Kiyosato: High plains drifter

Hey, I can hear it, the Eros of Mozart
The romantic breeze is the violin
Wait for the Eros of Mozart to touch you
When it pulls the strings of your heart
A gorgeous September
Pink no Mozart, Seiko Matsuda (1984)

I got an inkling of the pastel troubles in store when I left the Chuo Expressway at the Sutama interchange in the northernmost Yamanashi city of Hokuto, an artificial 2004-2006 amalgam of eight towns and villages provoked by ruinous local government finances, and turned right up Rte 141, only to find that the very first roadside structure was an abandoned gas station,

which fell in combat so recently it remains on the latest maps, followed in immediate succession by an abandoned ramen noodle and gyoza potsticker place, fronted by a Merry Land ice-cream stand,

next to which reposed an abandoned yakiniku grilled meat eatery, Tomato.

A couple of hundred yards further up, a sweetly smiling blue-and-white concrete cow with a mysterious pastel-pink door in her chest lured me, Alice-like, down a sideroad to an abandoned karaoke parlor, Moon River 69, its name an unholy collision between Hank Mancini and Sonic Youth,

which jutted out over a nameless sun-dappled stream and moldered on next to an abandoned high-Bubble wedding hall.

Another couple of hundred yards further up, and right on cue, came the abandoned pachinko parlor.

All that was missing from this concatenation of desolation was an abandoned convenience store—but there’d be a few of them to be found over the next couple of days, I wagered.

Back in the eighties, there were three summer retreats (避暑地, “escape-heat-land”) of choice for sweltering plains-dwellers: Karuizawa in Nagano, which has thrived thanks to its bullet-train link to Tokyo, Nasu in Tochigi, which has survived thanks to the luster thrown off by the presence of an Imperial villa, and Kiyosato, which is in its last death throes.

A wreath for your dreams, I muttered to myself on entering town. Odd and crumbling edifices not to be found in the lowlands, such as a rotting mock-up of a Wild West wagon that might have once served as a putting-course ticket-booth, were strewn across the sides of Rte 141, but the first truly Olympian ruin was One Happy Park, a cyclorama of despair.

A man with a brush-cutter scythed tidily away at weeds that pushed up with irrepressible life through the cracks in the paving. It must have been sweaty work, as he was clad in boots, gloves, a face-mask, and a neck-flap hat, for late-summer insects do not take kindly to having their late-summer abodes destroyed, and after a while the reaper rested.

“When was this place built?”
“It must’ve been on the border of the Showa and Heisei eras, I suppose.”
“So that would be around 1989,” I ventured, but he had no concept of the Western calendar and merely shrugged.
“And when did it close down?”
“I guess it was about four years ago the last shop shut.”

I wondered about the precision of his recall—there was a dormant crêperie (who can forget the eighties crêpe boom) that appeared to form part of the complex and which bore a sign “Since 1979”—but even if the pastel palette of the fake windows above the gift shops dates us to the early rather than the late eighties, the miserable brevity of One Happy Park’s life is testament to the spectacular ephemerality of the Kiyosato boom and bust.

I strolled along the rusting colonnade, admiring the signs.

Oh yes, Petit (pronounced “puchi”) Road—we were all so high and mightily French back in the eighties, weren’t we? It was “puchi” this and “puchi” that and “puchi” the other. Impressionable and affected youth went so far as to append an honorific prefix to the name of the honorable country—“Ofuransu”. Japan, you see, was going to become a lifestyle superpower, just like France. Crêpes, it was rumored, if ingested frequently enough and in sufficient quantity, would turn your very blood and bones French—and you would then have no compunctions about loafing around at the beach for the whole of August. A wistful backward glance at One Happy Land is enough to show just how that dream turned out.

It struck me that One Happy Land would make the perfect stage for a performance of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, rescored with glutinous idol melodies of the eighties, starring Seiko Matsuda as Brünnhilde, Hiromi Go as Siegfried, and Onyanko Club as the Rhinemaidens. I could already hear a parade of what I dub Seiko Matsuda’s “no” hits streaming through the mind’s speakers: “Tengoku no Kiss” (A Heavenly Kiss), “Tenshi no Wink” (An Angel’s Wink), “Boy no Kisestsu” (A Season for Boys), and my favorite, “Pink no Mozart”, to name but a few. A more fitting backdrop could scarcely be imagined, as it was the legions of Seiko-worshipping burikko airheads with their Seiko-chan haircuts that decamped to Kiyosato in droves to stay at meruhentic pensions and plunder cute goodies by the designer bagful that were responsible for the boom, the irony being that the career of Seiko Matsuda, known as the “Everlasting Idol” (and also, curiously, as the “King of Idols”) has outlasted that of the town to which her idolatrous fans—now, like her, pushing fifty—once thronged.

