Shimo Nita: When you’re old…

Words: Spike Japan
Photos: Juergen Specht 

In the metaphysical streets, the profoundest forms
Go with the walker subtly walking there.
These he destroys with wafts of wakening

An Ordinary Evening in New Haven, Wallace Stevens

Step off the expressway a couple of hours north-northwest of Tokyo, just as the blue haze parts across the mountains, their cragged contours taking on more certain shape, and the tempo of time the traveler is duty-bound to carry from the city in the barrage of traffic slows to a somber adagio on the half-deserted streets of Shimo Nita, streets where time slinks down the dooryard gardens between houses and curls up to catnap in some sunny spot.

Save for one brief moment, Shimo Nita (“Lower Goodfield”, perhaps) has always been on the margins of history: it grew up as the last post town before the mountains on a path for princesses in eras when the only way around the country for most was to walk, an alternative to the main inland route west to Kyoto. These paths for princesses were quieter, less frequented by bandits, had gentler inclines than the major thoroughfares and were hence, it was thought, more suited to the fairer sex. Along this princess path goods were trafficked, too: rice, silk and hemp, mulberry for paper and silkworms, tobacco and lacquer, even whetstones for the Imperial family.

In 1864, Shimo Nita was thrust into the spotlight, giving its name to a war—more of a skirmish, truth be told, one that lasted just a day and left just forty dead—between the pro-emperor, anti-foreigner Goblin Party, who won the battle but lost the war, and the forces of the shogunate, but it soon returned to somnolent obscurity. While not left unsmirched by the modern world—the railway arrived in 1897, to be electrified as early as 1924—the town’s subdued heyday came in the middle of the last century, when the encircling mountains yielded lumber and, still, silk and whetstones, but mountain living was tough and as the mountains emptied, so the town lost its role as an entrepôt. Artisanal sericulture died a long, slow death as woolen suits and cotton skirts saw off kimono for everyday attire; forestry a short, sharp death as the exigencies of post-war reconstruction dictated the use of cheaper timber than could be felled in homegrown forests.

In 1960, Shimo Nita was home to nearly 21,000 folk, today fewer than 9,000, in another quarter century maybe only 5,000. It’s a town now of no consequence, one that will never feature on the breathless pages of the fashionable travel guides, never be nominated for World Heritage Site status, never be the source of gossip in the salons of worldly-wise cities, but I love it just the same: I love its ducks that dabble neath the dappling boughs on a vacillating river caught between the furies of its youth and silty torpidity, I love its clouds of tiny daylight moths that drifted down one autumn afternoon to alight on bench and car and tile, I love its stone pathways, crudely hewn from mossy riverbank boulders, but which remain so much a part of them, too.

Shimo Nita’s a venerable town now, with two in five of its residents pensioners—the same ratio that’s projected for the nation as a whole these forty years’ hence—and if it has one thing left to teach the world, it’s how to embrace the indignities and infirmities of old age, the aching joints and the shuffling gait, the slapstick and the pratfalls, the jammed jar-lid that refuses to open and the loft-door to the attic of memory that refuses to budge.

Like many a railhead, Shimo Nita feels like a waystation en route to somewhere else, and so it has been for me in my visits over the last couple of years, as it’s served as a gateway to a magical place in the mountains that will star in a later post. Nevertheless, I’ve never failed to tarry too long in its zelkova-shaded temples, never failed to malinger in its drowsy afternoons grown bluebottle fat and sated by the sun. What follows, then, is an encomium to its genus loci, the tale of a random tour taken around a town that dares to wear its trousers rolled one noon hour late in the tenth month by me and my shutterbug friend Juergen, who has sadly vanished from these shores in a puff of strontium-laced smoke and whose photo surtitle ellipses are all preceded by the unspoken “When you’re old…”   

…you no longer have time for the games of youth

 

Arcade machines under a Buzz Lightyear flag left behind in a not-long abandoned game center on the fringes of town. While most high schools have a few hundred students in each academic year, Shimo Nita High, whose wards are reputed to have brought down the convenience store nearest the school gates with the ferocity of their pick–pocketing, struggles to fill two classes of forty most years, and will struggle still harder in the coming decades, for while the town witnessed nearly 150 births in 1989, it could only muster 55 in 1999 and 33 in 2004.

you forget from time to time if you’re coming or going

 

The severely skeletal rectilinearity of this house, its Mondrian geometries muted into burnt umbers, whisky browns, and sour creams, has made it a favorite port of whistle-stop tours, and I had paid no heed to whether it was coming or going. Juergen pointed to the newness of the windows and the sacks of cement on the floor; it had been coming and now was going, and will henceforth only be the home of golden silk orb-weavers (Nephila clavata, ジョロウグモ[Jorō Spider] 女郎蜘蛛 [“harlot spider”], 上臈蜘蛛 [“duchess spider”]), whose females—far more deadly than the males—with their bumblebee black-and-yellow legs and distended, egg-filled, striped candy lime and dirty cyan abdomens, made circumnavigation a challenge. No drab and puny males were to be found; they had all been devoured by the females, quite likely within moments of mating.

sometimes good luck doesn’t come your way, however hard you pray 

 

This brace of mournsome maneki neko beckoning-cat good luck charms hadn’t been enough to save their riverside restaurant and karaoke bar, which might have been too adventurously French in inspiration, if the battered multivolume Larousse Gastronomique left on a shelf by the door was any clue. The last utility bill in the letterbox was five years old.  

 

A pair of oily, owly Daruma dolls—with both eyes painted in, so someone’s wishes must have come true—on the greasy shelves of the decrepit warehouse of a long defunct trucking outfit, now keeping oily, owly watch on the bats and swifts that make these rafters home. 

you live more in hope than expectation  

“Looking for a tenant” wails a forlorn signboard outside the French restaurant. “Property for lease” plead notices in the windows of a lorry-dented Fujimart supermarket, which shut down back in spring 2004. It would be a brave restaurateur or fruit and veg entrepreneur that took the signs up on their solicitations. 

you have to put up with the indignities of the modern age

 

A kura storehouse sheathed long after its erection in now peeling and rusting steel sheets, the last vestige of the estate of which it once formed a part, looks down with rheumy condescension on the Tonka excavator as it awaits its fate. 

you can get wrapped up in memories of the past 

 

“Stylish necessities” promises the sign on the front of this dry-goods retailer, Juichiya (“number eleven shop”), in the center of Shimo Nita, whose interior has been left undisturbed since, well, since when? One clue was furnished by the ad on the back wall for Pomgee Cosmetics (ポンジー化粧品), which later research revealed had gone bankrupt—in 1967. The doors to the store had never been ajar on my previous visits, and I pressed Juergen forward to document the dusty time-capsule, with its Bakelite telephones and ancient choba dansu merchant’s chest, but a rustling emanated from within and we fled cackling like a couple of scrumper kids caught in the act of pilfering apples, for as the satellite dish on its ramshackle flanks attests, Juichiya is still possessed of a human pulse.

