe’ nuclear ones, right in the heart of where they are most needed. Shibuya would do great. But let’s face it this isn’t going to happen till we all have our little thorium reactors buzzing away.

    I am interested in finding out more about the soil from the paleowotsit period for Amakusa if you have any links re that I would be grateful. I feel I have to tell you though, that the sweet potato is exceedingly nutritious (I even double checked on Google) and I confess I was stabbing in the dark re the Gintengai 1950′s comment. But these little quibbles amount to little in the scheme of things.
    The rebellion was somewhat different from other rebellions. It was basically a peasant uprising-truly ‘revolutionary’ in nature brought on by religious and financial persecution. and a few years of famine.
    I do think you presented a litany of bad points and cherry picked some of the most decrepit signs and sights possible without course to showing the other side of the coin. I also don’t think anyone would argue with the inference one would draw from reading your essay. I could post some pictures which would make you feel like coming back (?) and joining me in some sake?
    Regarding Ushibuka and real estate prices. I feel sure the merger played the part of the nails in the coffin. Ushibuka was already dying from lack of jobs and a dying fishery trade. It was and still is the No1. port for Kumamoto. And a recently started fish farm fly their produce to San Francisco/LA everyday but presumably not from Amakusa airport. They are desperately, I heard today, trying to get their passengers up to 65% capacity from 40% and have changed timetables to fit local demand (as if they shouldn’t have thought of this before!).
    It may be a stupid ‘bastard of the bubble’ but it is rather nice to be into Fukuoka within an hour (including subway ride). I hope the airline continues. We have already lost the catamarran ferry to Kumamoto port. I dont see the bridge or the airport as really part of bubblicious Japan. Rather an attempt to promote growth (after the bubble had burst) in an otherwise lagging, local economy.
    Of course what no one reckoned on was the devastating consequences of a demographically driven deflation has on an economy. I think parts of the world are slowly awakening to this now and trying to stem the bloodloss. I think this ddd and the inability to attract any industry/jobs whatsoever is the real reason as to Ushibuka’s great falls in RE. Add on that it is the ‘Lands End’ bit of the Scilly Isles, if you know what I mean. Young wives and mothers don’t want to be stuck without a bookshop or a trendy coffee shop when they have to escape the mother in law. It is a long trek to the city for a bit of life and dose of culture. (3 hours by car) Plus all the men are either fishermen or civil servants which narrows the career options. Uneducated men (both cases in this town) generaly treat their women badly…which has lead to very high rates of divorce. The merger gave the right of teachers and their families the ‘right’ to live in Hondo and commute the 45 minutes to work by car. And the merger meant that all the young, local civil servants could concentrate on building their future homes in Hondo. They even closed down one whole floor in the local Yakuba as it lost nearly 2/3 of its staff.

    So jobs (or lack of), the merger and natural depopulation compounded with deflationary tailwinds exacerbating the problems and a lack of understanding about how to face these threats ( or even recognize them) whilst lining ones own pockets has done it for Ushibuka.

    Today I have been asking a few people about Hondo’s population. Is it increasing or decreasing? 4 out of 5 said ‘increasing’ at the moment, one said ‘decreasing’ and all said over time a decrease will be the order of the day as people won’t be able to sustain their livelihoods there and kids will be pulled from schools as the families get sucked into the next quagmire in the next biggest city in their quest for work. So we could both be right.

    Sleepy here now,
    Regards,
    KR.

    • KR, interesting additions (and let’s hope I hit the proper reply link this time).

      I hear you again remarking on the Osaka/Renzo Piano airport as being some kind of failure. This had not been my impression, but what is the more local story which makes you feel this?

      I clipped what I had started about development possibilities last night, and am not going to expand today, save for this one. In the north of Norway, with a fishery am not sure is even in decline, Svolvaer; in other places I know of such as your home in UK NW; people have rather successfully built artist colonies.

      It seems a natural for this area of Japan — nice to visit anyway, cheap rent as you guys go on about, available lodgings due to eco-demographic changes, — and need for a draw.

      With the more blunt-edged anticipatory as well as unanticipated developments, seems this might be a good possibility, but waiting to hear whether you and Richard think so and why.

      C.

      • Hello rl,
        Quite pleasant to come back to your civil post which has been on my mind for a couple of days.
        Amakusa as artist colony? Well, I’m not sure this is the right time for it TBH. Yakushima (off Kagoshima) has established itself as a successful artists/community enclave. Of course the island has the mystique ingredient-the Jomon Sugi- and the heaviest rainfall in Japan to entice artists to come to live. I think it all started with a writer of certain charisma, coaxing his Tokyo (et al) friends to ‘escape back to the land’.

        I have seen other areas in Kyushu do a similar thing. So can Amakusa? Yes, I think it can and it will. In time. In fact as a contrary indicator that a change of direction is coming we have ‘Islands of Dread’ as a reference point.

        However I believe the world won’t care too much for art (sadly) during the next few years. Self sufficiency and organic farming may be more a pressing issue and sign of the times. The artists are usually well versed in this regard though, and a few pioneers may/will lead the way.

        I may be wrong on KIA but I was under the impression that it was heavily in the red and under used, esp now with Itami airport revamped and the airline industry in general becoming a victim of the times. I have always enjoyed using it as I likewise enjoy using the bridge in Ushibuka.

        KR.

      • Not wrong at all on KIA – at least a trillion yen in debt (I think Y1.3trn was the last estimate I heard, but I may be wrong) and the symbol of all that went wrong in this country in the 1990s. Which is what “Amakusa” is all about. Oh, never mind…

    • Dear KR,

      A few final points:

      You to me:
      “Renzo Piano’s bridge seen from the lookout of Tomiyama Park is a compliment to the bay. You obviously never had to put up with the traffic through the town (from the fish industry) before the bridge was built?”

      You to rl:
      Anyway Renzo Piano wasn’t ever going to put the fish back in the sea but he did design a wonderful bridge the sides of which have huge fish scale- like boulders which reflect beautifully at night in the water. It was a shame it was such a white elephant, as was his other beauty in Kansai Intl Airport, floating on the water.

      So which was it, desperately needed relief from fishing industry congestion, as you presented it to me, or a “white elephant”?

      Will the real Kyushu Ranger please stand up?

      You just can’t have it both ways. I have a few final questions about the bridge:

      1) Was a rigorous cost-benefit analysis conducted on whether the $100mn plus could have been spent better anywhere elsewhere on anything in Ushibuka, Amakusa, or Kumamoto?
      2) Was a rigorous cost-benefit analysis conducted on whether it might be better to spend less on a plainer bridge or spend nothing at all and instead pay down debt?
      3) Was a pedestrian walkway, which necessitated the extra expense on the “fish scales”, to stop pedestrians being blown over, really necessary?
      4) Was it really necessary to call in the very pricey services of Renzo Piano?
      5) Were the planners ignorant of the projections for population data for Ushibuka, which had already more or less halved from the peak by 1990?
      6) Were the planners ignorant of what had happened to—and was likely to happen to—the fishing industry in Ushibuka, which had peaked in the early-mid 1970s?
      The answers, obviously, are no, no, no, no, no, and no.

      “For example Reihoku did not sell her soul to a power station. Rather she retained her independence and her future sustainability. Shouldn’t we be looking at how to break down the logjams to reasonableness like this, as well as serious green programs, etc.”

      Let’s get this quite, quite clear. Reihoku traded financial autonomy for 8,000 or so people for a massive greenhouse gas emitter poisoning the rest of the planet. If that isn’t a monumental Mephistophelian bargain, I don’t know what is.

      “…all wonderful journalism/travel writing, but more of a journey through the psychology of its writer rather than simple observation?”

      There’s no such thing as “simple observation”, come on!

      “I feel I have to tell you though, that the sweet potato is exceedingly nutritious (I even double checked on Google)”

      You’re right, I stand corrected. You’re the third person on the blog to catch me out. I was too obsessed with the Paleogene and took my eye off the ball.

      “The rebellion was somewhat different from other rebellions. It was basically a peasant uprising-truly ‘revolutionary’ in nature brought on by religious and financial persecution. And a few years of famine.”

      Most historians wouldn’t agree with you on your assertion of the bald peasant nature of the uprising, but I’m willing to be persuaded.

      Anyway, let’s let this lie. Good luck with your Amakusa endeavors,

      R

      • P,
        ”So which was it, desperately needed relief from fishing industry congestion, as you presented it to me, or a “white elephant”?

        Will the real Kyushu Ranger please stand up? ”

        I don’t see any inconsistency at all. It is beautiful. It is a white elephant. I also thought KIA airport was a peach of an airport. He’s a very talented architect. It’s not his fault he was employed on these projects which should never have been built, IMO.

        Points 1-5, I agree with you. ‘No’. Listen, I didn’t order the bridge.

        ”Let’s get this quite, quite clear. Reihoku traded financial autonomy for 8,000 or so people for a massive greenhouse gas emitter poisoning the rest of the planet. If that isn’t a monumental Mephistophelian bargain, I don’t know what is.”

        Wrong. RPS is one of the cleanest coal powered power stations in the world. Go check it out.
        It also supplies a shed load of electricity to Kumamoto and Kyushu for all I know.
        I have stated I would prefer the power stations to be in the metropolitan heartlands. However this is not always possible. You need a fairly deep water port for these large tankers.
        I would have preferred Reihoku to keep her white sandy beaches, but hey ho, I don’t make the rules around here. It provides employment for some locals and they get discounted electricity and shed loads of money to invest in their town. Mephistopholean? Maybe. Or Tamburlainian? Result is Reihoku doesn’t go a begging like the rest of Amakusa and many Kyushians get electricity.
        Where does your electricity come from?

        ”“…all wonderful journalism/travel writing, but more of a journey through the psychology of its writer rather than simple observation?”

        I didn’t mean to leave you smarting by this observation. But it obviously touched a nerve. It was carried over from the Child Roland poem (journey through the psychology..)

        ”Most historians wouldn’t agree with you on your assertion of the bald peasant nature of the uprising, but I’m willing to be persuaded.”

        I never said ‘bald’ peasant nature. I said ‘basically’. How else do 35,000 people die decimating a small, rural population?

        I am not picking for a fight, P. I just feel passionate to defend my corner when I see injustice. Sake and bad grammar aside (I have lived here too long), I think I do a good job.

        Your article had a lot of truth in it. And it is compelling stuff, as always. Just, to me, in this case, a little lobsided.

        Why is Ushibuka falling hard? Because there are no jobs. Period. As I said before we are just first past that post. Reality will down everywhere else, when it dawns.

        And the link to the pithy Paleogene soils?

        Regards,
        Ranger.

      • Ranger,

        ”So which was it, desperately needed relief from fishing industry congestion, as you presented it to me, or a “white elephant”?
        Will the real Kyushu Ranger please stand up? ”
        I don’t see any inconsistency at all. It is beautiful. It is a white elephant.

        Whoa, steady on there, Ranger! The chronology of your casuistry is fascinating. Perhaps you should try your hand as a lawyer? Your first attempt at a defense of the bridge against my modest characterization of it as a “Bubble era vanity project” appeared to be primarily on economic grounds, but now you concede that it is a “white elephant”, yet you claim to be unable to “see any inconsistency at all”. Your ability to believe two contradictory things, even within the space of a couple of sentences, is truly a talent.

        ”Let’s get this quite, quite clear. Reihoku traded financial autonomy for 8,000 or so people for a massive greenhouse gas emitter poisoning the rest of the planet. If that isn’t a monumental Mephistophelian bargain, I don’t know what is.”
        Wrong. RPS is one of the cleanest coal powered power stations in the world. Go check it out.

        Your “wrong” is wrong, because there can be no “wrong” or “right” in this debate. Like far too many people these days, you seem to lack the ability to distinguish fact from interpretation. Having tried— and failed—to persuade you with rhetoric, I have no chance of persuading you with reason, because “Reihoku sold its soul”, which in essence is what I wrote, is a metaphor, and arguing against a metaphor is as futile as trying to nail soup to a wall. You and I both know all the essential facts of the Reihoku case, and the cleanliness or otherwise of the power station is irrelevant, as there are only three varieties of coal-fired power station—filthy, dirty, and, slightly cleaner. “Cleanest” doesn’t and never can mean “clean”, just as there are no “zero-emission” electric vehicles. To undo one of the two components of the Mephistophelean bargain, you would have to persuade me that a team of Kyushu Electric alchemists had succeeded in developing coal that sucked carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as it was being burnt.
        You and I both know what a Faustian pact is. That, when in agreement about the essentials of the case, we disagree about the interpretation, is no more than a difference of opinion: I perhaps have a more skeptical view of human motivation, both individual and collective, than you do.
        You might be interested, though, to know that Reihoku may not have benefited as much from the power station as you think. This site is a fantastic tool for finding out all sorts of things:
        http://patmap.jp/CITY/
        It reveals that Reihoku still depends on the central government for 16% of its revenues, ranking it 324th out of 1,753 municipalities across the country in fiscal independence from central government. Good, but not great, and only number three in the prefecture, behind the Kumamoto dormitory towns of Ozu and Kikuyo.

        R

  23. Kyushu Ranger wrote, or rather freely associated:
    “…parthian shot…”

    Did you intend to write “parting shot,” or did you were you coining a neologism referencing an empire that really hasn’t been much in the news since the early third century?

