& TOKYO/CELLPHONE (walking exploration of the city) 2016-01-27 --
A walk that includes Irohakai Shotengai, Joyful Minowa Shotengai and a trip on the Toden Arakawa Line.
I can hear the plum plum plum of the Arakawa Line crossing's chimes right now and the cars mostly shift down the line quietly enough that I strain to hear them unless the windows are open. It's only when one of the older cars goes past that I can hear the grinding down the rail.
I took the Arakawa Line east to Minowabashi and the went south to Meiji Dori, where the cluttered alleys gave way to eight lanes of traffic, pachinko towers, men in grey suits smoking cigarettes outside of Doutour. The pedestrian flow, busy in the laneways spread across the wide sidewalks. A concrete valley through the old city. I walked west on Meiji Dori and turned south again and west again and south again. I was lost. I stopped and bought onigiri and a can of Sapporo. I'd planned to head east all along, toward Sanya. I tracked through the empty streets lined with bathroom tile midrises and rollup factories and convenience stores, trying to find a landmark, and ended up in Higashi Nippori, turning away from my march toward Yanesen's belt of love hotels and scenic shotengai only when I reached Otake-bashi Dori and its banners promoting: Fabric Town / Fabric Street-- I've gone too far. I looked at the map, finally, too late, and began a slow trip back to the east, through Negishi.
Even this far north and east from Nippori I felt the cleansweep of gentrification. Approaching Showa Dori from the east, the light industry and shuttered shops and battered apartment blocks were mostly gone and were replaced with apartment towers with French names. I followed a group of elementary school students in sailor hats, five girls and one boy, and one of their mothers, perhaps, tailing them, all speaking in crisp clean Modern Standard Mandarin. And the girl slowly pedaling her bike beside her boyfriend, further up the road, teasing each other in a dialect that might have been Minnan. Most of the younger faces in the neighborhood were Chinese.
Crossing Kokusai Dori, I noticed the Skytree rising in the south, across kilometers of grey and brown apartment blocks and the Sumida River. I checked the map for the location of Irohakai Shotengai and saw that should be directly south. The map showed me that I was in Nihonzutsumi 1-chome or 2-chome. I found the entrance to the shotengai eventually. Compared to Joyful Minowa Shotengai, where I had walked from, the covered shopping street here was mostly empty. A shop here selling men's clothing and a shop there selling shoes and a narrow shop at the exit of the street selling udon. There was soft jazz playing loudly from hidden speakers and Ashita no Joe banners (boxing manga, centered on the misadventures of a young man that runs from an orphanage to the slums of Tokyo, trains as a boxer and eventually dies in the ring-- and the central feature of the Irohakai Shotengai's revitalization campaign). The shotengai was lined with bicycles.
Around the east gate of Irohakai Shotengai, men were seated on sheets of cardboard. I lit a cigarette and stood for a while there. A man with grey hair approached me and greeted me and stood beside me and waited for me to speak. I stood silently. The man left and became engage again in conversation with the other men lined up along the wall of the Irohakai Shotengai gate. I left and walked back . I noticed the storefront missions and the shops selling work clothes and visibility vests and measuring tapes and hammers. This was Sanya, which is no longer on maps of Tokyo. Beyond the shotengai, the narrow streets were empty. Night was falling.
In function and appearance, it seemed to be similar to the neighborhoods tucked around Chinese railway stations: an older neighborhood often constructed on the periphery of the central city, catering to day workers and migrants, and old, crumbling homes. The difference that stands out most is that those railway neighborhoods in China are centers of vice, but in Sanya, the atmosphere was sleepy, with streets mostly empty, and no evidence of anything beyond drinking to excess. Even those railway neighborhoods have changed over the last decade. Returning to cities like Xuzhou or Zhengzhou or Datong, the first thing I noticed is that the concrete barbershops and their pink and blue lights and the young, rural women working in them were gone, and the creaky business hotels advertised by migrant women touting at the station gates were replaced by chain hotels. I've heard some similar gentrification may be happening in Sanya and there were several teams working on demolishing skinny buildings that may have once held short term dormitories or flophouses. Sanya is many years away from looking like the vibrant neighborhood to the west at Minowabashi or the touristy shotengai at Yanaka Ginza, right below Nippori Station. Demographics would seem to suggest that gentrification in other areas of Tokyo could continue but... there just aren't enough young people to go around, are there? In other neighborhoods, new apartment blocks and highrises have gone up around transit hotspots, while also mostly maintaining the character of the neighborhood. But it appears that many of the people moving into this neighborhood are arriving from Fujian, Changsha, Huizhou, Chengdu.... I don't know enough about Tokyo to answer my own questions about Sanya.
I went back up Route 464, which was once known as Kotsu Dori and which was once an exhibit of the severed heads produced by the Kozukappara execution grounds to the north. The execution grounds have been covered by a railway yard. I didn't bother making the trip north to look through the chainlink. I backtracked to Meiji Dori and walked toward Minowa Station.
At the intersection of Meiji Dori and Showa Dori, I stood outside a convenience store and smoked a cigarette. The gloom of Sanya was replaced with the neon and dusk crowds outside the station, businessmen hunched over curry rice and newspapers in warm windows. I went through Joyful Minowa Shotengai and the sparse crowds of older shoppers buying meals of rice and pork cutlet, onigiri, potato salad. I caught the Arakawa Line at Arakawa-Icchumae.
Further reading: http://nerorism.rojo.jp/sanyanow-h1.html /// http://blog.goo.ne.jp/fuw6606/e/0440ed067865ccb36393c38530998fb5 /// http://likeafishinwater.com/2014/08/15/irohakai-shotengai-in-sanya /// http://blogos.com/article/103813/