The main street of Kiyosato forms a hind dogleg with the station at its knee. Up the foot arch, an old hotel was held together with string and hope and glue.

I parked up at the top end of town in the municipal car park, which had space for a couple of hundred vehicles; I was the second car in at three in the afternoon (and I suspect the other one belonged to the car park attendant). Yes, it’s a weekday, I told myself, yes, high season is only a memory, but even so… Strolling back into town, I crossed the tracks of the Koumi line, the cause of at least some of the travails of Kiyosato.

A lovely little line, to be sure, the Koumi, with all sorts of records (including nine of the ten highest stations on the Japan Railways network) to get train geek tickers beating faster, but despite all the fanfare that attended its 2007 debut of a hybrid train, not a line that can deliver swarms of pleasure-seekers to resorts at any speed, and in a nation that pays everlasting homage to the deities of convenience, it chugs and ambles and puffs its way across the mountains with inconsiderate leisure; indeed, its neck would have been on the chopper years ago if, post-privatization, East Japan Railways had really been run, to the delight of its shareholders but to the misery of the rural elderly, as a profit-maximizing private-sector enterprise, as the line loses roughly Y200 for every Y100 it takes in.

Just over the crossing, the One Happy family took me to its bosom again, this time with a plaza rather than a park.

Freeze-thaw in spring and autumn, the deep freeze of winter, and the deep heat of summer are exacting a swift and brutal toll on gimcrack and neglected Bubble-era construction. Never have I seen so many uri bukken property-for-sale and kashi tempo store-for-lease signs clustered together; this one, desperately delusional in its bid to flog off one of the shops in the One Happy Plaza complex, Norwegian Blue dead and far beyond the most heroic cardiopulmonary resuscitation efforts, is framed by a backdrop of local milk bottles.

Architecturally, the predominant Kiyosato style might be described as Rococo fairy-tale whimsy; in the case of the enigmatically named and very defunct Green Prab, with a dash of salty Victorian seaside thrown in for good measure.

This trio—jolly tree ogre, toadstool, and cheery snail—have become, in death, the symbol of the whimsical mayfly life of Kiyosato. That fly agaric, the toadstool that inspired the design, is both poisonous and psychoactive and hence a humbling metaphor for toxic Bubble-era hallucinations, of which Kiyosato is one of the most delirious, was an irony not lost on this observer.

As the mountain shadows deepened, I strolled the length of the main street, crossing paths only with a couple in early retirement, struggling with words for each other. Half of everything was definitively shuttered; some businesses, in the shame of defeat, carried somber signs protesting that they were readying to open or that this was their weekly day off, but returning later or the next day, the same signs were still in place. Could Kiyosato really once have been known as the “Harajuku of the highlands”, after the impeccably coiffed Tokyo fashion mecca?

At the junction of Rte 141 and the Kiyosato turn-off, the world had ground to a halt: inky shadows consumed a pachinko parlor, gone nigh on a decade by my reckoning, brush reclaimed a karaoke joint clad in white clapboard, restaurants and museums and hotels of every hue lay felled like giants slain by a horde of Jacks.

Writing in the commendably eccentric Wonder Japan magazine of one hotel, the Sunpark Hotel Kiyosato, whose ruination is most advanced and whose entranceway is pictured above, author and haikyoist Toru Kurihara relates how Kiyosato, like some Impressionist painting or Italian sports car, was enmeshed in the net of the Bubble:

Other tourist spots had genuine tourist assets—hot springs, historical buildings, giant waterfalls—but the attraction of Kiyosato was largely status. The very act of going there was the objective: young women would snap up armfuls of gifts as proof of their visit and brag of their trip while doling them out to friends and family.
“I went to Kiyosato at the weekend!”
“Wow, cool! I wanna go too!”
Just to be able to utter these words imbued a sense of superiority—the trip’s mission was accomplished.
But then there came a time when no one felt jealous any longer.
“I went to Kiyosato at the weekend!”
“Eh? To do what?!?”
Naturally the objective couldn’t be attained if there was no sense of superiority to be gained. There was no lingering sense of comfort and ease you get from a hot-spring resort, no sense of being moved by a giant waterfall. Western food that you could get in Tokyo—it didn’t even taste good, it was just pricey. And then there were the trashy souvenirs you bought at the shop of some has-been celebrity or over-the-hill idol, for which you had no use when you got home. Asked if you wanted to go there again, the answer was naturally “no”.
So disappeared the crowds of people so thick they made walking hard, and the shuttered streets that make the town so quiet now tell of how the illusory values of the Bubble have vanished and things have returned to their normal state, just the way they were before. Sun Hotel Kiyosato embodies the waxing and waning of that era.