    As it stands, your Gertrude Stein-ian prose serves as an answer to the question, “What lies at the intersection of erudition and incoherence?”

    • That one made me chuckle too, although I was too polite to say so.
      You say it serves as an answer to, “What lies at the intersection of erudition and incoherence?”
      I wonder whether it doesn’t better serve as an answer to the earthier, “What lies at the intersection of sake and a spell checker?”

      • Don’t be polite on my behalf. Go let it out!

        Who gives a t@ss what lies at the intersection of erudition and incoherance if you can’t spit it out when you need to?

        Educated beyond their intelligence, springs to mind.

        KR

    • ”did you were you coining”

      Muppet!

      Parthian shot/parting shot;
      A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.

      (Also by Gertrude Stein)

      She would blush. I hope you do to.

      Bye.

    • “Parthian shot” is actually no neologism, but a real expression. The parthians would fire at their enemies while riding away from them- I don’t know if KR referred to that intentionally, but it’s subtly different from a parting shot. Google it!

      I find the discussion fascinating, it’s unfortunate that I don’t have anything to contribute to it except these minor sub-points

  24. Pingback: “GRAINS OF ATTIC SALT” « thelaststandofbif

  25. I love “muppet” as a term of abuse, really I do.

    Me too, though I have no idea when or where it started, or if that was the intention (abuse), but it beats swearing (which I apologize for in a few of my posts btw).

    ”Well, that is indeed revelatory. My substandard classical education exposed. KR, I take it all back.”

    Do I catch a whiff of sarcasm here? No matter. My own substandard British education has a lot to answer for.
    I haven’t meant to be a thorn in your side these last few days, P, just for the sake of being a thorn. When I said you are ‘under researched’ I meant rather ‘selectively researched’.
    I will leave you and other readers with something of historical interest and the notion of a lost opportunity.
    One of only three great original Battle Flags remaining in the world today (relating to Christianity) can be seen in Amakusa. The other originals are Joan of Arc’s and one of the Last Crusades, I forget which. Believer or not I think this is well worth a look and then just thinking that if Christianity had been allowed to continue and prosper in Amakusa-rather than closing the country off for 200 odd years-(that alone makes the Amakusa/Shimabara rebellion something of defining importance in itself IMO)-then you might be looking at a few islands which more resemble Hong Kong/Macao/Singapore in commerce at least. I’m not saying that is a good thing or not. I wouldn’t relish the Christianification of Japan, for sure. But the history of Japan, or part of it, would have been somewhat different. It’s an interesting thought…maybe a lost opportunity?

    I don’t know if I can post a picture of the flag here. But you may want to add one?

    All the best,
    Kyushu Ranger.

    • And, I don’t know whether you know this or not, but that battle flag on Amakusa was actually drawn by the artist who did more than anybody to make the rebellion fail from inside. He, unlike most others (including his sons), was allowed to live, and served as an official historian of the rebellion while living in a comfortable retirement at Edo. In short, that flag was a product of an apostate and traitor. Perhaps that was why it was allowed to survive to this day.

      • Kyushu Ranger

        There is little doubt Yamada Emosaku was a traitor, he was the sole survivor of the seige of Hara Castle (35,000). That he was the artist or the sole artist or that the flag was drawn on the battle field alone (of which there are many doubts considering the detail) is a question we will never know the answer to. The very shape of the flag was unusual lending the impression that the flag was fashioned from some other art work is also a possibility. The unusual amount of eyelets, we know, were sewn additionally (from the thread used) etc etc. Are we to believe that Amakusa Shiro had no flag until this was made inside Hara-Jo? So is this a second, and if so what happened to the first?

        ”In short, that flag was a product of an apostate and traitor. Perhaps that was why it was allowed to survive to this day.”

        Maybe that’s correct and certainly makes for a good twist and all the more viewable IMHO. At the time this was the flag that led and bonded the rebels, fortunately (for them) they never realized it was made-even in part-by a traitor and apostate.

        Makes for a juicy story! By the way it is a very moving work of art, whether you are religiously inclined or not. There is a beautiful replica on permanent display in the new Museum in Hondo. From the terrace you can see Shimabara over the sea and the site of Hara-Jo. Well worth a visit. I’ll have a wager that Pachiguy didn’t go there? Pachi?

  26. ”Not wrong at all on KIA – at least a trillion yen in debt (I think Y1.3trn was the last estimate I heard, but I may be wrong) and the symbol of all that went wrong in this country in the 1990s. Which is what “Amakusa” is all about. Oh, never mind…”

    Yes but ‘Amakusa’ has one major project (except the tiny airport) from the (post) bubble days. And if the 50 year fish cycle comes full circle, this is as what I glean from some fishermen, that trade might come back …

    BTW I hope you had some nice fish in Ushibuka. The industry might not be what it was but the fish still taste pretty good when they are swimming close enough to the shore to be caught. Was that fact btw.. about the fish swimming impossibly far thanks to the tortured ria coastline? I will prosecute a few fishermen in Ushibuka for you.
    Ranger.

    • Ranger,

      The comment about “convoluted currents…conspiring to keep the bounty of the ocean unfishably far from shore” was inspired by the epilogue to Sandakan Brothel No. 8, which, if you haven’t read it (and I suspect you haven’t), you—of all people—really should. Only $25.95 at Amazon.

      “Some might ask, if conditions on land are bad, why not establish one’s livelihood by making use of the surrounding sea? With the exception of Ushibuka, however, Amakusa has not been blessed with good harbors, and due to the relationship of the tidal currents and other factors, there are few schools of fish that swim south of the Goto Islands, and so the establishment of a fishing industry would be difficult.”

      No need to prosecute fisherfolk on my behalf: I had an excellent octopus pilaf at the Michi no Eki in Ariake, where the shot of the Amakusa Jiro poster was taken, and an equally excellent kaisendon at Yasuragi no Yu in the hills above Ushibuka. I’m sure you know both places.

      But I was writing of a time long before the invention of the outboard motor…

      R

  27. R,

    I am acquainted with the book ‘Sandankan…’ and I am acquainted by the (needless) shame that lives on to day when the term ‘kara yuki’ is mentioned to those old enough to be familiar with that bit of history… unlike some who would rather wallow in that history or weave it into how Amakusa must still, unto this day, be lodged in ‘dread’ as if ‘cursed’ (your words) by destiny.
    Ushibuka is the only deep harbor, hence the origin of the name ‘Ushibuka’-at least that is what is supposed. It was the main port in south western Japan and many sailors and fishermen holed up there during times of bad weather. The mixes of vocabulary and accents have fashioned Ushibuka dialect and also to the hard drinking celebration of the original HAIYA matsuri, now well known throughout Japan. I’m surprised you didn’t take a few sentences to mention that and what it signifies-the changing current bringing plankton and rich fishing grounds to the southern shores. But never mind.
    I think you also forgot to mention that the poor, scraggy, scrawny soils of the Paleogene era also left behind some of the finest kaolin deposits in the world which provided the porcelain of Karatsu and Arita with her world famous China. This continues to this day as too does Amakusa Yaki based in Amakusa town near Shimoda and its ugly hotel. I understand though that this wouldn’t sit well next to the message esconced in your text.

    These are the reasons, amongst others I have talked about before above, that I said you were ‘under researched’. Maybe you knew all too well of these positive things but cared to gloss over them?

    My intention of becoming embroiled here is to point out to other readers or perhaps visitors that Amakusa is most certainly not the place you would have us believe, rather a haunt of your forays into ‘travel essays’. Yet they are so well written one could be forgiven for thinking it gospel. It strikes me that a writer must be concerned more with responsibility and truth, or fall into the trap of self serving egotism and sensationalism. As a former lawyer yourself you will be well acquainted with a (often) disregard for truth.

    You accuse me of casuistry and I will accuse you of being specious.

    Regarding Renzo Piano’s Haiya bridge; like KIA when they were planned it seemed a needed construction. By the time they were built their raison was obsolete. But at least in the bridges favor can be said it is beautiful and the fishing industry may come back in the future with the fish.
    Regarding Reihoku’s power station I said the ‘cleanest’ coal fired. I don’t disagree with you that there are varying definitions of clean for such power staitions. I am not trying to say it causes zero pollution. But it does give a fair amount of people in Kyushu electricity. I suspect your electricity is nuclear based on plutonium waste imported from the UK. I am not trying to give you a hard time about that. I also, like yourself, see the faustian pact to which you refer. Rather though the whole world has made this pact with energy, not just Reihoku town. Just how that plays out for places which house one quarter of their population in a relatively small area, remains to be seen…as also small under populated areas like Amakusa. I think I know which is to be ‘dreaded’ more under such circumstances as when Mephistopholes comes calling to close the bargain. But I know this is not what your article was about; citylife vs inaka living, so I am not taking you to task on that.

    Just pleading that you write with balance and truth and less baggage. Oh, and when a bit of criticism comes your way, take it on the chin, rather than deflect it back as some weakness of the critics grammar or syntax.

    I’ll give you an A for creative writing and a D for content. Perhaps you should try fiction?

    Ranger.

    • Whatever. You have the final word. I can’t be bothered to stoop to your level anymore. Comments closed.

      • You know, Richard, that last comment of Ranger’s is both a compliment and a thought that ought to have some interest. After all, fiction is where poetics and emphasis of a particular view or mood are encouraged and enjoyed.

        I’m not saying they can’t be in travel or ‘place’ writing, but then you do run the risk of upsetting the locals who know a wider story, or misleading outsiders as that book on 80′s Lancashire did me. It has a truth, too – but in fact there was a much more interesting and wider truth, with as many interstices as a well-grown rural Ribble hedge.

        I pointed you towards Kawabata, and in fact I’ve been giving some of it more recently to an executive producer who’s doing a very personally dedicated treatment for a coming film, so I looked a bit again. Well, his concerns are most deeply moral, and as has to do with relations of women and men. But I think it would interest you.

        I’ve sat back from this discussion between you and Kyushu Ranger in some bemusement, especially after the issue of the Parthian shot, which I thought at first was sniping for leaving off capitalization that indicated one ‘knew’ what one wrote. It wasn’t that, and what it was, was fine.

        And that’s really the point. Richard, you do have evident talent, and you’ve shown how hard your interest can encourage you to work. I think the both of you spend far too much intensity on ‘correctness’, or more properly named, authorial authority.

        Authority is a Victorian conceit, isn’t it? A bit like the mathematicians of the same period acted, with their as if sui generis proofs, never showing the actual activity it takes to arrive at such ‘elegance’. Give or take the person of insight who actually saw into a century of future, Poincaré.

        Our attempts at consciousness, and hence our arts, have been trying to move on from being mired in authority. It is still a type of voice, as Ranger is open enough to say, that can mislead – in fact contemporary thought would say that it always misleads.

        What to do then? Loosen up, was the 70′s advice, but in art it’s a bit trickier than that. What one can do is realize that a very wide field of tropes is available, and that going with one that appeals to your sense of the situation is going to be fine, that there is where the work of construction and the joy of the result can fairly take place.

        At least that’s one way to say it. Very accomplished artists tend to speak in terms of balance; of keeping on the narrow, veering path; of being true.

        Being true is the one I like best, and covers a multitude of human-ness with a very fine guidance. Which can include humour, appreciation, or any old thing.

        What you get when I didn’t get enough sleep last night, either, but had a quite fine set of holiday days. I can remember some of those in England also, among other places, and smile to you two guys who I think could probably use some balance of time in two homes, if I listen. Well, multiple homes are really possible, a privilege, and by now I think a solution of warmth. There is no perfection, in standing too close, or standing too far away. We humans like relation, and there find warmth.

        Regards to both, and Richard/Pachiguy, looking forwards to the next.
        Clive

      • Clive,

        You are an incorrigible old paternalistic LSD-soaked hippie, and rather wonderful for all that. I’d love to know more about your background. I think (I know) you like to play a father-figure role in this (not terribly consequential) debate, but why? Your grammar is now so elusive (drugs?) that I have no idea where it’s leading but I kind of love it anyway – “being true is the one I like best” is fantastic. Test for meaninglessness by trying to say a variety of opposites: “being false is the one I like best”. “Being true is the one I like the least”.

        R

  28. It would be nice if someone else reading all of this would care to respond objectively…anyone?
    I would also encourage anyone with an open mind to make the trip to Amakusa themselves and see with their own eyes these ‘Islands of Dread’.
    I am so sorry to have caused you to ‘stoop’ to my level over the past few weeks rendering yourself unable to ‘bother’ further. Let’s hope you had more tenacity as a lawyer (and a better defence than that-lol!)

    Ranger.

  29. When old age shall this generation waste,
    Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
    Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
    “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

    Ranger

  30. Well, a bit of cold-endued insomnia sent me to one of the very very few blogs or websites I actually bookmark, and I have finished article and comment thread in the wee hours. I have a strong interest in Japan, have visited and traveled throughout, from Sapporo to Naha, and numerous places in between. I could go on, but this isnt the point of my post.

    Let me say that my experience tonight was one of puzzlement. It seemed to me that excellent points and discussions were being presented until the blog owner himself introduced catcalling and rejoinders the type of which only the most unfortunate fail to outgrow by college (seriously? your “rebuttal” is simply that the composition of an internet post, identified by the post’s author as rushed and sloppy is to use that old fact to malign the very intent and value of the author;s contribution to the discussion?). I had expected better. I thought it was a meager and insulting tone and direction to take with a reader that has obviously invested in your ideas, not to mention other readers such as myself who invested the time and interest in the discussion,
    My point is, you seem to put so much effort and time into these articles, why belittle yourself by coming across as a ruffled hen when someone offers constructive criticism? You have a penchant for writing, it is clear. For a blog, the quality is high (not saying much is it?). You obviously have zero experience with the two things every writer absolutely needs to flourish: an informed, intelligent audience and an editor.

