Mikajima, Saitama, Japan
I cycled through and around Mikajima one ferociously, hot afternoon early this month. Mikajima is a very rural area of Tokorozawa-shi , Saitama in Japan.
In the middle of nowhere I felt, surrounded by fields, farms, orchards, meandering dirt tracks and farmers scattered around in the fields. I’m not alone then. The sky cloudless with a slight soft breeze, insects buzzing and screeching away at high volume. I’m filled with a wonderful agoraphobic sensation.
Along a long stretch of road, I passed an old house and stopped on pause. The improvised wind chime in the form of spinning beer tins tingled away when catching that bit of breeze. An old man gardening, looked my way, smiled though nonchalant about his spinning tins being filmed.
From the fields and down a mysterious pathway I pedaled, round a few corners, the not knowing started to excite. Then, a dusty lane took me down a path, obscured by flowing trees. I ventured down and come across a few hidden, rickety, forgotten old houses. However, my attention was immediately grabbed by a structure which seemed half standing and half falling, like something in suspended animation. The surrounding shrubbery, gloriously unkept with an abundance of discarded objects decorated the scene. As I drew nearer, the rotting wood, rusty corrugated iron strips, weeds peering out and the hard dry earth all became more apparent and visual. A deserted spectacle but now left as an exhibit to the curious passer-by. I found a shady area, took out the sketching tools and began to record, after all, it might be gone by tomorrow.
Drift Starting & Ending Points: Narita Higashi (Suginami-ku, Tokyo) -Nishi Sayamagaoka-Tokorozawa-shi, Saitama)
Distance (approx) 20 miles/33 kilometres
A longer drift than normal and in familiar environments. The starting and ending points are locations where have I have to where I presently live. Drift date, 30th July, 2016.
I set off quite late that day, around 3:00 p.m. The Japanese summer heat is much cooler at that time of day. By doing so, I found I could drift along fairly comfortably at a relaxed pace.
I had a rough idea about the route I would follow though it was expected that my direction would spiral out of control at some point. And that’s usually when the excitement and adventure starts. Like a boy scout, my crumpled paper ordinance survey is somewhere in the depths of my rucksack as it comes in handy when venturing into the unknown. comes in. As far as technology is concerned, I’m not quite up to date. I mean I don’t carry any electronic navigation tools so in that sense there is more chance of serendipity. A magical chance encounter!
I began by following Nakasugi-dori Avenue which would lead me to Saganomiya train station on the Seibu Shinjuku line. Then, I followed the line to Kampachi-dori Avenue which is an absolute mother of a road in Tokyo. I was relieved to get off that awful, obtrusive road. Anyway, the road headed northwards and I eventually got to Nakamurabashi station on the Seibu Ikebukuro line. Still on track (excuse the pun). The light was now dimming, the environment softening to oranges and browns. I was now in unchartered territory. All I had to do was simply follow the train line. Eight stops until Tokorozawa, that shouldn’t be difficult, I thought. However, when I got to Hibarigaoka I couldn’t follow the line so easily so I decided to deviate slightly but stay in the same direction. It was a welcome change peacefully riding along the country roads, I felt more freedom and unrestricted. No weighty, articulated trucks breathing heavily and overbearingly on your shoulder . However free I felt, I was beginning to get a bit anxious as I couldn’t see a road sign for quite some time. I was just floating around fields, along rivers and the occasional A-road. All the time hoping that I would end up back on course. Not that it really mattered.
I finally ended up at Kumegawa courtesy old an elderly lady who gave me directions using her walking stick! Now I was back on the Seibu Shinjuku line! God knows how and where I deviated but the line lead to Tokorozawa. I just took the long route, a more scenic route, the getting lost route. Eventually, I got to Tokorozawa station around 6 p.m. and I’m back following the Seibu Ikebukuro line. However, from Tokorozawa station to Nishi Tokorozawa station was another hurdle, it seemed impossible to follow the line. It was dark now too which changed the mood. I had never lost my way cycling in the dark before. After about an hour of cycling down dimly lit quiet streets, past a few creepy graveyards, going down numerous dead-ends and asking a few hundred people for directions, I finally got home and was shattered. But what an exhilarating adventure!