This being statistics-drenched Japan, it was easy enough to dredge up the data in which to drape the decay: by 1998 visitor numbers in the Yatsugatake area, the jewel in the crown of which was once Kiyosato, were down 60% from their peak just a decade earlier in 1988 (the year Seiko Matsuda notched up the last of her twenty-four consecutive number ones), and have continued to slide, albeit at a gentler pace, dropping to 5.1mn in 2009 from 5.9mn in 2002. Most shocking of late, though, has been the collapse in overnighters, to 550,000 in 2009 from 935,000 in 2002, a slump of 40%, as purse-strings have been pulled ever tighter.   

As darkness fell, the fey apparitions of the Bubble took on more ghastly demeanors: the lamp-lit milk-pot was a distended bladder, full to bursting, ready to spray noxious liquid on passersby

and the exoskeletal church, an innocuous pastel-pink by day, was now a monstrous robot arthropod programmed to kill and primed to attack.

Later, though, I was to learn of some sunnier microclimates in the otherworldly biosphere of Kiyosato…
(to be continued)

47 responses to “Kiyosato: High plains drifter

  1. Wow! Now I know what you mean when your friend said you were ‘disappointed by Amakusa’.
    You certainly pick your spots, P. I bet Kyushu looks pretty darned good compared to your catalogued litany of Japanese wastelands, no?
    Wishing you well,
    ranger.

    • Ranger,
      The strange thing to me, as a very amateur sociogeographer and demographer, is that you never quite know where the ruins will strike. I knew about Kiyosato before I went, so it came as no surprise, but the patch immediately off the expressway very much did. Hokuto City has a disastrous demographic profile, with almost no youngsters, as you’ll see if you scroll down to the population charts at its Wikipage here:
      http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%8C%97%E6%9D%9C%E5%B8%82
      Yet the population has remained very flat for the last few decades, which in the absence of better evidence I ascribe to an influx of retirees to the bessochi holiday home zones around Kiyosato, of which more later. I think that explains a lot.
      Amakusa is still a riddle that I don’t fully understand, I have to confess…
      Does Kyushu look good? Yeah, on balance I’ll give you that, although I never made it to Beppu…

      All the best,

      P

      • Haha! Beppu! It even sounds stupid. I try to avoid even the place when looking at a map…but the Japanese love(d) it. The Las Vegas of Japan. Well I have seen a very good film with Nicholas Cage about Vegas and simply close my eyes when thinking of a Japanese version set in Beppu.
        For the few warts in Kyushu however (which you have covered already) I still think, by and large, Kyushu was too late to the Bubble party for it to suffer from the worst effects. It was over before it began in all seriousness-and the outlying areas like Amakusa were left alone as the population dripped away to the cities for work and a ‘brighter’ future. Yea! The geographical fringes of Japan were/are simply too far for Bessofication and so they were just left to slowly slip away. The roads and tunnels have only speeded up the decline and yet…this has allowed the little coastal villages to be fossilized…or preserved/embalmed…whatever… Dying with dignity…awaiting the next life.
        Ushibuka..well..what can I say? It is unfortunate you were alone there on a cloudy day. It’s a great place to study the effects of depopulation, I’ll give you that.
        Looking forward to your next installment. One question. You said somewhere, ‘so many places, so little time’-I hope that doesn’t imply your departure from Japan any time soon?
        Best regards,
        kyushu ranger.

      • @KR:

        IMHO Beppu is more like a Blackpool than a Las Vegas, which the world comes to see.

        In the times of the shoguns, Ise Shrine was the closest thing the Japanese had for Las vegas. People saved , paid the equivalent of 2,000 pounds now and WALKED all the way from Edo to Ise and back.