“Ach, wonderful, this is a wonderful town,” Juergen exclaimed to a woman minding her hardware store opposite, who reacted with naked bemusement. Sparked by a poster for her daughter’s school festival, we fell to chatting for a moment before she fluttered, “But look at me, I’m talking in Japanese!” for all the world as if she had gone to bed the night before a monoglot native speaker of Inuktitut, and we wandered on. 

you can close your eyes to newfangled things 

 

The provenance and purpose of the stone warehouse above has eluded my grasp, much to my chagrin, but the warehouse below, the Number Two Warehouse, dates from 1926, three years’ after the Great Kanto Earthquake, and is one of the very last brick structures ever put up in this earthquake nation. Built to store silkworm cocoons and raw silk, it served after the demise of silk for a couple of postwar decades as a transit house for the flour of konnyakukonjac or devil’s tongue—a local specialty, before lapsing into quiescent desuetude.

Now you might ask—and I’d ask with you—why these magnificent edifices—and there’s no dearth of them in Shimo Nita—are not being hawked off to Tokyoite moneybags as besso holiday homes and restored to within an inch of their precious lives, to which the only—elliptical and anecdotal—answer I can offer is to recount a recent tale, when I doughtily sallied forth with the other half to lose my flat-pack virginity at Ikea—possibly the last adult in the developed world to do so—in the grittily edgeville Tokyo exurb of Misato, all thudding elevated superhighways, cacophony of sodium and neon, and gargantuan retail parks. We took a wrong turn on the road to flat-pack paradise and I executed a crunchy youey down an admittedly lumpy and gravelly industrial estate driveway, at which my partner in time shuddered, “God, this really is the countryside, isn’t it? Why does anyone live here?”

(Concerned readers might care to learn that we eventually penetrated the cavernous orifices of Ikea, although we were so browbeaten and bludgeoned by its catastrophic blandness and smug Swedishness that we rebelled and walked out without releasing a yen of the jism in our wallets to the blue-and-yellow spider, without adding an öre to Ingvar Kamprad’s fortune, and without surrendering so much as a nibble of our körsbär, resolving in future to allot furniture funds only to totems of good taste—zebra-skin rugs, stuffed moose-heads, and rouge-lipped sofas—although I concede that in immediate evolutionary terms, our stratagem was a failure, our fungible money-sperm anyway only as good—or bad—as anyone else’s. But as so often I digress.) 

your skills can get a little rusty

  

A no-entry sign by the station; rust grows like lichen on this rusty orb, an image of a rusted Earth from a latter-day Apollo 11. Is that Japan, streaked with blue, off to the east?

  

One for the rail buffs: the slab side of an all-steel covered goods wagon (鉄製有蓋車), one of six left in the nation, all of which are to be found on the Joshin line to Shimo Nita, and which once upon a time transported quicklime, indispensible in the preparation of devil’s tongue. These watertight boxcars had to be made wholly of steel as quicklime reacts with water vigorously enough to ignite combustible material.

  

The sign of a Tokio Marine insurance agent (no, I don’t know why they spell it with an “i”, either), in the warehouse district by the station.

 

A wryly smiling padlock in the warehouse district.

 

The Number One Warehouse (1921). 

 

An ad for the Pelican-bin delivery services of Nippon Express, the nation’s largest cargo hauler, in the warehouse district, whose emptinesses carry with them all the mystery and melancholy of Giorgio de Chirico’s streets.

  

Initially I thought this prayer, which is generally rendered as “May peace prevail on earth” but which in Japanese says something slightly different—“May the people of the earth be at peace” (世界人類が平和でありますように) was an offering from Nichiren Buddhism, but it turns out to be the call to arms of one of Japan’s myriad new religions, Byakko Shinkokai (白光真宏会, “White Light Association”), generally known in English simply as Byakko, which its website misleadingly claims is a Japanese word meaning “white light”—while there is a Japanese word for “white light” written in the same way (白光), it is pronounced “hakkō” (the macron over the “o” lengthens the vowel sound) and not “byakko” or “byakkō”, so it would seem that this religion’s dissimulations start with its very name, inspired, the website informs us, by “the clear and free-flowing light emitted from the deepest and highest state of a human being”.  

Byakko was founded in 1955—coincidentally the year of the birth of Shoko Asahara, the fanatical leader of the murderous Aum Shinrikyo cult responsible for the March 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system—by one Masahisa Goi (1916-1980), who, we are told, “at the age of thirty three … attained oneness with his divine self”. There are other uncanny parallels with Asahara and Aum: like Asahara, Goi was one of nine children, like Asahara, Goi was born into poverty, and as Aum once did, Byakko maintains a complex in the foothills of Mount Fuji, about which the website wants us to know that “the highly evolved Fuji Sanctuary is overflowing with a spiritual energy”. I suspect, too, that when the Byakko website alludes to Goi’s “fragile physical condition” and “health problems” that “led him to various esoteric studies in spiritual healing”, Goi is guilty of passing off mental illness as divine inspiration—a psychopathological foible common enough, to be sure, in the early days of the three great and atrocious monotheisms.

As far as I am prepared to investigate, the belief system of Byakko is deafeningly simple: that the recitation of the prayer “May peace prevail on earth”, with sufficient ardor, will cause it to come true, and that this pacific state will have to substitute for the afterlife, on which Byakko seems to be silent. Again the website: “Masahisa Goi believed that if we put all our efforts in this prayer for peace, it would have a uniting and positive effect on all humanity, as the words themselves carry a high positive vibration.”

The English-language prayer in full reads thus:

May peace prevail on Earth
May peace be in our homes and countries
May our missions be accomplished
We thank thee, guardian deities and spirits

The Japanese-language prayer in full reads thus:

世界人類が平和でありますように
日本が平和でありますように
私達の天命が完うされますように
守護霊様ありがとうございます
守護神様ありがとうございます

Which more faithfully translated reads thus:

May the people of the earth be at peace
May Japan be at peace
May we fulfill our divine mission
Thank you, guardian spirits
Thank you, guardian deities

In its pared-down focus on a single incantation, Byakko resembles Nichiren Buddhism (and its sinister offshoot sect, Soka Gakkai), which accords the chanters of namu myōhō renge kyō (南無妙法蓮華經, “I devote myself to the wonderful law of the Lotus Flower Sutra”) a passport to enlightenment.  

As a religion, Byakko doesn’t appear to have been a rousing success; it greatest accomplishment, perhaps, has been the “peace pole”, on which the first line of the prayer, “May peace prevail on earth”, is inscribed. The World Peace Prayer Society claims that more than 100,000 of these peace poles have been planted worldwide—perhaps there’s one in your neighborhood.

Whoever dreamt up that five-word rendition, “May peace prevail on earth”, of the original Japanese was a genius of interpretation, of that there can be no doubt, for who could possibly be opposed to peace—it would be like taking arms against applehood and mother pie, would it not? Except this utopian peace, unencumbered as it is by any philosophical underpinnings, untrammeled as it is even by any qualifying adjective, would leave no room for Dante, or Shakespeare, or Goethe; noh, or kabuki, or bunraku; jazz, or blues, or hip-hop; and in a world of finite resources and infinite desires, no room for competition, aspiration, or possessions of any kind, for this is not a peace which homo sapiens, after just ten millennia of domestication, can reasonably attain, but the peace of the grave.