    • “seriously? your “rebuttal” is simply that the composition of an internet post, identified by the post’s author as rushed and sloppy is to use that old fact to malign the very intent and value of the author;s contribution to the discussion?”

      I’ve left your punctuation mistakes in. Perhaps you could now try and elucidate who the “author” is, because by now I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.

      • I think it is clear who t.o.g. is refering to. And I also think you should stop making the hole you are in any deeper because getting uppity (hyper sensitive) will do you (one) no favors in life. Take advantage of the season and kick back somewhere with a few warm sakes. (I am). Boxing Day we had 5cm of snow and quite a white out for us here. We made the most of it… and just as well because by lunch of the 27th you wouldn’t have believed it had snowed a flake. Still more forecast for the NY’s and I am looking forward to that.

        I think there is a lot of truth in t.o.g’s last sentence and rl’s-
        ”Our attempts at consciousness, and hence our arts, have been trying to move on from being mired in authority. It is still a type of voice, as Ranger is open enough to say, that can mislead – in fact contemporary thought would say that it always misleads.”-is a remarkably spot on observation of our present age (and also of my own feelings and inability to express myself with any sense of ‘authority’). I hadn’t ever given this much thought, except reflect on my own inability of expression with any real conviction. I think having had this article on Amakusa has enabled me to defend something I believe in/love… and so Pachiguy, I owe you some sincere thanks for that opportunity…kind of ‘Kyushu Ranger to the Dark Tower came’. ‘course the Dark Tower is many things to many people, a very modern poem all things considered. I never considered it death. Perhaps rl would agree?

        (by the by I made a mistake on the dolphin watchers. It is not 8,000 but 80,000 visitors come every year)

        Anyway all the best for the New Year,
        Ranger.

  31. There is an AP article on MSNBC that paints a pretty gloomy picture of Japan and it’s future.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40821587/ns/business-world_business/

    Wondering if you had read it and if so, what you think. Seems to me it is based somewhat on oversimplification and stereotypes. For example, it states that the chief reason for Japan’s high suicide rate is economic reasons. That may be true but I am not certain if it really is the case. The article does not provide anything to back that claim up.

    • I think Pachiguy and myself would both agree with that article in the main. Japan is in for an extremely rough ride especially if the Bond market implodes. We could see cost push inflation drive Japan into a real depression and now the savings have been depleted we stand near to our western cousins(who have no cushion of savings to shield them).
      The only positive for me is that de-growth and de-population with the remaining Japanese weaning themselves off energy dependence(solar homes powering electric battery cars etc) coupled with good products for an export market to the Brics, is a tenuous hope and a possible example to the rest of the world that downsizing is the only way for the future in a world of declining oil and other essential commodities.
      To hell with being a “leader”,staying alive is now the name of the game.
      How one stays alive and where is the question.
      The suicide numbers are truly horrific. Actually a large portion of them have been valuable tax paying age groups.30k a year for over 12 years is enormous.

    • No, I hadn’t read it, to be honest my reading horizons don’t take in MSNBC. This is the sort of article I like to trash in the “Spiked” series, but I suppose, grudgingly, that if you are required to write a summary of the mood of a country completely unfamiliar to most of your readers in 500 words or so, and are told to Paint it Black, this is not a totally hopeless effort.
      If you pay careful attention, the author allows himself enough wiggle room with the use of the indefinite rather than definite article in “a chief reason”:
      “Economic difficulty is a chief reason more than 30,000 Japanese have committed suicide every year for the past 12 years”
      to give himself a get-out clause from being asked to prove that it’s THE chief reason (although I suspect it is and am fairly sure I’ve seen statistics to back it up, although I’m not going searching for them now).
      I thought this was hilarious, though:
      “Prime Minister Naoto Kan has acknowledged Japan’s declining status.”
      I must have missed that along the way.
      If you (that’s the generic “you”) are truly interested in Japan as she sails, it’s best to eschew the mainstream media (as much as I still dislike that phrase). The Financial Times’ coverage of Japan is still OK, although not as comprehensive as it used to be even five years ago, and the Economist’s neophyte Henry Tricks is doing a decent enough job (even though he nakedly stole from me for the recent Economist Japan special). The Wall Street Journal I find too blinkered by rightist ideology to be very informative.
      As I’ve said before, it’s best to start paying for your news—or you get ill-informed rubbish like Spike Japan.
      The best accounts of some of Japan’s (and the developed world’s) most pressing issues, such as government debt, fiscal deficits, and future social security liabilities, are only available to the elite. I might leak a few one day—Spikeleaks!

      • Spikeleaks sound fantastic! I can`t wait! Thank you for writing such a fantastic and incredibly informative blog – I am looking forward to much more in 2011.

  32. The observation on authority as a type of voice is certainly rich with possibilities for the cogent writer.

    Japan’s suicide rate is, last data I saw on the subject, around 9th of the top 20 industrialized nations, the largest demographic by far being the elderly. The suicide rate of New Zealand’s 18-23 demographic is greater than most if not any of Japan’s. But content-mill media fixates on Japan’s suicide rate. Just as the only “news” one hears from India or Bangladesh tend to involve floods or train wrecks. *shrug* The term “mediaspeak” comes to mind.

    But back to the original topic. I have been to only a couple of the places written on in this blog – Lake Toya and Muroran. And you know what makes Japan special for me? Meeting people. Nothing profound – just the energy, the humour, the curiosity, commonalities and viewpoints and differences. But the subject and theme of this blog and its articles is rather an unenviable one, it seems to me. In them, the author haunts abandoned buildings, lonely freeways and weedy parking lots. His interactions with others, if and when any occur, may strike one as facile and indifferent.

    In this article, interaction with the locals was textured with the author’s reluctance to engage in serious discussion for an apparent fear of, I dunno, bursting bubbles(?) – as in such passages “I didnt have the heart to tell him…” and so on. These interactions strike one as wooden, if not supercilious (though the conversation with the real estator was uninterrupted for 30 minutes, one gets no impression of anything deeper, anything common or human, or even interesting, passing between the two and the lingering residue of the interaction seems merely to add punctuation to a long, “enlightened” sigh). I wonder if the author, were he to have made this excursion in the 1970s, would have even been able to recognize, as Yamazaki did, the old woman kneeling in the chapel, and discover her subsequent story. Not if one is rushing off to catalogue the local bridge to nowhere.

    However, as I said in the previous post, I do not read blogs so this one has gained some celebrity with me, because of my interest in Japan. I think the subject matter and theme is compelling and likely overlooked. Some aspects speak for themselves: what can result when pork-barrel politics have access to the vast resources and promises of capital and consumerism. The jury is still out as to whether these articles are not much more than the type of stuff one finds in something like The Economist. Some certainly have the same feel to them, though this article seems more ambitious.

    By arguing that these islands are cursed, your thesis is that the horrors of poverty that existed in the past will be revisited, in at least degree if not in kind, due to the mismanagement of capital?

    • Japan’s suicide rate is, last data I saw on the subject, around 9th of the top 20 industrialized nations, the largest demographic by far being the elderly.
      Fifth out of 106 nations, according to Wikipedia via the WHO:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_rate
      The suicide rate of New Zealand’s 18-23 demographic is greater than most if not any of Japan’s.
      Suicide rate of New Zealand’s 15-24 demographic cohort in 2005: 18.2
      http://www.who.int/mental_health/media/newz.pdf
      Suicide rate for Japan in 2008: 24.0
      By demographic cohort:
      15-24: 15.4
      25-34: 23.8
      35-44: 26.3
      45-54: 32.0
      55-64: 34.4
      65-74: 29.2
      75+: 28.9
      http://www.who.int/mental_health/media/japa.pdf
      It really doesn’t take much research.

      In this article, interaction with the locals was textured with the author’s reluctance to engage in serious discussion for an apparent fear of, I dunno, bursting bubbles(?) – as in such passages “I didnt have the heart to tell him…” and so on. These interactions strike one as wooden, if not supercilious (though the conversation with the real estator was uninterrupted for 30 minutes, one gets no impression of anything deeper, anything common or human, or even interesting, passing between the two and the lingering residue of the interaction seems merely to add punctuation to a long, “enlightened” sigh).
      I thought the real estate agent was a bit of a chump, and that it was he, by going off immediately on a tangential rant about the current government, not I, that was reluctant to engage in serious discussion. Go and read some other posts—I recommend:
      http://spikejapan.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/ikeshima-goodbye-to-old-king-coal/
      and the first but not the last encounter here:
      http://spikejapan.wordpress.com/spike-hokkaido-2/teshio-mashike-and-the-rumoi-subprefecture-of-palisades-and-christ-signs/
      for some sympathetic portraits.

      By arguing that these islands are cursed, your thesis is that the horrors of poverty that existed in the past will be revisited, in at least degree if not in kind, due to the mismanagement of capital?
      I’m not “arguing that the islands are cursed”. There is no overarching thesis, at least not one that I have presented yet. The piece is not intended to be ratiocinative but impressionistic.

      • that one guy

        “Go and read some other posts—I recommend: ..”

        You see, I just get a feel for the tone. Perhaps you are trying to add some levity or lightness on a depressing or sad subject matter (I would assume, though judging from the comments a lot of folks seem to be really enthusiastic). I detect a certain demographic – early 20somethings, white, middle-class, college educated, suburban males – you know, typical English-net surfers. And then I come across terms such as “rust-porn”…. And the tone can quickly become, to my ear, akin to a reporter covering wreckage caused by a hurricane or tsunami visited upon a city, with a wink and a rueful grin and sense of adventure.

        By way of analogy – recently in Tokyo I had my shoes shined by an ancient, tiny woman, who appeared very poor, perhaps homeless (there were quite a few in this area) yet sat within a cardboard box modified into her “office”, upon the sidewalk with all the tools organized for her trade. She appeared to be legless below the knees. You could say her condition, such as I saw it, broke my heart. She did an excellent job and she was apparently taking care of herself. It wouldnt have surprised me if she was 90.

        Yet I noticed she had a sign, in English only, set beside her on cardboard in large, capital letters, requesting that her photograph not be taken. I imagine for the “rust-porn”, or “elderly-legless-homeless-shoeshine-porn” tourists and slummers, she posed an opportunity hard to resist. Obviously, she felt she deserved more dignity than simply being a digital trophy for such folks. Rightly so, obviously.

        You seem reluctant to come across with a point of view (now, these are well written and well researched pieces sans editor), with a voice, a human perspective. I actually found the anger at the end of the 2nd article you linked to above (directed at the diners, regardless of the disjointing effect on the article) somewhat refreshing. The rest of the time you could be wearing a world-weary and world-wise smirk. You could be entertained.

        I could be misinterpreting mightily, and I could also to some degree be venting my dismay at the ruin you are describing upon the messenger. But the tone of these pieces (again, perhaps coloured further by the tone in the comments) makes me wonder if you would be one of those taking the picture of the shoeshine lady I mention, which, in a sense, is what you are doing with these communities. I don’t think you would describe this woman the same way you describe these communities. There are, most unfortunately, those who would.

        Because I cannot shake the sense that you think you are writing about buildings, and highways, and bridges, and corrupt politicians and businessmen, and statistics and that many of your readers do also. But, of course, you aren’t are you, not really. Even if you are, you aren’t.

        And I wish I could send this note to you privately as I do not wish to appear to be taking shots at you. But you are writing about some fairly startling and dismaying subjects. This is also what bugged me about your choice of “rebuttal” above in certain of your post responses that seemed belittling: it was that the subject matter was worth more dignity, more gravitas.

        My point is not to question your motivation or character. My point is to question the motivation you present in your writing.

  33. I really enjoy reading your articles pachiguy. I am looking forward to your next article. I know you closed the Spiked section, but I would like to see you deconstruct more magazine articles about Japan. I would also like to see more reviews of the 10 biggest eyesores.

    I visited Japan about a year ago, and I thought it was going to be all zen gardens and Koi ponds and I was really surprised to find that Japan was mostly cold, concrete, and blocky. I have learned a lot about why that was so from your blog posts.

    Keep up the good work!

    • ”I visited Japan about a year ago, and I thought it was going to be all zen gardens and Koi ponds and I was really surprised to find that Japan was mostly cold, concrete, and blocky.”

      Yes I remember a few days after arrival in japan and my stereotypes of the country were shattered, too. But then England isn’t all bowler hats, umbrellas and fog either…
      Still there are plenty of zen gardens and koi pond waiting to be found. It’s not all cold, concrete and blocky-but it might seem so to the unseasoned eye. It takes time to find in Japan what it is you are looking for IMHO. Seek and ye shall find… even eyesores-if that is what you want.

      I also like Pachiguys essays and look forward to such quality reading material. (I am not being sarky). Seagaia was perfect IMO.
      Seasons Greetings and Best Wishes to all here!