Part of this experience involves recording old Showa architecture. I saw many engaging places along the way. Oddly enough, it was a Yakitori (skewered chicken) shop, which caught my eye the most. It is located where I began the big drift, in Narita Higashi. One side of the shop is littered by greasy canisters and other with various dirty-looking objects. What a spectacle! You would never see this back in the UK, Health & Safety inspectors would have closed the place down years ago. It will eventually get knocked down or even closed down in the near future but at least now it’s recorded in my sketchbook.
Drift Starting & Ending Points: Nishi Sayamagaoka- Oume (Hatanaka)
Distance (approx) 12 miles/19.3 kilometres
Following on from my first cyclogeography post back in November last year, a drift earlier this month took me around my new surroundings in Saitama prefecture . Saitama borders Tokyo and other prefectures. In an unfamiliar environment and my limited sense of direction, this mindless pursuit was very stimulating. Once off the busy, frantic , overbearing highway (463), my drift took me to natural surroundings and I felt more at ease. I found myself alternating between river trail and Route 63 . The river, being enveloped by trees, became a refuge as it offered resistance from the heavy sun and suffocating heat. The light flickered and dazzled brightly on the river surface while the lazy trout were clearly seen in clusters swishing around on the river bed. As well as the river trail, my attention was diverted to the surrounding architecture. There are many old glorious structures almost in ruins. How have they survived typhoons and earthquakes over the years?, I wondered to myself.
I recorded a bit of footage, the visuals are nothing special though it’s the sound that I find particularly engaging. The cicadas, when screeching in unison, are deafening but it’s a ubiquitous sound of the Japanese summer.
SOUNDS OF THE SUMIGAWA RIVER TRAIL
I headed off from the Sumigawa river and pedalled still sprightly into Hatanaka, a district in Ome-shi. Along the way, I was particularly drawn to this old house. A house most definitely built during the Showa period (1926-1989). It’s characteristics being a little unusual as it’s made up of wood and corrugated iron. The lower structure could have been built for industrial purposes. I’m memorised by this twisted, misshapen yet fantastic spectacle. I decided to take refreshments at this spot near a desolate bus stop. With my note pad, I made a few preliminary sketches. The surrounding debris and worn objects were scattered around in no particular order. This space seemed still and lifeless, yet there was evidence of life existence within. It would be great to live here, I thought. I imagined its interior, the musty smells and how worn the tatami would be. Then I thought about my mother-in-law and her rambling shack just up the road, comparing and contrasting while sketching. Here the mayhem is visible on the outside. A dusty, old, orange bus passed and a few curious heads looked my way.
Ome-shi Showa House
These past three weeks I’ve been facilitating in the classroom so my practice has been pretty much shelved. Though I try to keep a dialogue going between myself and blog, if and when I get a free moment. This week was that free moment as my teaching program closed for a week.
Last week I watched a very inspiring video on Youtube, ‘Will Self talks at Google’. Basically, Will Self’s talk is on the subject of Psychogeography. A term that was defined by French theorist, Marxist, filmmaker, Guy Debord in the mid-1950s. Debord was also a member of Situationist International. From research, I’ve found that everyone has a different viewpoint on this topic. Though the overall view being that districts and quarters have their own distinctive character. Peter Ackroyd’s Psychobiography of London is a good pointer. One prime example in his book being Gin Lane. Infamous for the consumption of excessive gin drinking and famously depicted by the artist William Hogarth in 1751. Debord’s theory was that modern cities were constructed by commercial imperatives and the way individuals move around the city. For example, we go to the cinema, a football match, go home, go to work etc etc. In that sense the individual becomes lost and therefore it could be argued that we don’t really exist in that city. He stated that the way we could counters this notion in what he called a ‘drift’ (i.e. moving aimlessly through the city). Debord’s early methodology or should I say putting his theory into practice is typical of radical ideology of the 50s/60s. (I’m not being critical of this practice) The original idea being, going out with his Situationist friends, buying wine along the way and roaming from one end of Paris to another. (Sounds like a pub crawl without the pub!) Seriously, I get his objective here; not using the city as a capitalist environment. Sounds fun whatever the objectives maybe. Interestingly, Debord wasn’t much heard of as a leftie radical at that time but fast forward 12/13 years and he was a very influential figure during the student riots in Paris in 1968.