        In more recent years, I think Hakone is closer to what we would call the Japanese Las Vegas; Beppu is simply too far for anyone not from Kyushu.

      • @KR:

        And, if Kyushu was late to the Bubble Party, Shikoko was not even invited to it. I have not seen Pachiguy writing anything on Shikoku . At least the ruins of Hokkaido and Kyushu have something to write about – Shikoku is nothing. The only interesting things with that island are Sanuki Udon (which non-Japanese don’t find interesting) and the Sakamoto Ryoma craze.

  2. smack dab in the fattest part of Honshu — close to the furthest you can get from the ocean in Japan.

    ~3 hrs & Y6000 away from Shinjuku by train.

    Not to steal your thunder, but:

    “In 1938, the construction of the Ogouchi Dam began. (The dam is located at the western end of Tokyo Metropolis, and the dammed lake is Lake Okutama.) Then the people who lived in the submerged villages were forced to emigrate to Kiyosato. They had to develop the barren land for themselves.

    “Around the same time, Paul Rusch (1897-1979), an American missionary, helped to develop the land. He taught them the dairy, so this area developed. Since the 1960s, Kiyosato has been known as a resort area.”

    Looks like God’s own country up there. What if they made a highland resort and everybody forgot to come???

    • “smack dab in the fattest part of Honshu — close to the furthest you can get from the ocean in Japan”
      Indeed! Your comment stimulated me to look up the place that truly is the furthest from the ocean–turns out to be in my old friend Usuda machi, which is now in the almost entirely overlooked eastern Nagano city of Saku:
      http://www.avis.ne.jp/~red5/dekigoto/kaigan-1.htm
      No thunder stolen; I thought about looking back on the prewar history of the area, but decided it would be a distraction. Much as it pains me to say, I may have to mention Paul Rusch, though.
      “Looks like God’s own country up there.”
      In many respects, it is. A little slice of Hokkaido much closer at hand.

  3. lovely writing and posts; quirky; i love ur interset in (semi) abandoned japnese towns, with ur evocative pics. Steve. P.S Thx for checking out my “decayetude” blogs a few weeks ago. Please feel free to add to my blogroll. i shall add urs!

  4. I spent much of last summer around Kiyosato, in an abortive attempt to find a besso with views of Akadake (or the Alps), and much of last winter, too. “Last death throes” seems a touch strong. Perhaps correct in relation to the blighted tourist industry that still clings to the 141 (and good riddance), but the surrounding villages have a certain vibrancy (and seeming wealth) that is quite missing from much of rural Japan, no doubt the result of the abundant fertile land up there.

    As an aside, have you come across the infamous Chinese lettuce pickers of Kawakami-mura (5km west of Nobeyama)?

    • “The surrounding villages have a certain vibrancy (and seeming wealth) that is quite missing from much of rural Japan”
      Hang on, hang on! My parting shot (Parthian shot) after all was:
      “Later, though, I was to learn of some sunnier microclimates in the otherworldly biosphere of Kiyosato…”
      Standby for part two…
      Why was your besso hunt abortive, dare I ask? I looked in at Kawamoto, which seems to be the dominant real estate agent in the Kiyosato area, but the land prices still looked Bubble-tastic to me. Only a very few (and shabby)
      second-hand besso on their books, too.
      And, no, I haven’t come across the infamous Chinese lettuce pickers–do please fill us in.

  5. A frisson of malicious, sarcastic pleasure swept over me at the sight of “Green Prab.” Its architecture uncannily resembles some of the dreck put up by local developers here (Victoria, BC), with its faux Victorian architecture.

    This article is one the city fathers of Victoria desperately need to absorb: while we have plenty of natural attractions around us, it is a warning that synthetic glitz intended only to separate the visitor from his(her) hard-earned dollars will ultimately fail. Not that we are afflicted with anything like One Happy Park: the local fetish for faux-Victoriana is legitimately related to this city’s history and is expressed in condominium apartment buildings blighting the city’s Inner Harbor, but the end result is just as trashy as anything at One Happy Park.

    The Japanese are a puzzling nation. When their aesthetics are good, they’re very good, but unlike Mae West, when they’re esthetically bad, they’re bad almost beyond belief. A retired professor of landscape architecture here once gave a talk on Japanese gardens (a fetish of sorts among occidental gardeners everywhere). To emphasize the relative rarity of the truly breath taking classical gardens of Japan, he first regaled us with photos of popular gardens, replete with (you got it!) trashy, glitzy, synthetic decor, much in the spirit of One Happy Park in its heyday.