It’s easy enough, of course, to mock the charlatanry of new religions (although just because something is easy doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done), especially one as flimsy and flaky as Byakko, but the only properties established religions have that the new ones lack are the encrustations of complexity that give the scribes and the exegetes and the chiliasts something to argue over, and the polish on the veneer of their age that buffs up their chatoyancy.  

But again I digress.

 

Talking of quackery, here’s an ad, whose graphic design dates it to no later than the mid-1970s, for the Nishida slimming method (lose five kilos in ten days), as promoted by the Japan Corpulence Consultants Society. Searches uncover no trace of either, although the pharmacy at which it was available, Amiya Yakkokyu, still exists.

  

とびだしはあぶないよ
車は急に止まらない

Dashing out into the road
Is dangerous
Cars can’t stop quickly

I was drawn to the taxi’s amateurish lack of perspective and the cap popping off the boy’s straw-yellow hair. Signwriters are so much more dutifully and dully professional these days. The sign speaks of the coming of the car—road traffic accident deaths peaked in 1970 at nearly 17,000, with many of the victims child pedestrians, and fell below 5,000 in 2009, with many of the victims elderly drivers, but the signage hasn’t quite kept pace, and these tobidashi signs are still everywhere.

An anzen daiichi safety first sign featuring the archaic “dai” as the third character from the left, rather than the current one (第); the “safety first” slogan was seemingly coined around 1900 by US jurist, steel magnate, and industrial safety pioneer Elbert Henry Gary (who gave his name to the steeltown of Gary, Indiana, whence Michael and Janet and all the other Jacksons hailed) and soon after imported into Japan, where the green cross was added by another industrial safety pioneer, Toshibumi Gamo, in 1919, and where it is now utterly ubiquitous, if the custom that it preaches is sometimes, as at Fukushima Daiichi, more honored in the breach than the observance. It is also the slogan under which the Tories of Stanley Baldwin campaigned in the UK general election of May 1929 (they lost) and the slogan parodied in the “safety fast” 1930s ads for the MG sports cars of Morris Garages—but again, reprehensibly, I digress. 

you may still feel like throwing open your shutters every once in a while

 

Kura storehouses are the unheralded glories of demotic architecture, and Shimo Nita has no shortage of fine examples, although this one may have had its thick white shikui slaked-lime fireproof windows replaced with metal ones at some point down the years. 

you don’t always use the politically correct expression

 

A pendant delivery box for “homo” milk from Morinaga Milk, made by the “ultra process”, presided over by the Morinaga angel. Milk delivery, once the province of the hordes of samurai left destitute by the Meiji Restoration, has for most gone the way of the milk bottle. 

it’s often more comfortable in the shade

 

Only one character, the almost obsolete one for iron and steel (鐵 has been forced out by the easier 鉄), remains legible above this disused foundry.

you may have to rely on other people’s cast-offs

 

One more for the rail buffs: the two-carriage EMU on the left, with its pasty white-bread face, rolled out of Seibu Railway’s Tokorozawa Works on the outskirts of Tokyo in December 1964, was retrofitted with air-conditioning in August 1978, and was flogged off to the perennially cash-strapped operator of the Joshin line in May 1992, where it remains, now just a few years shy of its fiftieth birthday, to this day. 

some days you forget what year it is

 

A calendar from 1981, which began with the entry of Greece into the European Union on January 1 and ended with Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings’ coup d’état in Ghana on December 31, in the living-room of a deserted house in the center of town.

(to be continued)

55 responses to “Shimo Nita: When you’re old…

  1. Haha, thank you Spike! You made my Japanese sound so much better than it is, even a German ‘Ach’ is sprinkled in😉

    But I agree, what a wonderful little rusty town! So much to discover and I look forward to you revealing the astonishing time capsule in your next installation.

  2. Reminds me of Cornwall.

  3. Thanks again Spike … wish I could do similar for the whole world in fact.

  4. I assume that your tongue is in your cheek when you aplogise for digressing – of course it is – for surely Spike is nothing if not one long, eloquent digression. Your digression into Byakko is especially fascinating to me.

    It’s good (for this Westerner) to know that New Age superstitions are not confined to the decadent West, as I had assumed. If I were a consultant to Byakko, I’d advise them to get the word ‘quantum’ into their marketing blurb somewhere, for example, “the highly evolved Fuji Sanctuary is overflowing with a quantum spiritual energy”, perhaps adding, “drawing on the infinite power reserves of the dark matter that pervades us all.” So much more plausible than the original, don’t you think?

    You must be familiar with the urban legend that one in ten Europeans is conceived on an Ikea bed (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/4254181.stm). What’s the ratio in Japan?

    • “I assume that your tongue is in your cheek when you aplogise for digressing…”
      Of course it is.
      “You must be familiar with the urban legend that one in ten Europeans is conceived on an Ikea bed”
      No, I wasn’t. Actually, I’m surprised that the percentage isn’t higher. Good to see from the BBC link that I can’t be accused of (too much) hyperbole when I claimed that I was possibly the last adult in the developed world (to attempt) to lose my flat-pack virginity.
      The percentage would be far, far, lower in Japan. Ikea failed in its initial foray here, from1974-1986, and returned only in 2006. There are currently only five stores, and to judge from the Misato one on a late Sunday afternoon, they’re struggling again–half the thirty-odd checkout lines were closed. Japan is the graveyard of so many a Western retailer…

  5. Hello, Spike!

    Actually, “Tokio” is the old French spelling of “Tokyo” (and perhaps also the spelling in other languages). I have a 1946 French book that uses this old transcription of Japanese; I guess Romanji wasn’t fully normalized at the time.

    • Yes, you’re on the right lines, of course. I should have thought about it a little more before making my flippant comment. “Tokio” was a common enough alternative spelling until the early years of the 20th century, as you can tell from the titles of these dusty tomes:
      Clarence Ludlow Brownell (1864-1927), Tales from Tokio (1900)
      Edward Greey, The Wonderful City of Tokio (you can read about his 1888 suicide in the New York Times here )
      Louis Livingston Seaman (1851-1932), From Tokio Through Manchuria With the Japanese (1904)
      Tokio Marine was founded in 1879, well before “Tokio” lapsed into disfavour. Still, you’d’ve thought they might have considered updating their English name at some point or other over the last 100 years…

  6. Just a brief defence of spiders in general and orb-weavers in particular!
    I presume you mean female Nephila clavata are deadly to the males of the species rather than to humans. “Far more deadly than the males”, how many people in Japan have died from Golden orb-weaver bite? I would hate your post to set of a wave of anti-spider activity in Japan!
    Orb-weaver spiders in general are pretty harmless, including to my knowledge Nephila clavata (including Joro and Harlot spiders – are they a different species or just different local names?). Orb-weavers do have a venom in their bite but it is not fatal to humans and you would really have to go out of your way to get bitten.
    In fact, although they may eat their male companions, this is not really a characteristic behaviour of orb-weavers, the male might be unlucky and get mistaken for a bug but unlike say the Australian redback spider, it is not the inevitable fate of the male.
    Relax about the orb-weavers; they are spectacular creatures and very useful pest controllers. So they may eat the occasional mate; who amongst us hasn’t been tempted to do the same.
    But seriously, another great post with appropriate emphasis on the melancholy of rust and decline.