It seems that everyone has their own method of Psychogeography, me included. I suppose the most typical example we see or have experienced is when you’re in an unfamiliar city on holiday and you’re trying to navigate yourself around a city with a Lonely Planet book or a map from the Tourist Information. I give a dated examples, sorry. Now it is Google maps on our i-phones.
Yesterday I embarked on an aimless linear journey through the Tokyo suburbs and into the city. My rusty,fold-up bicycle being my tool of transportation so the practice being cyclogeography. It was a bright and sunny day like most days this time of year. The sky was icy blue. Tokyo is still fairly warm in early November with temperatures ranging between 18-20 degrees. I didn’t have any idea where I would end up. It wasn’t important. I would follow the Keio line as it gave me some perspective as to where I was in West Tokyo. First, I felt this plan was a cop-out but Debord did state in his study of Psychogeography, ‘ the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals’ . Consciously organized or not, I’m safe! but does this definition apply to cyclogeographers too?? I thought. But my favourite definition has to be from Joseph Hart in his article’s article, A New Way of Walking in Utne Reader in 2004. “a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities… just about anything that takes pedestrians off predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape”
Drift Starting Point: Shiraitodai (Fuchu City)
Date: TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3rd (Culture Day)
1/ A desolate suburban area. 10:15 a.m. approx 2/The train crossing gates designed to prevent pedestrians, motorists and cyclogeographers (me) from potential hazards. I’ll be doing many more of these ‘waiting’ situations during the drift.
3/ A Stone Garden (Trystan would love this! I should have got a stone for him) 4/ A scooter that delivers potted flowers straight to your door! I’m sure those pots at the front aren’t legal! But we’re in the suburbs and laws are relaxed.
5/ Tobitakyu. A sporting environment offering J-League football as entertainment. Walk down that road and it will take you to Ajinomoto Stadium. Home of the mighty F.C. Tokyo. My drift is moving me out of Fuchu shi and into Chofu shi (shi=city) 6/ Me waiting at a crossing in Chofu. It’s not a selfie! It’s proof I’m aimlessly drifting
7/ Near Chofu Station, the environment now becomes busy, noisy, regimented and ordered. Public transportation becomes much more prevalent. 8/ An off license just outside Chofu. I like the owner’s Gothic-style typography.
9/ A flower shop in Fuda. The warped wood, worn wood catches my eye. 10/I get off the busy road and randomly choose a quiet road. My mood becomes instantly relaxed. I notice a ‘Gomi’ collection outside someone’s house . Basically, give-a-ways and usually household objects that are nearing the end of their functional life. Notice how neatly they are arranged.
11/ Look carefully and you’ll notice a tree stump actually ‘in’ the Shibasaki train station just by the ticket gates! I’m all for saving the trees but I can’t get my head round this one. I mean, there will come to a point where a hole will have to be made in the roof of the station. Maybe not in our life time. 12/The centre of Danger: I momentarily drift in a dangerous environment. I hear the warning signal and drift away from danger. Between Shibasaki and Tsutsujigaoka train stations.
13/ I’m somewhere near the unpronounceable Tsutsujigaoka station (Chofu-shi). I get off the rusty fold-up as my legs are aching and just look around. I instantly notice the small tobacconist signage ‘Nice Day Nice Smoking’ I chuckle to myself and think…… I wonder if the shop owners have erased the Smoking Kills information on all the fag packets?