    • “A frisson of malicious, sarcastic pleasure swept over me at the sight of “Green Prab.” Its architecture uncannily resembles some of the dreck put up by local developers here (Victoria, BC), with its faux Victorian architecture.”
      Now that is interesting. Shame that this sort of building still goes on, although I suppose it’s “what the public wants”, or is determined to want, and personally I really am quite lost if asked what sort of architecture I *want*; answering the question of what I *don’t want* is so much easier. And that as a long-time, if negligent, student of architectural history. I know one thing, though–in this country, I’d rather take refuge in the 5% and fast-diminishing stock of prewar homes than in anything built since WWII, and that includes, sadly, the very latest besso designs.
      “The Japanese are a puzzling nation. When their aesthetics are good, they’re very good, but unlike Mae West, when they’re esthetically bad, they’re bad almost beyond belief.”
      Couldn’t have put it better myself. But I do delight in the aesthetic badness, especially when it’s passed into the afterlife. The aesthetic vacuity of the middle is what is really soul-deadening.
      Must tend to a sick moggie, please excuse me, and many thanks for your comments.

  6. Bonus points for the Hiromi Go reference. Are you even old enough to have seen him in his hey day? Unfortunately, I did, Seiko Matsuda as well.

    I would say there is a substantial qualitative difference between Yiyosata and Kariuzawa and Nasu. Piggy-backing on my thoughts in your previous hotel posting, the other latter two have “history” dating from the 19th Century, thus having arisen in a more architecturally tasteful time, and they have has a good deal of “old money” splashed about over the years. That’s not to say they resemble Gstaad or Telluride, but they seemed to resist the excesses of the Bubble era.

    • “Bonus points for the Hiromi Go reference. Are you even old enough to have seen him in his hey day? Unfortunately, I did, Seiko Matsuda as well.”
      No, far too young. Had to dredge Hiromi Go up from the collective unconscious of the other half. Still, he was once engaged to La Matsuda, and that made him good enough to star as Siegfried for me… That para took a lot of work, but I really enjoyed it…
      “I would say there is a substantial qualitative difference between Kiyosato and Kariuzawa and Nasu.”
      In many ways, I think you’re right, but see other posters’ comments and my responses to them. The lines may be more thinly drawn than you or I think (in Kiyosato’s favor, in some ways). All fascinating, to me at least.

  7. Wonderful post as always! Now you`ve got me curious about the Koumi line. My roommate has been talking about a trip on the Iida line, and now I`m thinking about the Koumi line as well.

    Just wondering – do you think that Tateshina may have siphoned off some of Kiyosato`s visitor numbers? I`ve heard of plenty of people going to Tateshina for the weekend, but haven`t heard of anyone going to Kiyosato (I`ve only been in the Kanto area since 2004).

    • Ah, the Iida line! Sweet memories, and soon to feature, in passing, on these pages. The Koumi line is lovely, but it runs for only about 80km; the Iida line runs nearly 200km, from Tatsuno in the north to Toyohashi in the south. I’ve ridden it only (at different times) from Tatsuno down to Yuya Onsen, 38km out of Toyohashi, but that covers most of the best bits. In terrible trouble, of course: when I was in Iida last week, the three-car trains were almost empty out of peak hours. Traffic down 40% from 1987 to 2007 and the line loses not Y200 but nearer Y300 for every Y100 it takes. Still, JR Central will never let it die… Rejoice!
      Tateshina is a delightful bessochi, but very rustic–no shops til Chino, if memory serves me right. Guess it caters to a more hardcore back-to-nature crowd. Pre-owned besso very cheap up there, if you can stomach the all-pine interiors. Not quite the same set, I don’t think, as the (ex-) Kiyosato (or Karuizawa) crowd–they seem to need a few more creature comforts.

  8. “As darkness fell, the fey apparitions of the Bubble took on more ghastly demeanors: the lamp-lit milk-pot was a distended bladder, full to bursting, ready to spray noxious liquid on passersby.” This photo was my personal favorite: an exquisitely evocative haikyu-meets-Hooper vignette. We had a place in Karuizawa during most of the 00s. It at least has a raison d’etre (golf and a certain cheesy history, equally cheesy outlet malls, and some really elegant besou). But it, too, was quite tatty around the Bubble-Era edges. It’d be fantabulous if you could do a mini-essay on Lake Newtown: built in 1971-ish, it strove to be a besou-for-the-salaryman sort of place, but within a year or two ended up being the scene of Asama Sansou. The place has been considered haunted ever since. If anyone’s interested, you can get a besou there for under 10 million (if that doesn’t sound all that cheap, well, it IS still Karuizawa, which I’d argue is the only viable of the big three high-altitude resorts Spike mentioned, Nasu having the misfortune of being a bit too close to Fukushima).