  34. I’d like to second pd’s sentiments above. Spike Japan serves as a visual witness to the bacchanalia that was Bubble Era Japan. Drunken orgies of obscenely unnecessary, if not downright absurd, developments like Seagaia, the “Windsor” hotel near Lake Toya (we stayed there about five years ago and thought something was a bit off. We also noticed the “Gillian’s Island” bar. The metastatic tumors that onsen and resort towns grew into, ad nauseum.

    And here the Tokyo transit system still, at the start of 2011, isn’t completely handicapped-accessible – my condolences to any disabled person who has to navigate getting to the Ginza Line at Shibuya Station. Yet Japan was able to throw trillions of yen at Bubble Era “leisure projects” in what can only be characterized as a drunken orgy of spending. Hmm…spend money on “hakomono,” or spend money improving the quality of life of ordinary people? Japan, Inc., and Okurasho made the philistine choice. Vulgar bastards.

  35. I spent a New Year’s day there with my Japanese wife and mother-in-law. We went on a dolphin watching boat we boarded in Hondo.

    There was a commuter run to Nagasaki available as well. I suppose there was no joy for folks there though.

    • ”I spent a New Year’s day there with my Japanese wife and mother-in-law. We went on a dolphin watching boat we boarded in Hondo.

      There was a commuter run to Nagasaki available as well. I suppose there was no joy for folks there though.”

      Where? Nagasaki?

      I’ll give you Amakusa is little joy on New Years Day for a visitor. I can’t think of anything worse than spending New Years Day with dolphins…or my mother in law.
      Come to think of it NYDay in Japan is pretty low key wherever you are, except maybe Tokyo. I don’t know, if you are not surrounded by family one could feel on the outside looking in…which isn’t bad in itself, so long as you don’t wish to be otherwise.

  36. I attempted to read your whole blog output along with all the comments. I started with the oldest and progressed towards the new. Unfortunately I floundered in the comments in this blog. (In other words I skip vast sections of the comments).
    Kyushu Ranger please stop provoking nice Pachiguy-san. And Mr. Pachiguy please don’t let those nit-picking hecklers force you into ranting your replies..
    I for one, read your blogs here as affectionate love-letters towards Japan and its people. I made tourist visits to Japan three times between 1983 and 2000. What I found so fascinating was precisely that fine edge between tea ceremony kitsch, fashion store cuteness and industrial excess. I was awestruck by that Nihonbashi overpass, amused at the ubiquitous vending machines and slack-jawed before the temple craftsmanship. Your blog makes it plain, at least to me, that rusty decay is as worthy as examination and recording as the shiny kawai heart of a Tokyo department store.
    ————-
    I would like to read something in the future about the availability of modern technology in these remote parts of Japan. Here in Canada I life in a small rural town. I have high-speed Internet, satellite TV and 3G cell phone service. Are such modern communications readily available in the remote places examined in the Spike blog?

    • Gregory,
      I agree with some of what you say esp the rusty decay is worthy of examination. I concur more with Pachiguy than you would think. However I still think he overplayed a very bad hand at Amakusa’s expense. I am not a wind up guy and I think Pachiguy will know that, nor am I trying to ‘provoke’ the author. Such a claim is ridiculous. I am more concerned with truth and the representation of it in a place I work, live and love. Having read more of Pachiguys other work now, I have more a feeling for his work as an ‘oeuvre’ rather than an ‘agenda’ as I first maintained. He is a most excellent and entertaining writer.
      I can’t speak for every rusty corner of rural Japan, but down here in lowly, remote Amakusa I have no trouble with my wireless broadband hi speed ADSL connection (of 7 years), satellite TV (which I recently binned thanks to the former) and my i phone. I think you will find that most of Japan is pretty much wired up. I don’t know about Canada but it sure puts the UK to shame.
      Yours,
      (nit picking heckler) Kyushu Ranger

      • Kyushu Ranger

        Pachiguy,
        Look Gregory infers*, as anyone would from your depiction, that places like Amakusa don’t have high speed BB internet or 3G phones. This is exactly what I was meaning by your making out it was a hell hole backed up by cherry picked god awful shots (which as someone pointed out to me can be found in ANY town if you look hard enough). And this is exactly what I am implying when I said that a writer must be concerned with truth and responsibility or turn to fiction.
        But didn’t you say somewhere that this style was your ‘forte’ (and I admit you shine at it). Where by the way is the great post where you are setting off from Tokyo to catch the ferry to Hokkaido? I was reading it and now cannot find it anywhere. You were stopped for speeding-that blog, can you send me the link? there is a brilliant quote you used from Alan Booth about a writer using ‘both sides of paper..’ Is this not what I am also saying? Alan Booth-what a dude was that guy! Wish he was alive today.

        *”I would like to read something in the future about the availability of modern technology in these remote parts of Japan. Here in Canada I life in a small rural town. I have high-speed Internet, satellite TV and 3G cell phone service. Are such modern communications readily available in the remote places examined in the Spike blog?

      • http://spikejapan.wordpress.com/spike-hokkaido-2/
        All you have to do is hit “Spike Hokkaido”, though I admit I myself have trouble with that one.
        The side of paper where “there’s a lot of fancy lettering—that’s the side that gets flaunted about in public”? I leave that to the Amakusa Tourist Board
        http://www.t-island.jp/foreign/default.asp?lc=e
        and to the nightly news. Goodness knows, there’s enough fancy lettering about.
        As you’ve been such a noble and worthy adversary, I’ll let you into a few little secrets about me and Amakusa.
        The first comes from an exchange with a Japan-reared friend, who reading the freshly minted post immediately saw through it in a way you never quite will be able to, and mailed me saying,
        “So Amakusa was a bit of a disappointment then?”
        “Well, it’s just not in the state of ruin that it should be,” I replied.
        The second is that last summer I saw on the Mori Fudosan website a very livable, nearly new 4LDK bungalow for Y8mn, and thought—briefly—about what a pleasant semi-retirement home it might make, before being snapped back to reality by the practicalities.
        The third is that by the time I reached Amakusa, I’d forgotten exactly where (i.e., Ushibuka) the rate of land price decline was hitting hardest. If I had remembered, I could have skipped Hondo altogether and headed straight for Ushibuka, although I might well not have had any luck there, either, as I suspect there are no real estate agents with shopfronts in Ushibuka, though you’re welcome to prove me wrong.
        And yet despite that, and all the slings and arrows that have been rained down on me, I still stubbornly stand—much to your irritation, no doubt—behind every single word I wrote about Amakusa. Take this in a secular way
        The Moving Finger writes; and, having Writ,
        Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
        Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
        Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

      • To KR: I wasn’t trying to ‘infer’ anything. I haven’t been to Japan in a decade and I was genuinely ignorant and interested.
        Here in Canada the governments subsidise high-speed communications to the most remote locations in an effort to keep people ‘back on the farm’. I was wondering if Japan is not only building highways and bridges to remote corners but was also making other high-tech efforts to keep all the young people at home.
        (No need to respond. I am much more interested in what Pachiguy has to write and I skipped much of your earlier comments).

  37. >It would be nice if someone else reading all of this would care to respond objectively…anyone?

    Japan, in its systemic corruption, misinvested tons of the national product in poorly thought-out investments, and the writer of this blog does a decent job of cataloguing them.

    We humans are not a rational race, unfortunately, and Japan has not approached the social successes of say Norway or the other scandinavian Eurosocialists. The 1980s bubble really did a number on this country, both its balance sheet, its fixed capital, its societal capital, and its prognosis as a competitive trading state in the 21st century.

    Japan did an amazing job working its collective ass off and postponing prosperity 1950-1985 to get where it was then. Then the consumptive bubble hit and Japan threw much of that sacrifice away on overconsumption and tragically inept investment schemes that blew through much of its uncommitted capital wealth.

    The following years have seen the Japanese float on a sea of national debt, with a debt-to-GDP ratio approaching that of Zimbabwe.

    It did not have to be this way, but that’s what you get when a nation is run by looters (like Tanaka Kakuei on out) and not far-sighted and noble men committed to the national interest which so few nations have been so lucky to produce.

    Japan doesn’t need any more entrepôt locales in the Kyushu area. I see the economy continuing to stagnate as the working-age demes age and shrink. I foresee more honest hard work in Japan’s future. With Chinese labor at such favorable rates, I foresee more wealth transfer from Japan to China. I don’t know how this century is going to play out, maybe bad, maybe not.

    • Troy,
      I think I agree with everything you have said just about. I wasn’t suggesting Amakusa could become an entrepot locale (more?), just what could have been 400 odd years ago…
      I was hoping there would be someone out there to respond objecively to the Amakusa article rather than to Pachiguy’s ‘Complete Works’ to which I was not fishing for. But I think your comments on Japan are spot on.
      Ranger.
      Are we headed for hyperinflation? And when?

  38. Well, will have to break with consensus here and admit that I do not enjoy reading these articles.

    “Everything melts into air.” The dismay reading projections on the population crisis are only increased when considering these projections within context of ever rising oil prices and rising sea levels.

    Of course, on an even broader plain, the eventual disappearance of oil spells the end of the capitalist-industrialist epoch and a shrinking world-wide. The scenarios cataloged here have been projected for all modern, urban-centred societies that rely on cheap fuel to facilitate massive daily migrations. Lets face it – this paradigm is doomed, not just for Japan. Things that can’t last forever, don’t.

  39. It was a pleasure to post about your blog. Nice work!

  40. >It would be nice if someone else reading all of this would care to respond objectively…anyone?

    I live in Kazusa, on the Shimabara Penninsula of Nagasaki. It’s a short ferry ride to northern Amakusa. I have not been there yet, but am planning to make the trip tomorrow.

    I don’t know much about Amakusa save what I’ve read here, but I have spent some time now in a very rural, aging and depopulating small town in Japan. There are sad aspects of this. People are quite poor some of them. There’s an ambulance siren about every three days that generally signals someone’s passing. The local funeral home does a good business. There are really just a handful of kids around. Two of the several elementary schools here have 11 and 13 kids, respectively. Total, grades 1 – 6.

    All that said, I see no one utterly uncared for, no abject poverty. In fact, there plenty of folks living and, in many cases, enjoying themselves where they can. I have a great deal of respect for the lives they lead.

    In general, I come down with Kyushu Ranger. I think he’s saying that the depiction of any place that people call home deserves some balance. He’s provided that in his commentary.

    I’ve learned much from the back-and-forth. So I appreciate the time spent writing the original post, and the effort it took to read and respond to it. Putting aside the petty attacks that probably seemed more clever after a few, the criticism is legitimate, useful and could help the author improve his skill.

    Best of luck, all.

    • ‘I live in Kazusa, on the Shimabara Penninsula of Nagasaki. It’s a short ferry ride to northern Amakusa. I have not been there yet, but am planning to make the trip tomorrow.’

      Halleuliah! An impartial visitor!! Will you promise to write about your visit so others (me included) will be able to read about your trip?
      I used to buy bags of oysters from Shimabara this time of year, bring them back and bbq them on the beach with a big bonfire to keep warm or a mountain top near Ushibuka-stunning during a full moon.(don’t try a bonfire on the mountain though!)
      If I were you I would turn right out of the port and drive along the coast to Reihoku then follow the west coast, (passing the power station) direction Sakitsu..where the Minato-Ya ryokan would provide splendid views of Sakitsu and the church.
      Don’t miss Amakusa Machi’s TAKAHAMA beach, might even be surf if you are interested, then I would recommend staying off the tunnel roads, taking the more scenic coastal old roads with fabulous views out over the extraordinary rock formations in the south china sea.
      There’s also the GO SOKU NO KUTSU trekking path which is worth your while if you have time and inclination for a stroll.
      Great onsen waters at Shimoda but not in the chronicled ugly hotel. Go to the town besides the river.

      I could go on and on but no doubt you have your own schedule. I hope you have good weather but it is cold and miserable today and doesnt look too good tomorrow.

      Please post your impressions, good or bad. I’d love to be your guide but that might color your independence. So enjoy your trip.

  41. I’ve debated leaving a reply here for a while but finally decided to do so. I’ve lived in Amakusa for two and a half years. I thought your post was very well written, and you’ve clearly done research, but I felt that the tone was overly depressing. From earlier comments I take it that some things you wrote may have been meant in jest, but it certainly didn’t come across that way to me while reading or rereading it.

    I have to agree with some of the others who have commented that your article could easily lead those who have never been here to have a very negetive impression of Amakusa. You paint a vivid pictures with your words and there is very little postive to balance out the negetive you present. You are more than entitled to your opinion and to share it with others, but it does sadden me that some of your readers who will never be able to come here and who may never hear anything else about Amakusa will think of it as such a dreary and depressing place. Amakusa has its fair share of problems but the sun does shine, and I have enjoyed my time living here.

  42. Gregory,
    ‘(No need to respond. I am much more interested in what Pachiguy has to write and I skipped much of your earlier comments).’

    If you skipped my earlier comments then how can you justify that I ‘provoke’ Pachiguy or that I am a ‘nit picking heckler’?

    If you want to make accusations then please acquaint yourself with both sides of the argument-otherwise your words will betray you revealing a very one sided irrational mentality. Too much satellite TV perhaps?

    Sorry to have had to respond. The Japanese have a saying along the lines of ‘don’t open your mouth when you don’t have to, for it may reveal yourself as more of a fool than thought otherwise’.

