How well do you really know your city? Perhaps the answer depends on the size and population as much as any other factor and for those who live in large cities, I suspect there are many areas that are rarely visited. I know this applies to my life in a city of approximately 4.4 million people. Extrapolating this to a sprawling metropolis such as Tokyo suggests that vey few Tokyoites would have an intimate and comprehensive knowledge of their city. For tourists and short-term residents, the challenge of seeing the range of cities within a city is even greater.
One of the things I was keen to do when visiting Tokyo was to visit areas where “old Tokyo” could still be seen and experienced, though I freely admit that I was barely able to scratch the surface. The plan was simple: catch a train to areas of interest and wander around.
This will be the first in a series of “Looking for Old Tokyo” posts, starting with Kyojima, originally designated as a farming area according to old shogunate law. This heritage is most visibly experienced, quite delightfully, by strolling through Kyojima’s narrow winding streets that follow the pathways through long gone paddy fields and irrigation channels. This was aptly described as Kyojima epitomising Tokyo in the sense that Tokyo is a city that has never had a plan, a city centre or any visible order.
Kyojima is also described as an accident waiting to happen. It sits at sea level; has many older style wooden houses; and is susceptible to earthquakes given its alluvial soil. Add to these a lack of firebreaks and its narrow streets and one gets the picture that it would not be the place to be during a major earthquake. Despite all this Kyojima has survived not only earthquakes, but also escaped the firebombing of Tokyo during the Second World War; hence its appeal to those looking for glimpses of old Tokyo.
Kyojima is nevertheless showing signs of change, as will be seen from several of the photographs, yet maintains strong elements of the earthiness of a shitamachi (low town) where the buildings show the inventiveness of residents’ use of available materials to make repairs.
I had expected to find an older demographic and was not surprised to come across the three people waiting for the bus (pic 1) – one of my favourite shots. However, a short while later when wandering through the streets I met an English woman who now resides in the area. She explained that the area is becoming increasingly attractive to younger people due to lower rents and property prices compared to other parts of Tokyo.
People are also being drawn to Kiyojima through the proximity of the Tokyo Skytree, which towers over the area (pic 2). Skytree is Tokyo’s tallest building and a popular destination for local and international tourists, with many venturing further afield to explore the adjoining areas.
Kyojima lacks green open spaces, yet there is no lack of greenery on view through pot plants on or outside almost every building. Readers may also notice the presence of bicycles in most shots and there is no doubt that cycling and walking are the preferred forms of local transport.
I will let the photographs tell the rest of the story and will end by saying that I left Kyojima feeling happy. I found it to be an engaging place with a friendly atmosphere and what I would term a “village feel” where people know and care for their neighbours. Progress is already encroaching as it inevitably must, but I hope the spirit of old Tokyo continues to live on here.
(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)