    • “This photo was my personal favorite: an exquisitely evocative haikyu-meets-Hooper vignette”
      I have to confess I didn’t tell the whole truth about the milk-pot: the operation behind it/behind it appears to be still in business…
      “We had a place in Karuizawa during most of the 00s. It at least has a raison d’etre (golf and a certain cheesy history, equally cheesy outlet malls, and some really elegant besou).”
      Funnily enough, in a more subdued way, Kiyosato still has all that, except for the cheesy outlet malls! More in part two.
      “It’d be fantabulous if you could do a mini-essay on Lake Newtown: built in 1971-ish, it strove to be a besou-for-the-salaryman sort of place, but within a year or two ended up being the scene of Asama Sansou.”
      Now that *is* a story–I’d half-forgotten about the Asama Sansou… Many thanks for the tip. So many places, so little time.
      “It IS still Karuizawa, which I’d argue is the only viable of the big three high-altitude resorts Spike mentioned, Nasu having the misfortune of being a bit too close to Fukushima.”
      I think you’re probably right–the C-137 maps are not being too kind too northern Tochigi these days.
      Many thanks for your comments.

  9. Although the general Yatsugatake area is quite run down, I’m with cjw in that I don’t think Kiyosato is a particularly exceptional case of Bubble-era excess and subsequent ruination, as this piece would suggest. The fall in visitor numbers you quote is very typical for ski resorts, which have the added problem of getting their shrinking custom in winter when their oversized and thermally deficient buildings need to be heated. Ski resorts too abound with faux foreign architecture, with faux Bavarian, faux New England, and faux Santa Fe as just three examples.

    I don’t know 1980s Tokyo tastes, but your three hishochi are not the only ones I would have thought of on hearing that phrase. To say, as the author you quote, that “the attraction of Kiyosato was largely status” may be an accurate reflection of 1980s values, which no doubt motivated many to take up golf and skiing, but it misleads the present-day reader into thinking of Kiyosato as some Las Vegas-type island in a desert and not a town next to the beautiful Yatsugatake mountains. I would rate their rugged beauty way higher than any Japan-based “giant waterfall” such author could name.

    kougen yasai in part two?

    • “I’m with cjw in that I don’t think Kiyosato is a particularly exceptional case of Bubble-era excess and subsequent ruination.”
      Have to agree to disagree with you there, as far as the hisochi go; I think I told a fairly accurate tale of its rise and fall.
      “The fall in visitor numbers you quote is very typical for ski resorts”
      Indupitably; but the comparison was not–and has to be not–with ski resorts but with other hisochi.
      “I don’t know 1980s Tokyo tastes, but your three hishochi are not the only ones I would have thought of on hearing that phrase.”
      Which ones were you thinking of? I’m prepared to take the word of the authors of Wonder Japan for now.
      “To say, as the author you quote, that “the attraction of Kiyosato was largely status” may be an accurate reflection of 1980s values, which no doubt motivated many to take up golf and skiing, but it misleads the present-day reader into thinking of Kiyosato as some Las Vegas-type island in a desert and not a town next to the beautiful Yatsugatake mountains.”
      Surely no one in their right mind after looking at the pics could ever compare Kiyosato with Las Vegas? And please remember that the subject of the essay, so far, is simply the eighties boom and bust.
      “I would rate their rugged beauty way higher than any Japan-based “giant waterfall” such author could name.”
      Yes, the “giant waterfall” reference was a bit odd (I’m not a fan of waterfalls, myself–highly overrated), but I let it go in the interests of authenticity.
      Kougen yasai in part two? No, high art, mostly…
      Thank you for your comments, even if I don’t agree with all of them–much appreciated.

  10. Mea culpa, I meant “haikyu meets Hopper,” not “Hooper.” Whether the shop is no more or not, Spike’s photo captured perfectly the lonely light and shadow of inaka Japan as the sun goes down.

    • I automatically read your comment as “Hopper” not “Hooper” anyway… Maybe that says something about preconceived ideas… Very glad you liked the pic.