    • One of the fascinations of researching and writing these posts is never knowing in what obscure corner of the garden of knowledge you will meet someone else. The reference “far more deadly than the male” was a jokey nod to Rudyard Kipling’s wonderful if decidedly non-PC poem, “The Female of the Species”, whose first verse runs like this:

      When the Himalayan peasant meets the he-bear in his pride,
      He shouts to scare the monster, who will often turn aside.
      But the she-bear thus accosted rends the peasant tooth and nail.
      For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

      and can be found in its entirety here.
      Believe it or not, I did wonder when adding that aside whether someone would call me on it. While Kipling is indeed referring the deadliness to humans of the she-bear, the cobra, and the squaw, I thought that I could get away with a more generalized deadliness–to prey and to her mates–obviously not!
      I realized in the course of my research that Nephila clavata are not deadly to humans (indeed, I don’t think there is a spider in Japan that is) but they are venomous (of course) and apparently their neurotoxin has unusual properties.
      I’d like to see any stats you might have about the frequency of cannibalism in golden orb-weavers–I thought this video was pretty scary… Also, here’s naturalist Rowan Hooper profiling the Joro Spider in the Japan TImes, where he says the males run a “considerable risk” of being devoured. Perhaps our female golden orb-weavers are more aggressive than Australian ones?
      The name “Harlot Spider” is just my literal translation of one of the Japanese names for them (女郎蜘蛛). I suspect that “Duchess Spider”, my very approximate translation of the very tricky Japanese (上臈蜘蛛) is a recent attempt to rid them of the stigma that surrounds the “harlot” epithet.
      I would hate to set off a wave of anti-spider activity in Japan, too, so I’m glad we’ve had the opportunity for this exchange!

      • Stats about frequency of cannibalism in golden orb-weavers? Sorry, I don’t have that on hand!
        I guess the difference (as far as i know, I am only an amateur arachnologist) is that red-backs (Latrodectus hasselti) intentionally eat their mates; according to the big W males deliberately impale themselves on the female fangs (dear me, the things males will do for a cheap thrill) but even then only 65% get eaten (Andrade, Maydianne C.B. Behavioral Ecology (2003), 14:531–538 – good to see someone has been counting), whereas in most other species the female seemingly mistakes the tiny male for prey rather than gobbling them up in a post-coital frenzy.
        Harlot difficult to distinguish from Duchess in Japanese; what does this imply? Harlot is such a good earthy word, its use should be encouraged!

      • I remembered the big orb spiders in my garden back in Australia when I saw these pictures – I had no idea whether they were dangerous to humans, but I`d always assumed not. Agreed that they are useful pest controllers as well as being visually stunning!

  7. I have nothing of real value to contribute with my comment, I just wanted to thank you, dear author, for the tenacity of Spike Japan. As grieving as it’s presented at times, every single article of yours has been a learning experience about Japan for me. Looking forward to the follow-up.

  8. @CoinKoin: Tokyo is rendered as “Tokio” in contemporary German.

    @Spike: living close to one of the Seibu lines, I’m pretty sure the train in the middle is a Seibu one. The one on the left looks very much like a JR (JNR?) creation..

    • If you go midway down this link, you’ll see that the “official” name of the electric multiple unit (EMU) on the left is クモハ151-152, and it’s history is detailed here. The EMU in the middle is one of the 上信電鉄500形電車, also hand-me-downs from Seibu, this time in 2004-2005. Please let me know if you think I’m missing anything…

      • RandomPedant

        Pleased to be corrected🙂 I thought I was quite familiar with the Seibu-typical train “look”, this one is obviously well before my time. From the 2nd link: “前面は国鉄101系電車に影響された切妻3枚連続窓” explains my confusion. I might just go and visit it, I have a penchant for old machinery which is still in every day use.

  9. As always, thanks for opening my eyes a little more by sharing your wanderings through Japan with us.

    Have you ever met Alex Kerr in Kyouto? I’ll guess you’ve probably read his book _Dogs and Demons_. He’s had a lot of the same experiences as you living in Japan these past umpty years.

  10. Your erudite ramblings have me, for a while, forgetful of such current woes as Fukushima and mounting wars.

    I cannot put pen to paper/finger to keyboard about all I have seen during my 68 years growing up during and after WW2 in England, then migrating to Australia in 1971.

    I have seen all that you describe (in essence) about Japan … I have seen it in France, Germany, Belgium and Libya too, where I lived for a while. (Libya is a tragedy unfolding of epic proportions,)

    Sure nostalgia breeds somewhat false images/imaginings about a simpler and more pleasant past, but there really were better times (if brief) when I, and millions of others rode a bike to work and had little or no electricity.

  11. ichinensanzen

    I have been a very keen reader of your work and was particularly impressed not only with your extremely interesting subject matter, writing style but also the manner in which you have held other writers of Japan to such high reporting standards.

    Essentially Im a big fan of your work…..

    Little wonder then was my dismay at your cheap one-off throw away about Soka Gakkai and I quote “In its pared-down focus on a single incantation, Byakko resembles Nichiren Buddhism (and its sinister offshoot sect, Soka Gakkai),….” I see… “sinister offshoot …..

    So mister, lets see where you nail your true colours to the mast in this instance. Given your treatment of other reporters for sloppy comments and in the interests of consistency I would expect nothing less that a full retraction or else a justification.

    • Here’s British journalist Polly Toynbee on Soka Gakkai founder Daisaku Ikeda from the BBC’s 1995 documentary, “The Chanting Millions”, which as I’m sure you’re aware, Soka Gakkai did everything in its power to suppress: “I think it would be hard to imagine a less spiritual man. He was in every way earthly. A powerful megalomania; we got this aura of power from him that was extremely alarming. We then went, on another day with him, to some huge Nuremberg style rally in a stadium, where everything was to the greater worship of him. And again, what he really liked was this feeling of power.”
      As a firm adherent of the separation of church/religion and state–not something practised by my country, which is disgraceful, too–I find Soka Gakkai’s attempt to influence politics via the Seikyo Shimbun and New Komeito extremely sinister, and that alone is enough in my book to justify the epithet.
      Round two?

      • Excellent retort. As a victim of eighteen years of RC indoctrination I know that faith in the hands of authorities will be abused as I know the sun rises in the east (or the Earth rolls towards it if one wants to be pedantic), even if such a thing as faith could be valid. In the case of the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church’: abused children, sidelined women, closeted homosexuals (in and out of ‘the cloth’), and a rather trashy and… unchristian way of worshipping demi-gods and idols.

        But why preach to the converted, or argue logic with people who did not come to their beliefs by any such route? There are people allergic to hypocrisy and megalomania, and there are people with ‘faith’.

      • “not something practised by my country, which is disgraceful, too”

        Very interesting words. You are living in Japan, you are married to a Japanese, so I guess you even have Japanese citizenship; however you still refer to the UK as “my country”. Is integration in Japan too difficult, so that you cannot consider yourself Japanese? Or is it simply a personal choice, or a wording issue?