  43. Well, well I am honoured!

    ”As you’ve been such a noble and worthy adversary, I’ll let you into a few little secrets about me and Amakusa.
    The first comes from an exchange with a Japan-reared friend, who reading the freshly minted post immediately saw through it in a way you never quite will be able to, and mailed me saying,
    “So Amakusa was a bit of a disappointment then?”
    “Well, it’s just not in the state of ruin that it should be,” I replied.”

    No, no, I appreciate the irony beautifully! You are the man who said ”depressing and hopeless are my forte”. So, P, in some measure you must recognize the article was part writ before you even arrived here, no? Interesting. I’ll come back to that in a second as it tucks in with your Omar Khayyam. But first, you are right. There are no visible real estate agents in Ushibuka. There are often some juicy houses you might be interested in looking at on the reposession websites though…
    I wonder where the 8mill bungalow was? I must have missed it! Drat. I can tell that your salary up there is better than mine if that is what you’d consider for a semi-retirement home. Just give me a call if you need to escape Tokyo when the fun starts. There are plenty of ramshakle lifestyle plots for you to farm that soil…should you so desire. Not so bad? We could be neighbors and I dare say we’d get on just fine if we buried our egos in a bottle of sake and a packet of larks.
    Thanks for the link btw. That whole Hokkaido section jumps around a lot with the mouse. I swear to god yesterday it disappeared but I have printed off the quote now. I bet you love Alan Booth? I do. I’ve often considered re-doing his walk but couldn’t take the blisters. Still he makes Kirin so drinkable his family should get royalties.
    Finally the quatrain 50?51? forget now form Khayaam. Lets jot it down first.
    The Moving Finger writes; and, having Writ,
    Moves on: nor all they Piety nor Wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
    Nor all they Tears wash out a Word of it.

    Great stuff isn’t it? I don’t care that you care to stand by ‘every single word’. That is your loss. In my court of law I am innocent in my protestations because I speak the Truth. Period.
    It might be worth your while knowing that your interpretation, whilst working on a clever, wordy, superficial level reveals you have a trick or more to learn. So watch your back… because in Farsi it actually means what is written cannot be changed – but it refers to the future – not to the past!

    It’s enough to give you the chills.
    Best,
    Ranger

    • You are the man who said ”depressing and hopeless are my forte”.

      Did I really say that? Quite possibly… But I had my tongue half in cheek, as usual.

      So, P, in some measure you must recognize the article was part writ before you even arrived here, no?

      No, no, not remotely. All I would say is that I expected more devastation—and I’m perfectly honest about that in what I wrote. When you accuse me of “cherry-picking” ruins, you should remember that I was careful to say that, “ruination had not taken hold in the way I had expected, though.” When you accuse me, by the way, of having it in for Ushibuka, you should also appreciate that “spent melancholy” and “exhausted sadness” are some of the highest words of praise—in my lexicon—I can offer. You might be curious to know that someone else out there loves the mournful signs of Ushibuka:

      http://greg.org/archive/2011/01/02/untitled_by_the_pachinko_ginbasha_master_of_amakusa.html

      My friend, although generally very pro-Japan, also has his own agenda: he wants to see more Bubble spectaculars, for example, and chided me for failing to discover more on Amakusa, much as you claimed the islands weren’t much touched by the Bubble—although I personally think the trio of Bubble relics that I uncovered and covered in one afternoon are evidence enough that the fantasies of the Bubble made it to relatively faraway places.
      Strange things happen when you offer up your writing for public discourse, things I would never have expected. The range of reactions has been amazingly—to me, at least—polarized. One of the most common has been to slap the catch-all label “depressing” on it, which I don’t think it is at all—“depressing” is a word I’d reserve for Goya’s Disasters of War, for instance. But I ramble.

      I bet you love Alan Booth? I do. I’ve often considered re-doing his walk but couldn’t take the blisters.

      You know I do. I tried to contact his daughter via some friends recently but she was understandably having none of it. But, but, but—he does bang on too long about his feet… I have a theory that the more physically punishing your journey across Japan-or anywhere—is that you make it, the less interesting it’ll be, because you’re turned inwards toward your means of locomotion. Best to do it, like I do, in a slinky sports car. Actually, best to do it in an old motorhome contraption and not talk about it, but that’s another line of thought. Perhaps it would be worth doing it, slowly, on a bicycle?

      I wonder where the 8mill bungalow was? I must have missed it! Drat. I can tell that your salary up there is better than mine if that is what you’d consider for a semi-retirement home.

      By “semi-retirement home”, I meant a full-time residence in the gradual transition from working full-time to not working at all, not a holiday place. I can’t remember exactly where it was, but not far from Hondo, I’d guess. Y8mn is about GBP60,000 and $95,000. For a decent sized house, that’s not much really, anywhere in the G7. I just checked Rightmove—they have only half-a-dozen or so one-bedroom places under GBP60,000 in Tyne and Wear, for instance.
      In Detroit, of course, places get a little cheaper:
      http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/17337-Orleans-Street_Detroit_MI_48203_M48902-28882?source=hp
      The cheapness of Amakusa property has to have some disturbing implications, doesn’t it?

      In my court of law I am innocent in my protestations because I speak the Truth. Period.

      It is just terribly sad, forgive me—although I know you won’t—that you believe something as essentially totalitarian as that.

      R

  44. I have got to come down on Kyushu Ranger’s side here. I think you missed many of the incredible things about these islands. The coastline, the mountains, the little sushi shops and, most importantly, the people.

    Of course, some parts of Amakusa are dismal. Shopping in the rain in Hondo is depressing, your shots of the rust-stained panchinko signs are a good reflection of this. But, as Ranger says, there are incredible upsides to living in an area where inhabitants don’t live cheek-by-jowl: bigger houses, fewer cars, more community – all aspects which the bald statistics cannot attest to.

    Don’t be put of by this ‘Islands of Dread’ moniker. It is unfair and somewhat misleading.

  45. R,
    I didn’t realize telling the truth was ‘totalitarian’ but I’ll admit the sentence that I wrote sounds bombastic on second reading, especially with the capital ‘T’. I meant it in relation to the Amakusa article and in relation to showing a balance. I still maintain that you did cherry pick photos which encapsulate what you were saying in words and further raised the impression of dread, which, in my view, is simply wrong and misleading. This is no Hokkaido, I’m sure you would admit.

    I thought it prescient you said this:
    ” I have a theory that the more physically punishing your journey across Japan-or anywhere—is that you make it, the less interesting it’ll be, because you’re turned inwards toward your means of locomotion. Best to do it, like I do, in a slinky sports car.” I have recently been thinking that the slinky sports car style of reporting may well be your mistake. It divorces you from reality, does it not, trapped in a cityscape bubble unable to meet and relate to people…and places… effectively. The other day I was thinking actually the style is more like-and you may like this-a drive by shooting. The motorhome might indeed be a better idea. I think you would benefit a lot by giving up the day job and writing a book by visiting the country slowly and really letting you mind focus on what Is rather than what it looks like on an overcast interlude between jobs. It would be a massive hit, imagine following in Alan Booth’s footsteps – by motorhome. With the increase in petrol prices and thought that we are already sliding down the backside of peak oil (hence ‘Spike Japan’), you might be cataloging the death of motoring too-and the punishing effects that will have on post war Japan. No finer project-if you ask me-and you are more than up to the job. Might do it myself actually, if you’re not interested…

    Ranger

    • Ranger,
      “The other day I was thinking actually the style is more like-and you may like this-a drive by shooting.”
      Ah, you really are my fiercest and truest critic! “Drive-by shooting” is a phrase that’s been nagging me since Spike Hokkaido. I’ve been asking myself whether this is what I could be accused of all along. I feel I generally escape a guilty verdict because of the immense amount of research and care in writing I put in subsequently, but the jury might have other ideas. All I would say is that writing of this kind inevitably requires a trade-off—in an ideal world, perhaps, I would spend a few months or even a year on Amakusa—but then how could I cover the rest of the myriad places and subjects that merit attention?
      “I think you would benefit a lot by giving up the day job and writing a book by visiting the country slowly and really letting you mind focus on what Is rather than what it looks like on an overcast interlude between jobs.”
      But the day job is so lucrative and I have so many creditors snapping at my heels… Look at Spike Japan as a possible dress rehearsal for a serious post-retirement labour of love, maybe around 2017 if I’m very lucky.
      “It would be a massive hit, imagine following in Alan Booth’s footsteps – by motorhome.”
      Sadly, it wouldn’t be a massive hit—only you and I and a few thousand Westerners in provincial Japan would be interested. Not that that would stop me.
      R

      • Kyushu Ranger

        Richard,
        ”But the day job is so lucrative and I have so many creditors snapping at my heels… Look at Spike Japan as a possible dress rehearsal for a serious post-retirement labour of love, maybe around 2017 if I’m very lucky.”

        Ah, the day job. What does it to please you more? 2017. I wonder. 6 years from now will the Yen as we know it exist? I very much doubt it. How much will gasoline be? Maybe you could get the camper and park it in Tsuruga just in case. Actually maybe doing the walk would be better, blisters ‘n’ all.

        I don’t think there can be a ”trade off” in good writing. Least not conscious. You must mean journalism?

        ”Ah, you really are my fiercest and truest critic! “Drive-by shooting” is a phrase that’s been nagging me since Spike Hokkaido. ”

        Great name for a book, ne? Or maybe not?

        Time to hit the hay here.

        Sleepy Ranger.

  46. Richard,
    A further thought just occured to me as I stepped outside this morning. A cm or so of light snow dusts the landscape for the third time since Boxing Day turning this land of extraordinary peace and beauty into a quiet wonderland. And it is a thought I should thank you for contributing to with your article. One of the reasons Amakusa and shimo shima in particular retains her great beauty is that her remoteness has protected and protects her from the outside world of ‘progress’ and the dearth of opinion that she is ‘fuben’, ‘mendoksai’, ‘backward’. For example about 10 years ago the town of Ariake constructed ‘Rippleland’ a false beach with roadside parking and (false) onsen with (g)omiyage shop and kitsch octopus motif etc ad nauseam. This was to ensnare the lazy city kids as they drove in search of sun, waves and a place to show off their silly cars to bimbo’s with bleached hair. The joy is that it worked and nowadays all the dross stops in Ariake instead of coming to Mogushi or Takahama one of the most lovely natural beaches in mainland Japan where sea turtles come to lay their eggs on the white sands or hardcore surfers come to take advantage of the exposed south westerlies thrown up from next stop Okinawa or beyond. All the better if you ask me. We don’t need these people in their cars and their wallets to force up real estate second homes (look at Cornwall or Devon). So I should be happy with a bit of negative reportage. If it wasn’t for my sense of injustice ( garnered in respect of your other blogs btw) then I would have kept my mouth shut. I wouldn’t welcome the opening up of soutern Amakusa as all the beauty would be destroyed with more ruin, more pachinko parlors, more conbeni’s. We don’t need this.
    Truth is though that I have a battery pictures that would blow your dinghy of depressive shots out of the water. But I am happy to let lie the notion that a picture tells a thousand words-if not reproducing one here would protect this little secret of a place. Only the hardiest of readers will still be reading this blog reply by now, so those kind of people are welcome. I don’t want fancy lettering, if you know what I mean.

    As Matt W implied, visiting an island on the edge of the sub tropics on an overcast or rainy afternoon is not much fun. I am no fan of Hondo and her low culture of convenience, bread and circus for the culturally impoverished. What can I say? Come back on a sunny day? It looks beautiful today even with (the unusual) snow. How does it look outside your window?
    Regarding ‘spent melancholy’ and ‘exhausted sadness’ being words of praise in your lexicon, what can I say? How about ‘start a family’? Heaven help us Japan needs a few more intelligent kids-and beautiful places to raise them.
    Sincerely,
    Kyushu Ranger.

    • Ranger,
      “For example about 10 years ago the town of Ariake constructed ‘Rippleland’ a false beach with roadside parking and (false) onsen with (g)omiyage shop and kitsch octopus motif etc ad nauseam.”
      Wonderful to see that the expression “gomiyage” has become common currency—any idea where you picked it up from? Yes, I’ve seen the Rippleland videos on YouTube. Quite fond of the octopus, though…
      “Only the hardiest of readers will still be reading this blog reply by now, so those kind of people are welcome.”
      You’re certainly right about that!
      “Regarding ‘spent melancholy’ and ‘exhausted sadness’ being words of praise in your lexicon, what can I say?”
      All nations rise and fall. Japan’s fall will be slower, from a very high level, more genteel, and less painful than most. I happen to like nations in decline more than I do nations in the ascendant—no doubt a product of my upbringing in Britain in the 1970s. That’s just me. Which is what Amakusa: Islands of Dread is all about—just me, the reaction of one visitor on one day.
      R

      • Kyushu Ranger

        Richard,
        ”Wonderful to see that the expression “gomiyage” has become common currency—any idea where you picked it up from?”

        As far as I am aware I created it myself in ’93 along with ‘bean shit cakes’ but I am sure many others equally coined the term for themselves. It’s a logical extension of disappointment, isn’t it?

        ”All nations rise and fall. Japan’s fall will be slower, from a very high level, more genteel, and less painful than most. I happen to like nations in decline more than I do nations in the ascendant—no doubt a product of my upbringing in Britain…”

        I hope you are right but I think you are going to be wrong. Japan has been falling for 22 years now. That was the genteel bit. Now we are out of savings and debt to GDP is 184%. I enjoy seeing the cracks and some of the creativity that goes with that. And I prefer it to the ascendancy role, like yourself. But I’ve seen enough now to realize the hardship is like an open wound which can’t ever heal. And I am sad about that.

