I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

We tried hard, but couldn't find the ghost towns

The word of the day is 合併(gappei), meaning merger. Great word, that merger, 18th century Anglo-Norman French. My favorite use of the word comes from Bret Easton Ellis' modern classic American Psycho:

"Patrick Bateman: Ask me a question.
Daisy: So, what do you do?
Patrick Bateman: I'm into, well, uh, murders and executions, mostly.
Daisy: Do you like it?
Patrick Bateman: Well, it depends. Why?
Daisy: Well, most guys I know who are in Mergers and Acquisitions really don't like it.

If that's not a great mnemonic device, I don't know what is.

In Japan gappei is used to describe when several small towns combine to make a larger municipality. In Shiga this is becoming more and more common as young people abandon their family's heritage for neon lights of Osaka and Tokyo. It's strange to think that now half of the world's population lives congested in such small spaces. If the world's spin were effected by the weight distribution of all of the bodies, autos, concrete, and metal in the cities, it should become discombobulated and leave the sun's orbit any day now. That or the island of Manhattan should be sinking like Osaka's Kansai International Airport (also an island, man-made though and dropping under the bay a few centimeters every year).

Pardon my meandering.

So the gappei phenomenon happing across Japan (and the world) is having one main impact on local communities--bringing them into accelerated extinction. Now it's time for tomorrow's word of the day, which I'll tell you today because I can't finish this story without you know it:
限界集落(genkai shuraku) = villages that have lost their status as a town been de-municipalicized (is that a word?). Basically, ghost towns.

One Saturday (June 28th precisely), Katie, Dan, Efrem, Carmen, and I went up to Yogo in north Shiga to find one of these ghost towns. Alas, we came up short of uncovering any ruins of homes, which I was anticipating, but the bike trip was great nonetheless. The mountains in that part of Shiga are absolutely gorgeous--pristine, no electricity pylons or radio towers, no noise that didn't originate from nature, dozens of small shrines hiding in the hills, and the water was still out of man's reach (aka, clean and safe to drink). I can't understand how so many people collectively decide on a daily basis to ignore nature, that exist for their own sake and exudes beauty just through its existence, and replace it with contraptions of convenience.

Well, the good news is that since there's so little interest in it, I'll hopefully be able to buy a fine little plot of land in a few years at a cheap price!

This is an actual tombstone for the ghost town.


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