      • Oh, I don’t think they are such interesting words at all.
        “You are living in Japan”
        Correct.
        “You are married to a Japanese”
        Incorrect. A presumptuous supposition. I live in “sin” (hah!), as the Japanese state does not permit same-sex marriages or civil unions, nor will it for many a year.
        “I guess you even have Japanese citizenship”
        Incorrect. Very few Westerners ever take out Japanese citizenship, for whatever reason.
        “Is integration in Japan too difficult?”
        It is difficult, undoubtedly, but it would be as bizarre to consider myself Japanese, having arrived here aged 28 and spent 16 years in the country, as it would be to have arrived in, Italy say, at the same age, spent the same time there, and consider myself Italian. Does that make sense?

      • You are living in Japan, you are married to a Japanese, so I guess you even have Japanese citizenship

        I doubt he has Japanese citizenship, judging by his writings.

      • You’re absolutely correct, although I’d foolishly like to think that the question was independent of what I write.

      • “Does that make sense?”

        Yes, sorry. Mis-judging by your knowledge of Japan, I had assumed you had spent most of your life here. Also, sorry for this supposition : not being a native english speaker, I sometimes tend to jump to somewhat simplified and limited interpretations of your writing – definitely my fault.

        “I’d foolishly like to think that the question was independent of what I write.”

        Well, here, for example, I’m not sure I fully understand your point – what kind of link would you be thinking of? Of course, I would never have asked you anything if I hadn’t found your blog. But, if I have offensed you, I’m deeply sorry, I really didn’t meant to.

    • Aw, c’mon, you can do better ‘n that, ichinensanzen! I do feel bad about taking on Texan Buddhists, because you’se such easy pickin’, but really, “The One Instant of Mind Containing Three Thousand Existential Spaces”. Do me a favour! Gimme a break! Try a little harder!

  12. How wonderful to see both you and Jurgen in the same article! I’ve enjoyed Mr. Specht’s views of Japan for several years, eg…

    http://www.juergenspecht.com/explore/tag/futuristic/

    (But please don’t give up _your_ photography.)

    MF

    • Thank you so much for that, and I’m sure Mr Specht will be pleased too! Kind words like yours keep me going.

  13. Thank you for this well written, although melancholy, armchair tour of the area. Like so many pockets of the more rural areas of Japan, this place also can be easily overlooked. It is only if you can just stay still and quiet long enough that one can uncover the beauty that was and appreciate what still remains.

  14. There are at least a half dozen of those peace poles in my town (Boulder, Colorado), but I always assumed they were a local phenomenon. It seems like the sort of thing those danged hippies would do.

  15. This article and story may not be appropriate for this blog, though from a certain angle it is…

    be forewarned: some graphics do not contain rust

    http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20110518f1.html

    Best,

  16. You seem to really search for these “ghost towns”! At first I couldn’t believe you were talking about that Shimonita just behind the pass (looking from Karuizawa), but indeed you do. While I am sure there are many an’old and empty houses, I am sure there are also new ones because, contrary to the “real” Hinterland, at the Japan Sea side, these places are still close to the Kanto plain, and as you said, they have a Highway, which actually is still quite new, built for the Nagano Winter Olympics, which lets you get to this place in a rather short time, less than 90 min from Nerima when it’s not too crowded. And having a famous (or so I thought?) product with the Onions, agriculture might dwindle, but not becoming totally extinct.
    On the other hand, while you were at Ikea, how about reviewing those surroundings, namely “Lake Town Mall” in Koshigaya I was thinking about: Where there used to be only wide open plain with endless rice paddies, there is Japan’s biggest Shopping Mall containing, inclusive the newly opened Outlet Mall, more than 700 shops now! While this is already huge, they also built a man-made lake in the middle and the whole complex is surrounded by row after row of boxes, or houses, as the Japanese would call them, with just enough space for a 2car parking in front. This is where I really shed tears (ok, not really, but figuratively), because it shows how detached the average person has become from his natural surroundings, no need for green, a garden, your own veggies etc; the own house is only needed to live inside, kids go to cram school anyway, food is much cleaner to buy from the super market, and plants have to be watered and might even attract bugs or spiders.
    I could point my Pentax towards empty shops, overgrown properties in disrepair by the dozen even here in Karuizawa, because traveling habits of the Japanese have changed and the “hidden resort of rich people” flair has been trampled to a blob by the hordes of day-tourists arriving conveniently by Shinkansen or highway, so much that quite a few house-owners have fled to more peaceful places like Nasu-kogen or Atami. But I also could show pics of newly-opened places, new houses with young families etc. Japan’s countryside has many ghost-houses and villages, for sure, but there is also a lot of positive change going on. And to end with Juergen’s quote: “…you have to ask yourself, where is it easier to live.
    PS, reg. “my country”, if not for my children, I would have applied for Japanese Citizenship latest after 3/11, when “my” German Embassy shamefully hid out in Kansai for the whole of six weeks!

  17. I haven’t said such a thing!🙂 and I must say that while I had not the most great opinion about the German embassy, they helped out with a last-minute German passport for my little one by ignoring several of the usual required steps. Very nice of them! (it created a nice set of new problems, because try to leave Japan with a Japan born baby and its German passport and an immigration officer who claimed that she never entered the country! Oh well…)

    Anyway, the point is not really that Pachiguy is documenting ‘the truth” (because there are so many out there), but his (and coincidentally also mine) preference for rust and decay. Who cares about new buildings when you can see a rotten, overgrown and for years ignored building right next to it? This is not a documentary blog, but a very opinionated blog with fascinating articles based on the authors preferences. Complaining that it doesn’t show ‘the full truth’ is like complaining to Steven Spielberg that Aliens don’t exist.

    Additionally I like to point out that there is probably no author who takes his recherche that seriously as Pachiguy does. I mean, come on, he ate Mushroom filled Onigiri from Fukushima prefecture! Top that!

  18. ” . . . we eventually penetrated the cavernous orifices of Ikea, although we were so browbeaten and bludgeoned by its catastrophic blandness and smug Swedishness that we rebelled and walked out without releasing a yen of the jism in our wallets . . . ”

    Thank god no one was reading over my shoulder at work! Almost needs a NSFW label.

    Yet again, another great read, sensei.