      • Ranger,
        Maybe you were the originator of “gomiyage”, who’s to know? I first came across it in 1997. I do kind of appreciate the “sable cake” and “white lover” biscuits and prawn crackers that fall across my desk regularly, though.
        “Now we are out of savings and debt to GDP is 184%.”
        And I thought I was supposed to be the depressing one! We seem to have swapped roles!
        Actually, according to the IMF (November 2010), Japan’s gross government debt was 226% of GDP, higher than any nation in history—but for complex reasons that are beyond the scope of this reply, that is probably not quite as horrific as it looks, for now at least. Time is short, but there is still time.
        R

  47. Greg says:

    ”A dismal, depressing subject can be made enjoyable by great writing. And the spirits can be lifted by an awesome photo at the end. These are my takeaways from Richard Hendy’s travel/history/economics/politics/apocalyptic decline essay on Amakusa, a hardscrabble group of islands near Kyushu, Japan.

    Hendy’s blog Spike Japan documents the underside and overlooked, and Amakusa certainly sounds like it’s had the short end of the stick since forever, basically, and all they have to show for it is a 15-year-old, $120 million Bridge To Nowhere–designed by Renzo Piano.

    But this incredible photo gives me hope. I’m transfixed by this pachinko sign. I mean, just look at those lines. The neonya-san who made that is literally drawing with light in space here. Is there a kanji-based, gestural tradition within the Japanese neon signmaking industry? Have Zen brushstrokes been translated or reperformed and fixed in 3D glass tubing? Or maybe it’s Action Painting, frozen in time and space instead of dropped onto the canvas in the barn in Springs?”

    How’s this for inference-
    ”A dismal, depressing subject can be made enjoyable by great writing. And the spirits can be lifted by an awesome photo at the end.”

    Or-
    ”Amakusa certainly sounds like it’s had the short end of the stick since forever, basically, and all they have to show for it is a 15-year-old, $120 million Bridge To Nowhere”

    Or-
    ”Amakusa, a hardscrabble group of islands near Kyushu, Japan.”

    Greg’s great insight-

    ”But this incredible photo gives me hope. I’m transfixed by this pachinko sign. I mean, just look at those lines”

    isn’t worth a pseudo sixpence.

    ”Is there a kanji-based, gestural tradition within the Japanese neon signmaking industry?”

    The guy needs a real job instead of pontificating and ruminating about how to fashion a muppet career out of sweet nothings. New York, like Tokyo though, won’t provide it or be aware of it before it is too late. I feel sure the future will bring it on however. It won’t quite be what many expect, I fear. What price crap ‘art’ then? Or crass platitudes?

    ”Have Zen brushstrokes been translated or reperformed and fixed in 3D glass tubing?”
    No, Greg. Wake up! This is just what happens when the old and dysfunctional is left to rot because it costs too much to knock down. Coming to a place near you soon! There is plenty of newer, uglier (pachinko) neon knocking around though. This is its future if we continue building such trash (and misguided if we celebrate it as ‘art’-if you ask me).

    My ‘takeaways’ from your great blog are somewhat different to Greg’s, both probably have meaning and resonance to our own lives…and how we play out our respective futures.

    Looking forward to your next blog now. I think I have said everything I can say about ‘Amakusa Islands of Dread’. I know I am right on this one and I think I have at least presented you with some doubts you are, if not wrong, overstated in your presentation to fit the spike mould. As your friend said, ‘so Amakusa was bit of a disappointment?’
    Time for us to both move on?
    Respectfully,
    Ranger.

    • Ranger,
      Go tell *him* your opinion, not me! I do think the sign merits some attention—I wouldn’t have photographed it otherwise—but like you, I wouldn’t hold its spidery hesitancy up to the spotlight of art. Each to their own, though.
      R

  48. When I described KR’s argot as representing the intersection of erudition and incoherence, it was this sort of thing I had in mind:

    “The joy is that it worked and nowadays all the dross stops in Ariake instead of coming to Mogushi or Takahama one of the most lovely natural beaches in mainland Japan where sea turtles come to lay their eggs on the white sands or hardcore surfers come to take advantage of the exposed south westerlies thrown up from next stop Okinawa or beyond.”

    Erudition a-plenty: “dross,” a knowledge of the egg-laying habits of sea turtles, of China Sea meteorology, of the likes and dislikes of surfers, etc. But alas! There appears to be no verb, and disappointment awaits the reader who doggedly wades through this sentence to the “beyond” at the end in hopes of finding one. Call me a “muppet” if you will for saying so, KR, but the comparison with Gertrude Stein, particularly her “Tender Buttons,” still obtains.

    And as for you, pachiguy: Huis Ten Bosch!

    • Hi Cantona,
      ]I have lived in a foreign country so long that I sometimes lose my own native tongue (especially whilst writing) and comma’s, basic grammar etc-that stuff- I leave for the pedant, dahling! I don’t edit my posts with a toothcomb either. I just shoot from the cuff, wear my heart on my sleeve la la la. But my canvas is understandable for those that want to see…or happy not to get hung up on mixed metaphors. Care? Not I.
      Dross, according to my usage-from Old English drōs dregs. First Known Use: before 12th century ..
      Need a verb or a life? You tell me. In the meantime, be my guest to ‘doggedly wade through.’
      Japan works on ‘non verbal communication’-perhaps… give it a try? Afaint, afar away, need to seem to glimpse, away with words.

      I do second Huis Ten Bosch though. I would also like to see Spike enroll for a course at ‘British Hills’ (if it still exists). I also imagine there is plenty to rip to shreds in Tokyo starting with Roppongi Hills or the new Sky Tower, or the life of many Tokyoites living in lonely bedsits, cellphone as companion, rusting away themselves.

      All the best,
      KR.

      • Ranger,
        “I do second Huis Ten Bosch though.”
        OK, OK, it’s coming!
        “I would also like to see Spike enroll for a course at ‘British Hills’ (if it still exists).”
        It does! I visited in the early summer of 2008. Just extraordinary. I must revisit. Did you ever teach there?
        R

    • I’m not sure that I’d be so generous as to characterize the use of the word “dross” as erudition… Apart from a few lapsed commas, missing definite articles, and a dubious “or”, Ranger is comprehensible enough in his passion.
      Huis ten Bosch, eh? It’ll be coming soon, though it’s almost defeated me in the multitude of fascinating avenues it opens up.

  49. C, from Wiki
    Argot (pronounced /ˈɑrɡoʊ/; French, Spanish, Romanian and Catalan for “slang”) is a secret language used by various groups—including, but not limited to, thieves and other criminals—to prevent outsiders from understanding their conversations. The term argot is also used to refer to the informal specialized vocabulary from a particular field of study, hobby, job, sport, etc.

    The author Victor Hugo was one of the first to research argot extensively.[1] He describes it in his novel, Les Misérables, as the language of the dark; at one point, he says, “What is argot; properly speaking? Argot is the language of misery.”

    KR’s ‘argot’? To what do you refer?

  50. By the way, C, just for my own tuition what is wrong with that sentence except for lacking a comma perhaps after ‘Takahama’? What verb do you feel is missing here?

    “The joy is that it worked and nowadays all the dross stops in Ariake instead of coming to Mogushi or Takahama one of the most lovely natural beaches in mainland Japan where sea turtles come to lay their eggs on the white sands or hardcore surfers come to take advantage of the exposed south westerlies thrown up from next stop Okinawa or beyond.”

    Thanks, R.

  51. KR, right you are – I stand chastened and corrected! The verb “is” occupies third position in the sentence.

    If you were to start a blog of some sort about life down there, I’d certainly be among your readers. Just use commas a bit more liberally! As for your postings here, I’m worried that the pachiguy will become more reticent to “publish” his magnificent photoessays lest he somehow offend a resident of the area in question. And a tragedy that would be, because he is, IMO, the single best writer about Japan these days; certainly he’s the preeminent chronicler of Bubble Era folly.

    • Ditto.
      Someone here is using comments as their own personal blog.

    • “If you were to start a blog of some sort about life down there, I’d certainly be among your readers.”
      Seconded! Why not, Ranger? It’s something I’ve been thinking about myself these past few weeks and wanted to suggest to you.
      “As for your postings here, I’m worried that the pachiguy will become more reticent to “publish” his magnificent photoessays lest he somehow offend a resident of the area in question. And a tragedy that would be, because he is, IMO, the single best writer about Japan these days; certainly he’s the preeminent chronicler of Bubble Era folly.”
      Many thanks for the compliments. No need to worry, I think. The plan for 2011, once Kyushu and a couple of lighter hearted posts are out of the way, is to concentrate on a few places in the Kanto area that I’ve been attendant to—and much in love with—for the last couple of years. Better photos coming, too…
      R

  52. C, well I apologize for getting in a strop, so all’s fair.
    I really don’t think Pachiguy will become more reticent to publish on my account. That is not my intention at all. I wholeheartedly agree with you that his photoessays are the best about Japan, the best writing on Japan since Alan Booth IMO. That’s one hell of a compliment by my book as Booth is/was simply both a beating heart with Japan and a fine and honest critic of Japan at the same time. I wonder what Booth would write about Amakusa if he had walked our shores? I am sure it would not be ‘Islands of Dread’ though he would have put his finger on any lingering malaise he encountered without restraint. Booth, I feel, had a very humane streak, which comes from a reverential and deep love and understanding he had of Japan. I think if Pachiguy lived out of the Tokyo cocoon for a while (he mentioned a motorhome which might be a very good idea-but constantly temporary) or if he had some deeper roots here( and I am assuming here, perhaps wrongly, that he does not have Japanese family) that that might have a salient influence on his depth of understanding/feeling and therefore helpful to his work. Understanding the how and why vast swathes of Japan is having her heart and soul ripped apart by forces that are beyond her control, as well as collating snippets of the bubble era folly, would serve into Pachiguy’s power of the pen and give him a real project that may equal Booth’s work. What he (P) lacks in compassion he makes up for in wit, but there is no substitute for compassion IMO. Compassion is understanding. (There I am being totalitarian again).
    On your other point I think P would welcome comments from residents in areas he is covering. The reason why he has not is that either people are too intimidated to take on such good writing, don’t read, or agree with him. I do wonder how I would feel if I lived in the Hokkaido he has covered. As it is I have never even been there and I imagine he is spot on. But I do live here and will defend Amakusa-or whatever I ‘know ‘for that matter- with whatever clumsy tools I have when I see something is not right. I think P will see that in a good light, despite disagreeing with me on a few points.

    I have said this before somewhere many posts ago but I would love to read about a place that P really enjoys or loves-just as a comparison. Booth was all about giving two sides. Maybe this is what makes him great…which brings me back to compassion.

    Anyway time for a warm sake now…
    Best to all,
    Ranger.

  53. R,
    ”“I would also like to see Spike enroll for a course at ‘British Hills’ (if it still exists).”
    It does! I visited in the early summer of 2008. Just extraordinary. I must revisit. Did you ever teach there?”

    Lol! No it used to be advertised on the back of the old Eiken past papers my wife received. Looked like a load of Japanese TOSH but very enticing in a bubbley way.
    I meant you to do an undercover course or something there and then pull it to pieces. Where is it?

  54. Richard,
    ”Actually, according to the IMF (November 2010), Japan’s gross government debt was 226% of GDP, higher than any nation in history—but for complex reasons that are beyond the scope of this reply, that is probably not quite as horrific as it looks, for now at least. Time is short, but there is still time.”

    I’d love to know the complex reasons at some point. My 184% was from Japan Times as of yesterday, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was +200% either. Time is indeed short and there might well be time but there seems no political will except to issue yet more bonds to cover the debt. In fact, I doubt there is political understanding of the problem, let alone political will to do anything about it.
    I’m wondering if you mean that the money is owed to the country itself as opposed to foreign creditors? A jolly ware ware nihinjin affair with lots of sumimasens and crocodile tears that public pensions wont be paid etc.. Heart bleeds for those civil servants. It would be good for them to learn the price of their lifetime ‘bonuses’. ”Yes, you have already been paid”. Lol. Hello?- Work?
    Shiroi Koibito bicks-yummy yum. And lovely tins too. Aren’t they from Hok.. Hok… Hokkaido? And didnt they have a spot of bother recently? Haven’t had any for ages now, come to think of it…stick to my Amakusa Sables.

    I am most depressed on the economy which is why I think little areas like Amakusa will tough it out, survive actually. I wish I could say the same for the cities but no food and water=no life.