  11. “A wreath for your dreams, I muttered to myself “…an embittered Spike!

    • Caustic, certainly, but I wouldn’t go so far as “embittered”…
      Actually thought it was one of my better lines–the phrase “a wreath for your dreams”, which you’d expect to be everywhere, somehow, seemingly occurs nowhere else on the Internet–and yes, I do Googletest a lot of what I write to avoid cliche and staleness, being exposed to far too much of that at work!

  12. The bubble has left scars all over… it is unlikely that Japan will ever ‘recover’ from the Bubble, given the lethargy and aging of the population. It will sadly sink under the ocean, slowly but surely…

  13. Interesting to see you up my way in Yamanashi!
    You should get yourself down to Kofu, the big wonderful prefectural capital…with its pubs so numerous you can count them on one hand and its big scary empty covered streets. I strongly suspect Morrisey had a time machine and was singing about the place, everyday does feel like Sunday. Its all gone rather LA like to my mind- what shops there are are horrid large prefab things spread out along the main roads south of town.

    I do wonder- you mention Hokuto being an articial merger due to financial reasons…is this the reason behind all these weird mergers in Japan? How does being a city safe finances more than staying a town and why do some towns and villages remain? Looking at maps of Japanese prefectures makes no sense to me.
    Also…why do they go and call themselves city?- surely they could have took a more fitting them since most of them really are just a collection of towns in a rural area, not a city at all. Couldn:t they name themselves sub-prefecture or district or somesuch….

    • Yes, Kofu’s been quite badly battered since the Bubble, I know.
      “I do wonder- you mention Hokuto being an articial merger due to financial reasons…is this the reason behind all these weird mergers in Japan?”
      Largely (almost exclusively), yes.
      “How does being a city safe finances more than staying a town and why do some towns and villages remain? Looking at maps of Japanese prefectures makes no sense to me.”
      To the first part of your question, mostly it’s a question of economies of scale. Take the eight towns and villages that now make up Hokuto. In the past, each one would have had their own rubbish collection arrangements; now it’s presumably managed centrally. There are huge potential efficiency gains there alone. Repeat for hospitals, town offices, welfare facilities, etc…
      To the second part of your question, well there is a lot of local pride at stake. As to the map, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, either: Hokkaido is the classic holdout, with about 180 municipalities the last time I checked, although Nagano is pretty outrageous, too. Compare with Toyama, which has only 14. OK, there is a five-fold difference in population between Toyama and Hokkaido, but a more than tenfold difference in the municipality count. Much of this is down to dyed-in-the-wool local resistance to mergers, except in extremis, and I think Nagano for instance has been more successful in holding out against the tide because of an indulgent prefectural government.
      “Also…why do they go and call themselves city?- surely they could have took a more fitting them since most of them really are just a collection of towns in a rural area, not a city at all. Couldn:t they name themselves sub-prefecture or district or somesuch….”
      Village, town, city, that’s all the Meiji world left us, and any innovation would be far too radical for the Japan of today. Have a look at a couple of my favorites, Shizuoka City and Takayama City (in Gifu), the two biggest (by area) cities in Japan. Takayama is 92% forest…
      Enjoy your adventures in Japanese socio-geography!

  14. You, a British expat, can’t get enough of Japan. There are a lot of abandoned buildings and ghost towns around the world. This is completely normal. America, the land of many millionaires and billionaires, does have plenty of them. Slums are included. Not a big deal.

    You sound like Debito Arudou who makes a 24-hours effort to keep Japan defamed. I feel sorry for you for whining so much as a “lost” foreigner in Japan. Let me defame your country a bit: Your country, England, was caught for trying to illegally dump its wastes into Brazil. Shame at your country. Keep writing about England’s threatening “international” trashing, instead of exposing Japan’s trivial and non-threatening abandonment within its “domestic” territority.

    http://www.williamkwolfrum.com/2009/07/08/england-finds-a-new-place-to-dump-its-garbage-brazil/

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/07/20/us-brazil-britain-trash-idUSTRE56J4KN20090720

    I feel bad for you because you are experiencing a social failure in an alien country which is thousands of miles from your home country. Stop wasting your time wandering around Japan’s junks. If I am you, I would be thrilled to tour around Japan’s beautiful nature, Shinto shrines, temples, etc. Many “real Japanese people” do those things. They are smart enough not to waste their time and money fooling around the abandoned places and living/moving garbage (“you”). They can get hurt there and by you as their falling debris. They do visiting Hashima Island, which look similar to your pictures, but it is highly historical.

