Sunday, December 13, 2009

Another Japan

Behind the surface is another Japan, slower-paced, still attuned to simpler pleasures. Vegetable fields grow amid oceans of concrete, children skip rope in shrine precincts, mothers ride bicycles with wire baskets in front and children strapped to the back, old people weed roadsides and play croquet in gravel-scattered yards, blending into the noise of packinko parlours and vending machines and fully-automated car parks, where cars are raised on metal platforms and slotted vertically like DVDs in a rack.

This is the Japan we never read about, the Japan of distant hometowns. The journalist Patrick Smith termed it "a regret of the modern", a wistful kind of longing for what once was. This is not the frantic dash to modernity, the high-rise, glass-fronted buildings with neon lights and video screens out front, but the sprawl of two-storey houses, countless tiny gardens each with its own persimmon tree, flowerbeds planted with ornamental cabbages, the mournful, village cry of the sweet potato van - "Stone baked sweet potato" - filling the air.

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