I grew up in a hilly town that was opened up from the bamboo forest during the years of Japan’s rapid post-war growth. For me, a rural town with history is something exotic, a bit foreign almost, and has a particular temptation to it. Not that I exploited that temptation so actively. During my school years I loved traveling by trains. I would always have a thick timetable book with me, flipping it to find the next destination and deciding which train connects to which, and where I’d eat which famous (cheap) local food. And I’d walk around for a few blocks of those old historical towns near the station, only to come back to catch the next train. Not long before I left Japan I was driving my blue sport car into country. In the darkness of the evening the car would look navy blue. We arrived in the old town a little too late and missed its famous soba for dinner. It was a late summer evening, and we could smell the chilly water from the river. Walking around the quiet town lit by dim street lamps, we found ourselves at the dark bank of a canal. A faint green flash hovers at the corner of our sight, followed by another dim one. Firefly. In the city we only saw it sold in a basket. I remember the girl’s leg swinging while we sat by the canal in the dark. Firefly hovering by…
Years gone by now, and I haven’t got a sport car or a girl to sit in my passenger seat. During this short stay in my home country I decided to visit a quiet country town like that, some place with history and very authentic living, nothing like plastic and steel of the messy city we live in. 2 and half hour of train and I found myself in a town like that, that I found on a list of ‘small Kyoto-like cities in Japan’ which happen to be hosting a traditional new year event of fire department new year performance. I shall put together another blog post on the fire men show, but let’s start with the view to this charming old town.
Tatsuno in Hyogo prefecture. A ride on a one-man train (a train with only driver, without conductor, who also handles fares like buses – due to a number of unmanned stations), running on diesel engine, typical of rural Japan, up north from the town of Himeji is where this quiet town is found by a large flowing river. It is famous for its Higashimaru brand soy sauce and silky white noodle. I got here in time for the traditional event in the morning, and I walked about for several hours towards afternoon when I made those shots. As I walked about following my instincts, I came about street corners and high grounds where I could make out the chimney of the old factory. In the old days it must have looked even more impressive.
I walked a bit towards the end of town by the hill and came back to the centre by the river, but it seems it is only here, the area between the main bridge and the site of old castle that the old township is preserved. Sure it is nice for visitors to just watch and appreciate its beauty, but it would be something else for people to live in those old houses hundreds of years old. They need a lot of maintenance work, and they let in chilly air as they probably are not as well insulated as the modern houses.
The old soy factory is kept in its original place, with its chimney visible from anywhere in town, while the current, more modern factory is on the other side of the river. It was Sunday but it seems the old factory is as deserted even if it wasn’t a holiday. The sense of its age and abandonment gives visitor with a strong impression, as if to say ‘this is a town of soy factory’.
Somehow I saw everything without colour. Or, maybe somewhat faded if coloured. So it made more sense to me to process the images in black and white style. Perhaps I could try the faded colours in the future, when I have more time to settle the images on my mind. It just does not make sense for me to present images in full colour when I did not see it that way.
Some of those ‘historical Kyoto-like towns’ in Japan are very touristy and inevitably the redevelopment geared towards tourists make the town look less authentic; however, in Tatsuno, the town looks pretty authentic, without many shops with large signs like ‘handcraft for sale’. Even if they are made of natural material, those are the sure sign of fake stuff, in my opinion, and I would always avoid any shop or restaurant that look like that. But then again, I am a traveler who walks everywhere and try to do things the local way; who am I to speak of what the ‘tourists’ may want. While the town looks pretty authentic and untouched in general, I am a little concerned about the condition of some of the buildings. I am sure it would be expensive nowadays to keep those old buildings in good shape, but some old warehouse buildings with their hand-plastered walls show signs of ageing with some large cracks visible in the white plaster. The wall is fensed off so people do not touch it or lean against it, but it would start to collapse before long if it was left as it is. Some other buildings are in better shape, as some people live in it. The houses last longer when people use it, they say. If the rent is cheap I would be happy to live in one of those. The question is, would the town’s traditional events be enough to earn me money photographing?
Somebody saw this image while I was processing (when it was still a colour photo) and said, ‘if only the electricity is delivered by under-ground cables…’ Sure, some newer development and tourism-sensitive towns removed the ugly concrete poles and powerlines and put them underground. But I personally do not mind that at all. I actually like the real sense of living it represents, together with the TV antenna on the wall. It tells me that people are actually utilising these houses. And it pleases me. It looks so much better than modern mass produced houses. These old houses are the result of the designers’ challenges and this is what was proven timeless, practical and beautiful by the most popular designer. I wish they could continue updating those old houses with modern feature and better insulation and keep the old street alive. It is easy for an outsider to say, I know.
I know why I saw it without colours; it did not need colours. It does not need to be tied to a particular time in history. The designs are timeless and did not matter whether it was coloured or not.