    I am betting that Japanese people and you don’t get along too well, due to your disrespectfulness, lack of silence, and attachment to negativity. You are just not willing to stay within Japan’s nice areas for your safety and well being. I feel bad for so many foreigners who are ending empty-handed after paying their high price for staying in Japan for so many years.

    I don’t know any Japanese person from Japan would come to visit England and criticize at it for months and months. Many Japanese tourists love Europe a lot, from England to Germany. This is very true.

    For your safety, you better bring a construction hard hat, otherwise you will get hurt by a falling Japanese debris.

    Conclusively, Japan largely deserves to dump all of their wastes, which appear on your website, into Buckingham Palace. Your British writing is more worthless than your Japanese pictures. Go ahead and crawl into Debito Arudou’s bed.

    • If you look beyond the veils of insouciance (by reading more) I think you will find a writer much in love with this country. Shakespeare wrote tragedies. They are infinitely better than his comedies, wouldn’t you say?
      There are plenty of rose tinted accounts of Japan. Pachiguy has a nice little niche, cataloging decline and fall and paints a good pastiche of the ruins…if you ask me. Not always right but pretty near.
      Just enjoy!

    • He seems to be able to read the words yet he completely misses the point….

      • What “words” is he able to read? What is “the point” that he misses?

      • The words- well, what you`ve written.
        The point- As I understand it you`re shining a light on the side of Japan which is almost completely unknown in the west. Amidst all the flashy anime and video games and Tokyo cool we just don`t see the real situation Japan has been in these last two decades. It is quite interesting and sad how things have declined in some parts of the country. Wouldn`t it be nice if the government would wake up and do something about it as neither you, nor anyone else who reads this blog, really don`t want things to continue this way.
        He somehow reads this as the completely different `Japan sucks, my country is perfect, nerrrr`.

      • Ah, I thought solipsitically that you were talking about me rather than “anonymous”. Shouldn’t worry too much about him–he’s merely a comically Bad Reader.

    • This is a blog concerned with exploration of a place and process, not just a mindless slagging exercise like what you are engaging in.

      I feel bad for you because you are experiencing a social failure in an alien country

      huh? Japan impresses because its social fabric is surviving this economic retrenchment process / fiscal hangover from the latter half of the Showa era.

      The buildings may be crumbling but the people and places are survivors.

      I don’t know any Japanese person from Japan would come to visit England and criticize at it for months and months.

      To see with the critical eye is to open yourself to truer understanding.

      Why is this? How did it come to this? Where is this going from here?

    • Spike Japans ruin dives calm me down after a bad day at work. I also like seeing how life finds a way to survive no matter how many hierachal concrete structures are imposed on top of it.

      • Glad they calm you down–some seem to get very het up under the collar. I like to think of it with reference to the first line of Anna Karenina: Happy places are all alike; every unhappy place is unhappy in its own way.

  15. “meruhentic”…. Wait! That’s not in the dictionary!!?!
    Smooth writing, almost elegiac but with a few acid drops to keep it piquant.

    • Finally, someone notices! “Meruhentic” is a fabulous Japanese portmanteau word combining märchen, the German for “fairy tale” or “folk tale”, with the English suffix “tic”, as in “authentic” or “ecstatic” (actually a corruption of the Greek “tikos” via Old French in most cases, I believe). So “meruhentic” means “fairy-tale-like” and for its sublime silliness and strange usefulness deserves to be known by a wider audience. Glad you enjoyed the piece.

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  19. The town of Kiyosato is dead, but that is as it should be. It is a soul-less attempt to lure the Yen. That being said, greater Kiyosato is alive and thriving in its tight knit communities. I recently purchased a holiday house there, and within days was hauled into the small valley community. The following week a community BBQ with local band to entertain, provided the perfect setting to meet neighbors and hear their stories. I personally find it hard to notice the ruins when there are so many beautiful natural masterpieces to peruse. Doryu No Taki falls for example or the mountain walking tracks. My children love their time in Kiyosato and i think rather than decline, it is slowly finding itself and settling into a comfortable equilibrium,
    having shook off the cheap gaudiness of the past.

    • I wouldn’t fundamentally disagree with your assessment at all. Although I did think the real-estate prices were still sky-high.

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