I’m not exactly sure but I surmise that I’m almost out of Chofu-shi. I drift down another inviting road away from the rail line. 14/ I notice this glorious piece of architecture. Probably built in the 30s. The old decaying wood glistens in the sun. Definitely my cup of tea. 15/ I look to my left and see the opposite of beauty. A characterless box, violently upsetting the surrounding beauty (the shack). Apologies if the owner of fig 15 is reading my blog.
16/ A small, cosy tunnel. The height is only 1. 7 metres. I needed to duck while cycling through it!
16 The Small Tunnel
Youtube video currently unavailable, sorry!
17/ An elegant wooden house with a nice view. Houses with panoramic views are something of a rarity in Tokyo. 18/ Emphasizes my point about views. In Tokyo people generally buy the land, the old structure gets bull-dozed, quick as. The houses are closely-knit. Look how close this plot of land is next to the surrounding houses.
19/ ‘Kind Concrete’ I take the rusty fold-up the steps. The step planners ensure getting from A to B is not too strenuous for cyclogeographers by including a ramp in the centre of the steps. How thoughtful! 20/ I have a little stroll and come across this allotment and what appears to be an improvised shed made from various urban materials. A Post-modern masterpiece!
21/ I’m quite lost at this point and sensibly I didn’t bring any maps or devices with me. Sensibly? Yes, I don’t want my drifting experience spoilt. The view is a peaceful one. I feel calm and solitude in this non-threatening environment.
21 A View
Youtube video currently unavailable, sorry!
21 /Material contents of the interiors are usually on display during agreeable climates. Here, the futons (bed blankets) are getting a good airing. 22/ A decorative bridge. I’m somewhere in Setagaya ku. It’s a wealthy area of Tokyo favoured by politicians and TV celebs, apparently.
23/ I notice a distinct feature about the Setagaya neighbourhood. The streets seem to be narrower. Surrounding space is much more compact. Manhole covers are a very distinctive feature. 24/ We’re back to airing again. This time cushions in bicycle baskets and bath mats hung over the garden gate. With the surrounding shrubbery it all looks very quaint.
25/ Through another tunnel. No ducking and dodging this time. At this point I change my camera. Out: Point and shoot, Nikon cool pics. In: Pentax Q7 (SLR)
26/ I’ve drifted towards a busy station, Chitose Karasuyama (Setagaya-ku). The concrete outside the station is rather decorative and welcoming. 27/ The cracked pavement, the most prevalent feature in a city. In Tokyo you could make ‘Cracked Pavements’ an interesting project as the width and length of the crack is largely determined by the earthquake tremors.
28/”A dreaded sunny day and I’ll meet you at the cemetery gates..” Echoing Morrissey lyrics as I drift into a quiet environment. Not a soul to be seen. The high rise blocks menacingly dwarf the scene. 29/ A building a little further down the road. The circle shape is so dominant. It is functional? No one seems to be around (again) so I go and have a nose around the building.
Drift Ending Point: Somewhere near Chitose Karasuyama Station (Setagaya-ku)
I’m near Chitose Karasuyama station. The excitement I have experienced begins to wane as fatigue sets in. It’s about 1:00 p.m and I’ve been cycling for just under three hours. The light will begin to fade round 4:30 and as I don’t have any lights on the fold-up, I begin to make a u-turn. But I could jump on a train, I think. No, that would be boring and it would make my cyclogeography drifting experience pointless. Roughly but not completely knowing my route back still excited me. I might get lost again! and what new obstacles lie in wait in the return journey?
30/ Herbal medicine (Aloe vera) heavily guarded by PET bottles. The reflections from the bottles ward off cats, apparently. 31/ Another decorative manhole cover. These would make great charcoal rubbings! Another day, maybe.
32/ ‘Hidden Heaven’ A house sandwiched between houses. 33/ Dead end street so I need to re-route.
