Changes are like dominoes.
A shift in economics can force a change of lifestyle that drives people to the cities and clears out whole villages. Building a new major road can leave old byways crumbling and forgotten (which was basically the plot of Pixar’s Cars). Evidence of both of these phenomena can be seen along Route 303 with almost abandoned villages in the woods off to the side, and forgotten winding roads that haven’t been used since more direct tunnels were driven through the hills,
This will be the first of three (long overdue) haikyo updates about places I’ve come across whilst exploring my local stretch Route 303. Since about February I’ve been making irregular trip along this route, and checking out some of the branches running off it which has turned up quite a lot of haikyo goodness.
The first place that caught my eye and got me out there, was this road side diner – which I have to admit turned out to be a pretty dull shell of a building, but it did at least get me out and exploring the area.
According to the book this place was in operation until a severe storm caused so much damage that the cost of repairs was too great for the owners, since then it’s just been left standing with minimal supervision; it is also listed, in the book, as one of Japan’s top haikyo spots. Even from a distance it was easy to tell that this was going to be an impressive site. Far bigger than anything we’d previously explored.
Over the last couple of months Andrew and I have been slowly checking off all the sites in the book around Shiga Ken. Today we’re checking out #128 (p.185) and, as usual, without the benefit of any translation we have no idea what to expect, all we know is that it’s somewhere not far from the centre of Omi Hachiman.
As we draw close to the area that we figure it has to be in a huge black brick chimney slides into view above the other buildings. Brick isn’t a typical material in Japan (its dead weight isn’t something you want falling on you during an earthquake) and seeing brick usually suggests a historical or foreign (influenced) building – often both. Guessing that this must be what we’re here to see we park up and make our way across a rather industrial looking bridge and weir combo so see exactly what it is we’ve found.
Anybody who uses ‘ The Book ‘ might recognise this picture from p.199.
I even cropped my picture to look as close to the book version as possible, consider this my homage.
Though I have no idea why they selected this image to represent what is in fact a rather wonderful six storey hotel, with an elevated sky tower so tall you can see it long before the hotel comes into view.
This isn’t even the best bit of graffiti in the building, which has been adopted as a canvas by the graffiti community and is full much grander pieces of art, but we’ll get to that later.
First, let’s put this place into a bit of context.
Tom Waits once claimed he’d ‘seen it all through the yellow windows of the evening train‘, so chance are that along with Emirin’s house he might well have seen this place too as it’s just one stop down the line.
This place got me both curious and cautious as although it looked distinctly run down it was in a very visible location, right by the train tracks, and surrounded by other buildings.
Another house with a story today, I first spotted this place from a train and determined to head back and check it out as soon as possible. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that I got the chance to go back and explore. Even then it ended up taking two visits to go through, figure out and photograph this place.
The first thing I noticed here was how nice the garden must have been. Lanterns dotted the undergrowth, and a stone bridge crossing a dry stream bed that run down to a leaf filled pond. It all seemed quite grand for a regular Japanese house.