  19. No need to get all excited Pachiguy. I do have a real job and as I said I am essentially a fan of your writing. I have neither the time nor interest in trying to score points off you and also take no pleasure in bringing you to heel over a careless epithet but since I brought the matter to your attention and given your feeble response, I may as well do the hard yards and finish off the job. As stated earlier, let me stress again that I have more important things going on in my life other than getting bogged down in a pissing match with you so this will be my final word on the matter.
    It’s somewhat unfortunate that you elected to go for Polly Toynbee and the BBC production “The chanting millions” as the mainstay of your response to my original post. The record clearly shows that the programme was a piece of sensationalist journalism hard on the heels of the Aum Shinrikyo subway gassing incident.
    It was incorrectly reported in the Japan Times that SGI had done its utmost to prevent the screening. In fact SGI UK complained to the BBC after the screening and their main cause of concern was the overt attempt of the documentary producer to create a link between SGI and Aum Shinrikyo. Such a linkage of course would be seen as preposterous by even to the most ardent critic of SGI in Japan but for the Brits this deliberate piece of disinformation was an essential element of the sensation effect the producer was attempting to achieve. And which I may suggest you seem to have either naively bought into or else seized upon in order to reinforce your own bias or preconceptions not to mention prejudices.
    So in essence the programme in no way shape or form attempted to portray the institution of Soka Gakkai as agreed to in the terms of reference in the agreement between the BBC and Soka Gakkai prior to shooting. Furthermore there was no attempt by SGI to censor the programme prior to going to air because the BBC broke its agreement and went to air before giving SGI an opportunity to pre-screen the footage.
    SGI’s lodging of a complaint after the programme went to air is simply that? A complaint after the event and there is no way in which this can be referred to as censorship.
    Let’s take a quick look at the producer Polly Toynbee. Be aware also that Polly is the granddaughter of the world renowned historian and philosopher Arnold Toynbee. This is the same Arnold Toynbee that voluntarily met with and entered into a “Dialogue” with Mr Ikeda the chairman of SGI. Their discussions on a range of subjects were recorded and are available in a book entitled Choose Life. Polly is on record as saying that…”it wasn’t one of Granddads best books”
    But let’s get back to Polly who in 2004 was the recipient of the “Most islamaphobic media personality award”. This prestigious title was awarded by none other the Islamic human rights commission. Hmmmm…do the more astute among us see a pattern forming here? Having snatched her sound bites she has now gone for bigger game and post 2001 decided to take on Islam??? So much for consistency huh?? Well as a matter of fact, Polly herself also agrees and is on record as saying…”…..at least I’m a consistent athieist…” So lets not blame her but rather understand the TV ratings game and the constant requirement for sensationalism.
    So to the informed observer, relying on both the producer and programme (both of which nominated by you) as what appears to be a flippant or throw away rebuttal isn’t really going to cut the mustard Patchi.
    In fact it would seem that the Spike has in fact been spiked and since I have no interest in taking any credit for said Spiking why don’t we let sleeping dogs lie and agree among ourselves that for whatever reason, what we are observing here is in fact a self-spike.
    Before closing, let’s look at the Political angle for a moment… I noted another throwaway concerning the New Komeito / SGI angle and purportedly another prop in your flimsy justification of a careless epithet. Again… and let’s be very clear about this because the whole nation has been concerned about this issue and while I mean no disrespect to your impeccable Japanese skills, something tells me that the Japanese media would most likely beat you to the punch on any political indiscretion by New Komeito….. So Mr. Pachi would you please give a specific example of where the political activities of Komeito both old and new have violated the secular requirements of this constitutional monarchy? It appears to me that you are testing the boundaries of irony by expecting your readership to take “on faith” your own preconceptions(if not prejudices) about a “faith” based lay Buddhist organisation’s alleged ability to manipulate politics in Japan.
    So…again let’s take a look at the record…..
    Anyone remember the bad old days before Number portability for mobile phones?….The legislation allowing number portability was a hard fought and hard won Komeito initiative despite strong opposition from the phone cartels and the government regime at the time. Would you care to enlighten your readership on the devious and sinister nature of this legislation?
    I could go on but if you or any of your readers care to invest the time and look at any of the most citizen friendly or socially fair legislation passed in the past 15 to 20 years you will see that invariably the legislation was a Komeito initiative and often eventually passed despite the strong opposition of vested corporate or ruling party political interests.
    So Mr. Pachi… let’s call it quits. As far as I am concerned you are well and truly spiked. I have no interest in continuing this specific dialogue but will read your response with interest.
    In the interests of full disclosure I am a foreigner (those of you paying attention to the spelling will note I’m not American) married to a Japanese national and living in Tokyo originally sent here as the president of a foreign registered enterprise but now run my own company and am an unashamed member of Soka Gakkai.

    • For the very few people still left reading this exchange, you can read the full transcript of the BBC’s 1995 documentary, “The Chanting Millions”, here. You can’t, unfortunately, watch it, as far as I can tell, anywhere on the Internet. Why is that, I wonder?

      “The record clearly shows that the programme was a piece of sensationalist journalism hard on the heels of the Aum Shinrikyo subway gassing incident.”

      “The record” of which you speak does not show anything of the sort, for there is no “record” that can show subjective judgments such as “sensationalist”. I’ll concede, having read the transcript a few times, that it might not have been director Julian Pettifer’s finest hour, but this is a 30-minute documentary made for a mass audience, not a PhD thesis, the references to Aum only frame the introductory and concluding voice-overs, and there is no direct or even oblique comparison of Aum with Soka Gakkai. Clearly, Aum was merely a hook to sell the documentary to some skeptical BBC bean-counters suspicious of airing anything about Japan, a notorious ratings-killer.

      “In fact SGI UK complained to the BBC after the screening and their main cause of concern was the overt attempt of the documentary producer to create a link between SGI and Aum Shinrikyo.”

      I fear that your only source of these “facts” is the Soka Gakkai website here, on which you rely entirely—simply cutting and pasting, squawking and parroting—for the other long comment you left. You must really take me for a mug to think that I wouldn’t see through that little ruse. Sadly this is what religions, sects, cults, call them what you will, they’re all the same, do to the human mind (and have done to yours), at its best so beautiful and inquisitive—reduce it to a conduit to regurgitate the poisonous pabulum on which it’s fed. You have conducted no independent investigation of your own into these very elaborate tales of betrayal your mentors spin and you indeed know nothing of the circumstances of the making of the documentary beyond what you read on the Soka Gakkai website but you want me to believe that I’ve been “spiked” for the use of a single adjective? Think again, my friend, and look in the mirror. All this leaves your intellectual credibility—not that there ever was any—in a crumpled mass of cotton around your ankles.

      “But let’s get back to Polly who in 2004 was the recipient of the “Most islamaphobic media personality award”. This prestigious title was awarded by none other the Islamic human rights commission. Hmmmm…do the more astute among us see a pattern forming here? Having snatched her sound bites she has now gone for bigger game and post 2001 decided to take on Islam??? So much for consistency huh?? Well as a matter of fact, Polly herself also agrees and is on record as saying…”…..at least I’m a consistent athieist…” So lets not blame her but rather understand the TV ratings game and the constant requirement for sensationalism.

      Regrettably, you’ve stopped making any kind of sense here, but for your sake I’ll try and piece together the workings of your troubled mind. Polly Toynbee was the recipient of the most Islamophobic media personality award in 2004—so what? What does that have to do with Soka Gakkai? And who exactly are the Islamic Human Rights Commission? Did you bother to investigate that? No, you just looked at Wikipedia. In those same “awards”, the wholly inoffensive (almost—he’s still a Christian), grass-eating, earnest advocate of ecumenicalism and former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey was nominated as one of the three Islamophobes of the year, which should tell anyone of sound mind what to make of this stereotypical interreligious infighting. I have my doubts about La Polly’s journalistic skills, but she can smell your religionist bull a mile off, and I love her riposte to her “award”, the right-thinking response of a true atheist (and who better to nail a total fraudster like Daisaku Ikeda than an atheist): “The pens sharpen—Islamophobia! No such thing. Primitive Middle Eastern religions (and most others) are much the same—Islam, Christianity and Judaism all define themselves through disgust for women’s bodies.”