34/ Cracked pots: Picturesque detritus mingling with shrubbery. 35/ Netting, especially green and blue netting is another prominent city feature operating in residential areas of Tokyo. It’s function serves to keep the crows away from the rubbish. It works too.
36/ Another ramshackle front yard. A pocket of curiosity. More airing in evidence. Rugs this time. 37/ Another dead end!
I try to follow the train track but end up cycling down continuous winding roads, weaving through countless labyrinths but still managing to head in a Westerly direction. 38/I stop for a quick drink and look up. The underside of a roof catches my eye. 39/Such crude D.I.Y. going on here, excessive use of gaffa tape.
40/ An umbrella collection: Historical Discussion: In the Tokyo Gas Attack in 1995, umbrellas were the objects of disobedience. The perpetrators used the umbrella tips to puncture the bags to release the deadly sarin. After reading Murakami’s ‘Underground’, many years ago, umbrellas still carry an eerie presence for me. 41/ Yet another dead end! The environment is creating obstacle after obstacle for me. However, this dead end has aesthetic qualities.
42&43/ It may be just another dead end but it’s visually stimulating. 10 or 20 years ago I wouldn’t have noticed this scene as it would have been clean and characterless. Now, punished by the elements and peacefully decaying in the sunlight, it deserves to be recorded by camera.
44/ After analysing countless manhole covers on my drift, Setagaya, it seems, has the most decorative ones. These heavy, circular iron pressings enveloped in concrete enable the road to become a gallery. I’m fond of the chysanthemum designs. Now I’ve started to cycle round them and not over them. 45/ Dead end number…..I’ve lost count.
It’s about 3:15 in the afternoon. I manage to navigate through more roads, lanes, avenues , through Setagaya-ku and Chofu-shi. I find a familiar ugly main road, Koshu-kaido Avenue. I reluctantly cycle along it accompanied with familiar urban killer characteristics such as traffic, smog, carbon monoxide etc. 46/ As I’m passing through Chofu, I wait at the traffic lights under the monstrous and engulfing Chuo expressway. It is here I spot a small playground. A space that functions for young children to play happily for hours on colourful and animated objects of amusement such as slides, swings, merry-go-rounds and climbing frames. However, this scene is frightening by contrast. Dark, cold and uninviting. Look closely and you are able to see express way escape stairwells on a pillar. Another Murakami book springs to mind (1Q84) Actually, the stairwell should be lowered so the children are able to escape! No, there is something disturbing and dystopian about this environment. Though amidst the noise, the voices of the children and parents echo; no doubt enjoying the open space and nonchalant about the out-of-place irregularity.
A Brief Conclusion
During the cyclogeography experience I did start to question which is more engaging (i.e. cyclogeography vs psychogeography). I reflected largely on my own perambulatory landscape and cityscape experiences. For instance, the Somerset Moors, Dartmoor, the Algarve, Brittany, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, Ottolo, Siberia, The Forbidden City, and the Tokyo Metropolis which I’m forever exploring. I then realized that my cyclogeography experiences were practically limited. Reflection over. So, what did I learn and discover? Psychogeography being a continuous narrative which our physical dictates our motion. Depending on the region, in my case this week an urban landscape, the drifter(s) observes and encounters more aspects of human geography as opposed to physical geography. I was amazed by the number of obstacles I had to strategically maneuvre around. Tunnels, dead ends (cul-de-sac), railway crossings, one way streets being just a few examples. Again, thinking of Debord as he decried, the city dictates our movements and we are consumed by it. Debord’s a bit too heavy for me. However, getting away from geographical jargon and Situationist rhetoric, from my observations, the urban landscape does offer a fascinating continuous visual gallery influenced by the human. Forms such as manhole covers, cracked ceramic pots, dusty cushions, decaying artefacts, refuse netting, and ubiquitous surrounding detritus. In short, a 24 hour, alfresco, free, art gallery.
Drift Distance: 5.7 miles/9.3 kilometres