    • Ranger,
      “Time is indeed short and there might well be time but there seems no political will except to issue yet more bonds to cover the debt.”
      You might take the appointment of Kaoru Yosano, a notorious fiscal hawk, as minister for financial affairs, as a positive sign, although any consumption tax hike—if that is even the right way to address the problem—is still far off because of the split Diet.
      If you were to go the consumption tax route, a 2ppt increase a year for a decade or so until it reached 25% in 2020 or so, would probably do the job of closing the fiscal deficit alone. Not so drastic when you consider it’s already 20% in the UK.
      “I’m wondering if you mean that the money is owed to the country itself as opposed to foreign creditors?”
      No, not just that—indeed, that’s an extra source of danger, eventually, if nothing changes, because ultimately there has to be a marginal (foreign) buyer of government bonds, and if Japan ever gets there, its goose is well and truly cooked. Japan’s advantages are numerous: it still runs a fairly hefty current account surplus, which means income is constantly flowing in to the country (albeit not in the amounts, as a percentage of GDP, it once did), it has a massive, truly massive, stock of private savings, primarily personal but also corporate, it has a compliant, tax-paying population with a smaller shadow economy than any major economy on earth (which is a huge advantage if you need to raise taxes), and it is a low tax economy to start off with, which means that any tax hikes will (the economists say—and I believe them) have less of a distorting effect—because it’s one thing when the state raises its take of your wallet from 30% to 40% but quite another when it goes from 60% to 70%.
      But that’s just the glass-half-full picture. If nothing is done, then meltdown comes by my best guess around 2020-2025. But it will perhaps only involve a GDP jolt of 5%-15%—we can live through that, can’t we?
      “I am most depressed on the economy which is why I think little areas like Amakusa will tough it out, survive actually.”
      Japan still has the world’s largest automaker (for now) and a fleet of parts and components makers, for instance, that are still the envy of the world.
      R

      • Kyushu Ranger

        Thanks for that, Richard. I hope you are right.
        I can’t pretend to be an economist and my knowledge is sketchy but I was under the impression that personal savings had been whittled down to under 1% of income from a glorious 17% back in the early 90′s. I have no idea about coporate savings but one would hope that after 20 odd years of ‘recession’ the remaining companies carry litle debt. I also thought the Bond market was at tipping point, 94% owed to Japan’s citizens (pension companies) who are now net sellers. The returns are so miserly that in order to attract foreign buyers interest rates on those bonds would have to be competitive internationally-20 about 6%. That would force up BofJ interest rates and inflation ‘like no other’. I suppose it would be ‘bye bye deflation’ at least.
        With the rest of Japans export market in recession (US, UK, EU) I can only hope that exports will pick up to the Brics to pick up the slack. In 2008 though exports fell a wopping 29%. That’s harrowing. Throw in the prospect of peak oil and Japan, and/or an agressive China grabbing those resources first and Japan doesn’t seem to have a leg to stand on being 90% dependant on energy imports. Meanwhile 40%,and slipping, self sufficient in food (the worst in the developed world and on the brink of making up a huge cock up on TPP (IMO) and and and… I don’t need to tell you about demographics and the effect that will have/is having on domestic demand. But maybe I have got this all wrong. I certainly hope so. Thanks for your input though. When you say and see ‘vast swathes of Japan’ are rusting don’t you feel that it is only Tokyo and Osaka/Nagoya producing anything/working economically? I don’t think that bodes well for the future.
        I heard a documentary about Hokkaido the other day and the price of Kerosene and the damage that alone is doing. I wonder if these colder places (basically 6mths of winter) will become utterly abandoned in the future (as is happening). Without cheap oil many places will lose their ability to be habitable. In fact I have a suspicion this is the case already. Cheap oil could be seen as being the midwife to Japan’s rapid, brief success. Take that away and I believe Japan, in particular among nations, is done for. What of the condos in Niseko then?
        Ranger

      • Ranger,
        I’ll come back to you in greater detail when I can, but for now please be aware of one thing – the percentage rate of saving doesn’t matter, for now, as much as the absolute level. There is no way Japan can go back to the savings rates of the past, because of the life cycle theory of saving and dissaving. The absolute level of domestic saving remains huge, although stagnant, at around Y1.4 quadrillion, or Y1,400trillion. Gross government debt (not even net government debt) is only around Y900trillion, but rising fast. This does of course imply huge transfers from the stock of private savings to the government in years to come but does not mean on a national accounts basis, Japan is anywhere near bankrupt. I hope to explain it all more clearly later…

      • Richard, just to say that it’s been quite good to have read all the back and forth comments over the last month. It is always interesting, often additionally in modes other than strictly Japanese for you and Kyushu Ranger.

        I well support the elision you made of a few most recent ones which crossed into unwantable areas as I saw via email, and anyway it is always your right to do so.

        My own tongue is still tied, as I think I don’t want to disturb the observation, in an old style. We make a complicated world, when we visit certain types of education on ourselves, and cross the seas to do some of the bidding with them. One doesn’t have to agree or disagree; rather I always think the important thing is constructiveness.

        This constructiveness can take many welcome forms, and your writings are certainly one of them, appreciated I think you are seeing well enough; and with responses like KR’s expanding the views.

        Well looking forward to the next, and will indulge myself in a little saki to toast in both of your direction.

        Regards,
        Clive

  55. I love your amazingly researched and well-written posts. Please don’t let the critics get ya down. ;)

  56. Hi Pachiguy,
    Funny! I’m kind of missing our discussions as we both move onto other things. Such is life.
    With my blood pressure now receeding I am reading your (amakusa) post again and understanding your disappointment of the place having held up relatively well-at least better than your expectation were. I think the reason for this is as I said, namely that Amakusa benefited least from Japan’s overarching bubblicious excesses-thanks to its remoteness. I consider this a blessing in disguise, as you know.
    Now I am thinking on other things I want to ask you about the population stats and housing numbers you present in the article…

    ”After peaking in 1955 at close to a quarter of a million, Amakusa’s population went into precipitous reverse, as youngsters flooded off the islands in search of work at lathe or till or jackhammer, falling to around 173,000 by 1980 and almost halving to below 127,000 in the summer of 2010, already back to the level of the early 19th century. From here it is poised to fall by more than a third over the next quarter century, to perhaps 80,000 in 2035, the mid-18th century level. Further out the demographic crystal ball grows murkier, but it is at least conceivable that Amakusa will return to its population level at the time of the 1637-1638 uprising by the end of this century, completing an extraordinary half-millennium of rise and decline.

    While once beset by the burden of too many mouths to feed, the whole of Amakusa is now deemed by the state to be a zone of underpopulation (過疎地域), a designation that covers an astonishing 50% of the land area of Japan, if only some 6% of its people—although this is bound to rise in coming years, as the avenging angels of depopulation sweep down from the mountains to lay claim to ever larger conurbations.

    Overpopulation has a biological definition—the number of people exceeds the carrying capacity of the habitat—but underpopulation, at least in a Japanese context, is more of judgment call. The word for underpopulation (過疎) only appeared in the language in 1966, and it was initially defined as falling population densities, ageing, and a growing difficulty in maintaining established lifestyle patterns as the result of a declining population.

    The population of the islands’ largest constituent municipality, Amakusa City, is falling faster than any other city of its size (50,000-100,000 people) in Japan, tumbling by more than 8% between 2005 and 2010 alone, due to a combination of continued outmigration by the young (there were 1,031 17-year olds but only 396 19-year olds in the city in 2005), a birthrate that has in recent times fallen below even the already low national average (there were 1,088 14-year olds but only 740 babies under one in the city in 2005), and a high and rising elderly ratio (nearly a third of everyone was over 65 in the city in 2005).

    But where were the ruins?

    It’s not that there weren’t any…

    Ruination had not taken hold in the way I had expected, though. Ruinology—the divination and detection of ruins—is an imprecise discipline, more art than science. As populations tip lower (and the population is falling in 535 of Japan’s 786 cities, 639 of its 757 towns, and 154 of its 184 villages), the first rubble generally builds in downtown shopping districts—the dead don’t spend—followed by the humbler sort of roadside pit-stop—the dead don’t eat—and the gasoline stand—the dead don’t drive. It takes truly monumental population loss, however, for housing to fall into shell-shocked ruin.

    Amakusa’s other city, Kami Amakusa, is a good illustration of this. Its population, 51,000 in 1960, had fallen to 32,500 by 2005, yet the number of households rose to 11,400 in 2005 from 10,200 in 1960, as the average number of people per household fell from over five to under three. By 2035, though, when Kami Amakusa’s population is projected to fall to around 18,000, the ruination will be general. A parallel story plays out on the national stage: although the population started its long slide in 2005, the number of households does not peak until 2015, at about 50.6mn, and even by 2030 is barely back to its 2005 level. Take heart, though, connoisseurs of ruin: in part because of the geographical mismatch between supply and demand, the total housing stock is expected to reach 60.4mn units in 2015, meaning that a staggering 9.8mn houses and condominiums, or 16% of the total stock, will lie vacant or derelict across the land (aside from a clutch of of holiday homes). ”

    I find this information of great importance (to me) and great interest. What is more interesting is that this scenario is forecasting on purely natural growth (lol-or lack of growth rather) cycles. If one were to throw into the mix a catalyst such as another severe global deflationary deleveraging or post peak oil after effects shocker, then one could assume that the decline you allude to will come about more rapidly.
    I don’t know where you stand on peak oil but going by our views of the economy generally one could presume that you are a little too optimistic and I am a little too pessimistic. So the truth may lie someplace in between.

    Anyway I wanted to ask you where you get all those great statistics and projections? If you have a link I would be very appreciative.

    Ranger.

    ps I am enjoying your HTB article-though I have never been there. It always sounded a ludicrous project and I love Amsterdam, the price difference of a week at either is negligible inc. flights. So I bypass that whole area.
    I have another idea for you which would expand your horizons perhaps. That is to pick a few places you could write in a good, glowing light. I could introduce a few in Kyushu should you be interested. Mind you, that wouldn’t be half as entertaining as what you do best…but might present a challenge, ne?
    All the best,
    KR.

    • Ranger,
      You are a demanding taskmaster indeed. Here are the sources for almost every fact in the passage you quoted.

      ”After peaking in 1955 at close to a quarter of a million,
      http://www.amakusa-now.com/onirepo/onirepo3.htm
      Amakusa’s population went into precipitous reverse, as youngsters flooded off the islands in search of work at lathe or till or jackhammer, falling to around 173,000 by 1980 and almost halving to below 127,000 in the summer of 2010, already back to the level of the early 19th century.
      http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%A4%A9%E8%8D%89%E5%B8%82
      http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E4%B8%8A%E5%A4%A9%E8%8D%89%E5%B8%82
      http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E8%8B%93%E5%8C%97%E7%94%BA
      From here it is poised to fall by more than a third over the next quarter century, to perhaps 80,000 in 2035, the mid-18th century level.
      http://www.ipss.go.jp/pp-shicyoson/j/shicyoson08/kekka1/kekka1.html And choose #43.
      Further out the demographic crystal ball grows murkier, but it is at least conceivable that Amakusa will return to its population level at the time of the 1637-1638 uprising by the end of this century, completing an extraordinary half-millennium of rise and decline.
      While once beset by the burden of too many mouths to feed, the whole of Amakusa is now deemed by the state to be a zone of underpopulation (過疎地域), a designation that covers an astonishing 50% of the land area of Japan, if only some 6% of its people—although this is bound to rise in coming years, as the avenging angels of depopulation sweep down from the mountains to lay claim to ever larger conurbations.
      http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E9%81%8E%E7%96%8E%E5%9C%B0%E5%9F%9F
      http://www.kaso-net.or.jp/kaso-map.htm
      Overpopulation has a biological definition—the number of people exceeds the carrying capacity of the habitat—but underpopulation, at least in a Japanese context, is more of judgment call. The word for underpopulation (過疎) only appeared in the language in 1966, and it was initially defined as falling population densities, ageing, and a growing difficulty in maintaining established lifestyle patterns as the result of a declining population.
      The population of the islands’ largest constituent municipality, Amakusa City, is falling faster than any other city of its size (50,000-100,000 people) in Japan, tumbling by more than 8% between 2005 and 2010 alone,
      http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%97%A5%E6%9C%AC%E3%81%AE%E5%B8%82%E3%81%AE%E4%BA%BA%E5%8F%A3%E9%A0%86%E4%BD%8D And sort by 増減率.
      due to a combination of continued outmigration by the young (there were 1,031 17-year olds but only 396 19-year olds in the city in 2005), a birthrate that has in recent times fallen below even the already low national average (there were 1,088 14-year olds but only 740 babies under one in the city in 2005), and a high and rising elderly ratio (nearly a third of everyone was over 65 in the city in 2005).
      http://www.city.amakusa.kumamoto.jp/statistics/pub/detail.asp?c_id=103&id=775&q=%90l%8C%FB&Search=on&radiobutton=4&now_P=1&show_num=20&type=search&sc_id=23
      Various pdfs here.
      But where were the ruins?
      It’s not that there weren’t any…
      Ruination had not taken hold in the way I had expected, though. Ruinology—the divination and detection of ruins—is an imprecise discipline, more art than science. As populations tip lower (and the population is falling in 535 of Japan’s 786 cities, 639 of its 757 towns, and 154 of its 184 villages),
      http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%97%A5%E6%9C%AC%E3%81%AE%E5%B8%82%E3%81%AE%E4%BA%BA%E5%8F%A3%E9%A0%86%E4%BD%8D
      http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%97%A5%E6%9C%AC%E3%81%AE%E7%94%BA%E3%81%AE%E4%BA%BA%E5%8F%A3%E9%A0%86%E4%BD%8D
      http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%97%A5%E6%9C%AC%E3%81%AE%E6%9D%91%E3%81%AE%E4%BA%BA%E5%8F%A3%E9%A0%86%E4%BD%8D And start counting…
      the first rubble generally builds in downtown shopping districts—the dead don’t spend—followed by the humbler sort of roadside pit-stop—the dead don’t eat—and the gasoline stand—the dead don’t drive. It takes truly monumental population loss, however, for housing to fall into shell-shocked ruin.
      Amakusa’s other city, Kami Amakusa, is a good illustration of this. Its population, 51,000 in 1960, had fallen to 32,500 by 2005, yet the number of households rose to 11,400 in 2005 from 10,200 in 1960, as the average number of people per household fell from over five to under three.
      http://www.kamiamakusa-c.kumamoto-sgn.jp/1_citizen/statistics/population/population_family/
      By 2035, though, when Kami Amakusa’s population is projected to fall to around 18,000, the ruination will be general.
      Back to: http://www.ipss.go.jp/pp-shicyoson/j/shicyoson08/kekka1/kekka1.html And choose #43.A parallel story plays out on the national stage: although the population started its long slide in 2005, the number of households does not peak until 2015, at about 50.6mn, and even by 2030 is barely back to its 2005 level. Take heart, though, connoisseurs of ruin: in part because of the geographical mismatch between supply and demand, the total housing stock is expected to reach 60.4mn units in 2015, meaning that a staggering 9.8mn houses and condominiums, or 16% of the total stock, will lie vacant or derelict across the land (aside from a clutch of holiday homes).”
      This comes from a research report prepared by the company for which I work and which is unavailable to the public but the underlying data is here in various pdfs:
      http://www.ipss.go.jp/pp-ajsetai/j/HPRJ2008/t-page.asp
      The projections for both population and households out to around 2030 are pretty much set in stone and will be accurate to within a few percentage points, because, as I said elsewhere, quoting Professor Akihiko Matsutani, they result “mainly from the demographic profile of people already alive”. If by “severe global deflationary deleveraging”, you mean the financial crisis and recession of 2008-2009, note that it had no really discernible effect on the birthrate. It would take a truly cataclysmic “post peak oil after effects shocker”, I think—oil spiking very rapidly to $1,000/bbl, say—to have much demographic impact. And I don’t think that’s going to happen.