      “Anyone remember the bad old days before Number portability for mobile phones?….The legislation allowing number portability was a hard fought and hard won Komeito initiative despite strong opposition from the phone cartels and the government regime at the time. Would you care to enlighten your readership on the devious and sinister nature of this legislation?”

      All irrelevant. I do have some respect for New Komeito, much as you might be surprised to hear, for having kept the most reactionary elements in the LDP in check in the years of coalition government, and for smothering the debate (a Soka Gakkai skill) on revisions to Article 9 of the Constitution. But that is wholly subservient to the principle of the separation of church and state, and I don’t care how many times you cite the verdicts of the corrupt Japanese justice system that there are no strings from Soka Gakkai on high manipulating the puppets of New Komeito.

      Here are a few questions to leave you with. Ikeda kun has received honorary doctorates and the like from 301 institutions of higher learning according to his Wikipedia page (clearly a garden carefully tended by acolytes such as you), supposedly more than anyone else on the planet. I notice that none are from Germany or France (and only one from the UK—shame on you, Glasgow University). A strange geographical bias. What do you think explains that? How many, would you hazard, were rewards for handsome donations of your money (and those of other Soka Gakkai serfs)?

      Finally, you must surely have something to say about these gross calumnies of a friend on Soka Gakkai as the Japanese experience it?

      “We had friends in there, who tried to drag us into it, it’s scary. You should not say anything about them on your site, because it can open a can of worms and they will sue.
      I know from attendees that they have a rule that you need to give yourself some goal and report in front of sometimes thousands of SG members that you managed to reach this goal. Most attendees lie, just to have a successful story to tell. They feel bad about it, but the peer pressure is incredible. Then the entire room chants ‘we will destroy our enemies’.”

      One of my lifetime goals has been to rescue one soul from Jesus, but I guess it’s not going to be you, so be gone, and don’t ever darken my doorstep again.

  20. for those of you interested in any background reading on this issue I append the following…

    It came about when a private company approached Soka Gakkai for permission to make a documentary on the Soka Gakkai for the BBC “Assignment” series. Both Soka Gakkai and SGI-UK consented to their request based on the following agreement:
    1. That the program will introduce the international scope of SGI activities;
    2. That there will be no comparison with Aum Shinrikyo, the notorious cult in Japan and that Soka Gakkai will not be portrayed as a cult organization;
    3. That a copy of the film prior to the airing, even if it may not necessarily be the final edited version, be sent to Soka Gakkai for preview.
    Unfortunately, all the promises were broken. When the film was finally broadcast, SGI-UK approached the BBC to explain that many portions of the program were factually incorrect. The BBC ignored these explanations
    The program portrays the Soka Gakkai as a cult group similar to that of Aum Shinrikyo, with comments like “The Soka Gakkai is not spiritual, it is all about practical things such as personal wealth and political power,” and that “the Soka Gakkai is a political movement.”
    Many world literary figures who are acquainted with SGI and President Ikeda have responded indignantly to this documentary. Below are some of the comments from Dr. Alfred Balitzer, Dr. Bryan Wilson, and Prof. Wickramasinghe.
    Dr. Bryan Wilson, Reader Emeritus in Sociology at University of Oxford, to The Times:
    The BBC has this last week shown a seriously distorted documentary film purportedly reviewing the growth and activities of Soka Gakkai, a Japanese lay Buddhist movement. Since the BBC shrugs off complaints about misrepresentation, might I seek the hospitality of your columns to correct any false impressions which your readers may have gained from this program?
    Since as a joint-author of an objective academic study of the British membership of Soka Gakkai, I am better acquainted with that movement than are the BBC’s producers, I think it my public duty to do what I can to correct the picture which a public service agency has so shamefully broadcast. The film sandwiched information about Soka Gakkai between shots of the tragic havoc of the poison gas attack on the Tokyo underground for which the Aum Shinrikyo sect was allegedly responsible. Since these two organizations have no remote connection with each other, one must conclude that the sole purpose of alluding to Aum Shinrikyo at all in this program was sheer sensationalism, no matter how much this might alarm and mislead the general public. Soka Gakkai members work vigorously for world peace, embrace ecological concerns, support refugee rehabilitation programs, and promote educational and cultural exchange. The program paid scant attention to all this, preferring the tendentious inclusion of material about Aum Shinrikyo, a movement apparently committed to the promotion of chaos and catastrophe. Allusion to this obscure and secretive organization was only the most flagrant instance of the general bias against Soka Gakkai which characterized the entire program, and was about as warranted as would have been a similar reference to the Jonestown People’s Temple in a program about the Methodist Church.
    From Dr. Alfred Baltitzer of Claremont Mckenna College to the Director General of BBC:
    I am distressed about a program that is scheduled to air on the BBC program “Assignment”, Saturday, October 14. My interest in the program results from an interview I did with Martin Smith and Julian Pettifer at the campus of Soka University of America on July 8, 1995
    I asked [Krishman] Aurora whether the program would suggest a relationship or suggest similarities between the Aum Shinrikyo cult and the Soka Gakkai. After a pause, he told me that he could not answer the question which, of course, confirmed my suspicions. His pregnant pause was particularly distressing to me because at the time of my interview I was told by Pettifer in unambiguous terms that no relationship whatsoever would be insinuated. Had he told me that the program would portray a relationship, I would have refused the interview. To assert such a relationship or to assert similarities between the two groups demonstrates an appalling lack of knowledge about Japanese religions, especially about what sociologists of religion call “the new religions.” Even more, it demonstrates the complete failure to research and understand the difference between a “cult” and a legitimate religious organization. A few days after I spoke to Aurora, I received a copy of the advertisement for the program. It confirmed my worst fears, clearly proving to me that Smith and Pettifer violated their word to me. During my interview with them they stated that they would not treat or refer to the Soka Gakkai as a cult. Pettifer was particularly reassuring on this point. Yet the advertisement for the program reads: “But, as Julian Pettifer reports, Aum is a tiny cult compared to Soka Gakkai…” This clearly labels the Soka Gakkai as a cult. Again, had I known that Smith and Pettifer were going to refer to the Soka Gakkai as a cult, I would never have consented to be interviewed.
    From Prof. N. C. Wickramasinghe:
    This week’s BBC2 program “The Chanting Millions” began by recapping the events on the Tokyo subway, and proceeded to cast doubts on the legitimate activities of the Soka Gakkai, a highly respected and successful Buddhist organizations based in Japan, but with worldwide support. As a Buddhist (although not a member of Soka Gakkai) a friend of Soka Gakkai and a personal friend of its president Daisaku Ikeda, I found the comparison offensive in the extreme.
    The BBC2 program which made a subtle (even subliminal) connection between the Aum Sect and the Soka Gakkai must surely have caused offense to many millions of honest and devout Buddhists in many countries and in many walks of life. Buddhism in its pristine form is devoted to the ideals of self-knowledge, compassion, non-violence and non-belligerence, and I can vouch from my close knowledge of Soka Gakkai that this organization adheres strictly to these goals.

    Mobile phone number portability system.
    In 2003, New Komeito asked the government and cellular phone industry whether a system in which a subscriber can switch carriers without having to change his existing phone number—or number portability—could be adopted. Their answer: Too costly to implement. Yet, such a system, we believed, would upgrade user friendliness and drive down cell phone charges as carriers vied for customers. Rather than wasting time with wrangling with an obstinate industry and bureaucracy, New Komeito kicked off a nationwide petition drive instead. Three years and 10 million signatures later, a number portability system was launched on October 24, 2006—and in just 30 days since its inception, some 680,000 users took advantage of the system.

    Product Safety Law
    Revisions to a 1995 law holding manufacturers liable for the safety of their products went into effect on May 2007, the result of extensive New Komeito lobbying. Among the key changes are to require companies to disclose information on accidents and other safety-related information regarding their products. We also successfully lobbied for regulatory agencies to improve interagency sharing of information on accidents and to devise a more effective means to monitor consumer product safety.

    Reducing Japan’s Carbon Footprint
    In May 2007, a law was passed requiring the national and local governments to factor in carbon dioxide emissions in addition to price, in their procurement of products and electric power. The law aims to raise private sector awareness in reducing greenhouse gases, and stipulates that basic government guidelines be developed and that the degree of compliance be publicly released each year. New Komeito was among the first parties to call for such a system, and served as a key agent in facilitating the law’s adoption by the Liberal Democratic Party and Democratic Party of Japan.

    Supporting Elementary School Children
    New Komeito raised both the eligibility age—from eight to ten—of a state subsidy for primary school children, as well as the income ceiling for families entitled to the subsidy, from 7.8 million yen to 8.6 million yen per year for company employees (the ceiling for business owners is slightly lower) in fiscal 2006. More than 13 million children are thus covered under the program, an increase of some 4 million from 2005. From April 2008, moreover, families will see the premium of healthcare insurance for elementary school children reduced to 20 percent from 30 percent now.
    Raising Childbirth Allowance
    A one-time government allowance paid to families with new-born children was increased from 300,000 yen to 350,000 yen in October 2006. The initiative, which New Komeito was the primary architect, aims to offset medical expenses incurred from childbirth and reduce the financial constraints placed on married couples seeking additional children.
    Increasing Day-care Capacity
    New Komeito also lobbied strongly for a state subsidy, approved since fiscal 2006, paid to private day-care operators to address a serious shortfall in enrolment capacity. More than a million children have been placed on waiting lists to enrol in day-care facilities. The subsidy is believed to have created additional capacity to enrol 45,000 children. The range of day-care services was also enhanced, including special paediatric outpatient care by registered nurses.

  21. Jake Nishikawa

    You can find empty ghost towns and dilapidated buildings of yesteryear in any country in the world.
    what’s new then?

    • What’s new is that nobody expects them in East Asia, in Japan, two hours from the center of the capital city. What’s new is that this is the future of Japan, not its past. What’s new is that these are beautiful places that people should be reviving. But most of that would have been painfully apparent had you read what I wrote with any attention to the details.

  22. Thank God you didn’t mention the Scientologists.

  23. Amusingly enough, Ichinensanzen’s diarrheal verbosity makes it clear that Soka Gokkai *is* a cult, unquestionably.

    Not that any thinking person had any doubts on this point.

    • You beat me to it! See my reply, FWIW.

      • You are just incredible, Pachiguy! I bow in front of you with deepest respect, if there is anybody who does his homework and look into details, its you. I feel honored to call you a friend. And now please anybody, give Pachiguy a book deal, I would love to supply the cover for it.

  24. Lovely! Beautiful pictures, particularly the Pelican delivery sign. The amount of research you put into these posts is quite breathtaking. By the way, you weren`t the last IKEA virgin. I still haven`t been there.

  25. Hey Pachiguy,

    Just ignore the dude, and keep posting, ok? You make Alex Kerr look like
    a dilettante. I agree with Mr. Specht. We’d gladly cough up for a book of yours, even a compendium. If Adam Gopnik could do it with ‘Paris To The Moon’, you could , too!

  26. Steven Power,

    A single post from Pachiguy is more interesting than the entirety of “Paris to the Moon.” One of the worst ex-pat “diaries” I’ve ever read.

    • Hi, Mr. Jeffrey,
      I just meant that a book would be welcomed, not that it should emulate
      Mr. Gobnik’s. Maybe you should think first, before posting.

  27. Pleased am I that pachiguy finds ‘meaning in empty ghost towns and dilapidated buildings’ and writes about them with such eloquence; keep’m blogs coming….and the photos! Spike Japan is awesome.

  28. I’m late to this discussion, but let me add my thoughts to the issue of photographs of empty buildings and rusty metal.
    I spent some time in the Republic of Korea in 1977 and 1980-83. When I was in Northeast Asia it felt as if every square inch of land was in use. I remember farmers planting crops right up to the edge of roads. In the cities, if there was a vacant lot, there were squatters on it in hand built shanties. The economy and the population were surging. It was crowded and bustling.
    For a person who hasn’t been to Asia in 30 years, this is amazing stuff that Spike documents. It shows a trend I wouldn’t have grasped as fully without his essays and photographs. Even one empty store or one empty shopping arcade is, for me, beyond belief.

    • That’s an interesting perspective, thank you. You might be surprised how vacant lots and abandoned offices are springing up even in my neighborhood in the very center of Tokyo (not something I’ve really documented yet)–and this phenomenon will only intensify in the coming decades.

  29. Dear Mr. pachiguy:

    You are an easy target for this Ikedabot. You have never been a member of his ugly cult. He wouldn’t dare show his face where I hang my hat because he would have ten or fifteen accomplished former SGI leaders and members all over him like white on rice. Ms. S hit the nail on the head, “There are people allergic to hypocrisy and megalomania, and there are people with ‘faith’”, but without offering hundreds of specific examples of SGI’s hypocrisy and Ikeda’s megalomania, SGI’s PR machine can spin any isolated example [ie: Polly Toynbee on The Chanting Millions] to their rhetorical advantage. Any complete picture of SGI as a dangerous cult can only be painted in the context of the Lotus Sutra, the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, and the entire body of their hypocrisy, Ikeda’s megalomania, and the lives of the people they have nearly destroyed. Those who have experienced the SGI nightmare from within, lived, and thrived to tell about it, are those most capable of capturing the grotesque reality of the Soka Gakkai “Value Creation Society”. If anyone is interested in learning about the real reality of the Soka Gakkai, I encourage them to visit my Kempon Hokke blog, http://fraughtwithperil.com/markrogow/

    I will encourage my readers to visit your most excellent Japanese inspired blog.

    Mark

  30. Who cares about the SGI? I think the article on the town was interesting.. obviously that point was missed by certain individuals hell bent on proving whatever they felt like proving. Keep on posting about other interesting things in Japan you come across. Nice writing and nice work.

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