      R

  57. Sterling stuff, R! Thank you.
    And now I have some (cataclysmic?) reading material which may be of interest to you written in 2000 though becoming more and more relevant today. It’s rather long but excellent IMHO.

    http://www9.ocn.ne.jp/~aslan/21fee.pdf

    Enjoy! I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. P56-7 onwards is of particular importance.
    You might also be interested in Socionomics which can explain drops in birthrate attrib to deflation (20 years and counting here now).

    Ranger.

    • Ranger,

      Well worth printing out Mr. Boys’ report and perusing over a glass of wine, but I have grave doubts, despite being a lover of the apocalyptic, about a scenario in which food and fuel imports to Japan simply cease in – give or take – 20 years’ time. I would guess that roughly four or five billion of world’s current population of pushing seven billion would have to die in famines before the first inhabitants of these isles succumbed to starvation. Is that really what you’re expecting? Are we really going to turn the clock back on ten millennia of human progress, invention, and creativity in twenty years?
      I’ll trade you a more pressing apocalypse. While I don’t agree with everything in Kyle Bass’ analysis by any means, and I think he’s going to lose out on his decision to finance his US mortgage in supposedly imminently to be devalued yen, he spins a good yarn at the CNBC video here:

      http://theshortsideoflong.blogspot.com/2011/02/kyle-bass-interview-on-cnbc.html

      “[We believe that] Japan sailed into the zone of insolvency many years ago and that their only hope
      going forward is this kind of pathic homeostasis that they’ve enjoyed for the last ten years”.

      Welcome to the Keynesian endpoint…

      R

      • ”Well worth printing out Mr. Boys’ report and perusing over a glass of wine, but I have grave doubts, despite being a lover of the apocalyptic, about a scenario in which food and fuel imports to Japan simply cease in – give or take – 20 years’ time. I would guess that roughly four or five billion of world’s current population of pushing seven billion would have to die in famines before the first inhabitants of these isles succumbed to starvation. Is that really what you’re expecting?”

        I don’t know, P. I’m not hoping for that but I can see the conditions for that are ‘out there’. It depends how much you weight you give to peak oil and the timeline for that.
        Japan is heavily dependant on imports of food and 47% oil (to simply run this economy) and coal, nuclear etc add up to 90 odd percent for energy imports. I think that is scary. I see a scenario for the cities differently for you. You are simply unsustainable and will endure chaos IMHO. Probably within the next 5 years. By that time it will be too late to move. You can see why I extoll the virtues of these Islands of Dread…

        ”Are we really going to turn the clock back on ten millennia of human progress, invention, and creativity in twenty years?”

        No. We will still have knowledge of those things but coupled with an inability to run them in the numbers required for the population we have ballooned to. Populations will shrink. The old will die off faster. There are less young to feed. Besides this oil chapter of our lives has been very short in the scale of things but it has allowed us to live beyond our means and the worlds. Nothing else will scale for us within 50 years. Not nuclear, coal, solar, algae, wind. They will provide but a fraction of our current power. The jobs that go along with the happy crowd in the cities will lose their rationale for being jobs…and the lefestyles they maintain.
        We could go on and on. Unfortunately I have to collect the kids now though…reality goes on.
        Thanks for the KB link. I think Japan is closer to tipping point than you. What we are seeing now on the news re politics is setting the stage IMO for a KB scenario. Keynesian endpoint indeed. About bloody time.

        Ranger.

  58. Good stuff, I’ve enjoyed your pictures.

    Still, nothing about small town decay is unique to Japan – ask anyone who’s been to upstate NY or western MA since the mid 80s. Good times come and go.

  59. Richard,
    Hoping you are well and unaffected by the quake.
    This may not seem necessary at this particular juncture but the offer is open should you so need. I think things may well get tough and tougher in Tokyo.
    Amakusa is also about as far on mainland Japan as you can get from Fukushima which may or may not be ‘contained’. You know its not Shibuya but it is warm and friendly and you can consider it a port in stormy weather should needs must.
    Best wishes,
    Ranger

    • Good warm-hearted offer from you, Kyushu Ranger.

      This is really a tough time, and for different reasons than you finance guys have been looking at before; one way the world’s truer complexity shows. On the positive side, I wonder if dealing with it will give some impetus to working better and more imaginatively with the rest – we can so hope.

      Anyway, right now I think many of us in the rest of the world are crossing our fingers for everyone affected. A solidarity there.

      Regards to each, in this better corner of the discussions,
      Clive

    • Many thanks for your concern. I’m fine – I was in possibly the safest place in Tokyo, a 37-storey office tower that is bolted to the bedrock. My other half is from Miyagi, one of the worst affected prefectures. Although he’s from the inland part, he has an aunt who lives 100m from the sea in the town next door to the first minute of this:

      and although she contacted her son immediately after the quake, nothing has been heard of her since the tsunami.
      I thought about writing something for Spike, but words fail me.

      • Kyushu Ranger

        Good to hear you are ok. I am sorry to hear your news. There really is nothing like this. My relatives in Tokyo are having trouble finding some foods and other necessities. Boxes are being prepared. Panic will set in I am sure and I haven’t even checked the news yet today. So offer still stands when/if you need to bolt.
        Its hard to believe I am here in the same country-such is the divisive nature of this nightmare. Things just proceeding as usual here as far as I can make out…this is partly shock, I am sure, apart from the fact that we are looking in on this from out TV. Is this happening? A very strange sensation. I am sure it will affect every one in every corner of Japan as the situation and the ramifications unfold.
        Stay safe.
        Ranger.

  60. Kyushu Ranger

    BTW, did the aunt survive?

    • Yes, she did, thank you Ranger. Just. The story’s a little fractured, as the other half doesn’t want to talk about it, but it seems she was carried by the second wave, along with her husband and a cousin, up on to the second floor of a school gym where they spent a freezing night in a muddy cesspit of dead bodies.

  61. If you want desolation in Kyushu, there is Minamata, just near the Shiranui sea mentioned so often in your comments.

    Minamata is probably the first town in Japan to be well known for its pollution, although there was the Ashio copper mine incident during the turn of 19th century as well.

    Whole town was poisoned by mercury, and I don’t think things have picked up since that, since the mercury poisoning forced the factory which was producing it to close down.

  62. It seems the guy really didn’t have much to go on in the first place about Amakusa except the fastest drop in land value, so he dredged up all these ostentatious dark histories and re-invented his geography theories to fit his pre-conceived notion of a beautiful little place in Kyushu being the lousy shit hole in his imagination.

    Simply reading the first paragraph about Amakusa’s land features betrays the guy’s dishonesty–those little offshore islands are nature’s best bequeath to Amakusa, just as similar land layouts to Hong Kong and to the Bay of Islands in New Zealand.

    The gorgeous coastline in Amakusa reminds me of California and more TV commercials are shot against the backdrops of CA’s Amakusa-esque coastlines than against the pretty faces of the ubiquitous Alex Baldwin and Jessica Simpson–and California’s land and real estate values are probably worse than Amakusa’s, with Sacramento running something like a $16bn budget deficit. You don’t simply trash CA’s natural beauty because of its bad economy, do you?

    If one wants to talk about real shit holes in Kyushu, places like Sakurajima will be much better choices.

    There is a term in epistemology for this and it’s called teleology–trust me, it’s the worst offense a writer or a journalist can do to lose credibility.

    I will be back to the good old U.S.A next week, but I can honestly tell you that Amakusa is one of the most beautiful places I have visited in all of Japan, just as I can also say that Florida is one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. despite its real estate bubble that is much much worse than any places in Japan–trust me, I have a house in South Florida and I know the situation here–yet millions still appreciate FL’s beaches and palm trees, especially those rather decadent Europeans with way too many holidays in their hands than they know what to do with them.

    MD

    • Glad you enjoyed it.
      “re-invented his geography theories”
      What does that mean? It doesn’t mean anything to me.
      “Simply reading the first paragraph about Amakusa’s land features betrays the guy’s dishonesty–those little offshore islands are nature’s best bequeath to Amakusa, just as similar land layouts to Hong Kong and to the Bay of Islands in New Zealand.”
      Read: “I find those little islands aesthetically pleasing”. Although they haven’t done much good for Amakusa. Amazingly, Amakusa is not Hong Kong—did you notice?
      “There is a term in epistemology for this and it’s called teleology–trust me, it’s the worst offense a writer or a journalist can do to lose credibility.”
      There is a term in bullshit for this and it’s called using long words ending in –ology that the author pretends to understand but doesn’t. Trust me, it’s the worst offense a human can do to lose credibility.
      Boiled down to its poisonously vapid essence, all you have to say is that, “I like Amakusa for a certain picturesque quality and I’d much rather ignore its serious social problems.” Fine, whatever, de gustibus nil disputandum. But to attempt to *argue* about it shows extraordinary immaturity. You remind me of an Asperger syndrome patient—normally, around four years of age, children come to realize that they can—and should—put themselves in other people’s shoes and realize that others may have different (and possibly superior) information to them. You clearly haven’t quite got to the mental age of four yet.

  63. Kyushu Ranger

    Just been for a swim and the water was beautiful. Picked up some fresh fish and will be having that tonight, sushied up with local rice and local ice cold somen noodles, and some homemade Amakusan umeshu. Makes up for all the rain we have had recently.
    Now about those serious social problems Amakusa- errr..remind me I’ve forgotton.
    Pachiguy-amakusa is wonderful in summer. Land of woods and water. Wait, that’s Jamaica, isn’t it? But Amakusa with a bit of light reggae music feels like miles away. Fancy a break from the Geiger counter? ;)
    Respect,
    Ranger.

  64. Pen name: Asashouryuu

    I came across this post while nostalgically looking up information on my old stomping grounds.

    Pachiguy: I loved your article! However, I agree with Ranger’s basic premise that you were looking for dreariness and found it — and wrote it up beautifully!

    Kyuushuu Ranger: I totally agree with you about Amakusa being a far more pleasant place than the article intimates, with a future that is potentially more bright than many would think. But Amakusa hasn’t yet seen the bottom of its glass of woe, and even if there is some coming apocalypse, the little guy always gets it worse than the moneyed fat-cats.

    RL: the dismissiveness sent your way seems, yes, overblown and indicaticative of an argument gone on too long and of feathers somewhat ruffled.

    In short, I loved the article and enjoyed the commentary (until about 2/3 down when I stopped reading).

    I lived in old Hondo-shi from 2001-2004, when my now ex-wife (unwisely) insisted we move in with her mother in Kagoshima-shi. I found the people of Amakusa to be wonderfully friendly and welcoming, the countryside beautiful, and the environment, by-and-large, less degraded than that of the rest of Kyuushuu. In some ways, Amakusa was an Eden for me, where one could walk 20 minutes east to the ocean or 20 minutes west to magical bamboo stands, mountain streams, and forest glades.

    A few points before I wind up and sign off: The ruins and desolation that you were seeking, Pachiguy, are to be found in the forests. A jaunt into the mountains around each town will find you hiking over terraces which presumably once saw barley and rice but which now hold only wild bamboo and the abandoned remnants of nightsoil pots. And deep in the forest you will meet with entire houses left to the elements, with photos, knick-knacks, clothing, and rotting tatami abandoned.

    I had something to say further, but I’m now more beers in than is wise, and so I shall call it quits. Thank you for an engaging article. Thank you for informed comments. I will book-mark this site and check in later. I would go back to Amakusa, but the lack of jobs is a significant problem, and the pauper’s existence that I now lead in the U.S. is another minor impediment.

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