Cyclogeography 5: Somewhere in Asia

miyadera-horinouchi-saitama-2016
Miyadera & Horinouchi, Saitama, Japan

When I was younger I used to watch re-runs of the stylish 60s TV cop series The Man From Uncle. Still like watching them now. Occasionally, a pre-sequence of an episode would typically begin with someone pursing someone with deadly intent and usually  in the middle of an uncultivated environment. Then, a screen title appears, ‘Somewhere in Africa’. Such vagueness with geographical referencing I found outlandish yet fascinating and original. When I get occasionally lost though usually not being pursued with deadly intent while cycling, that peculiar TV graphic reference springs to mind.

On this particular hot afternoon I wasn’t lost. I was drifting around Miyadera, a remote countryside area in Iruma shi, Saitama. Getting off the overbearing 179 road, I ventured into a quiet residential area. The look, the feel, the smell of the area was very scenic. I passed a closed post office, a closed independent grocery store, a closed hair salon and a closed petrol station. What was even more peculiar was the fact that I seemed to be the only person in the vicinity. The only thing in motion. Time was standing still yet I was allowed to move. The desolateness was most intriguing. I got off the ‘birdy’ and panned this experience. I waited a little, still nothing. I cycled back down to the main road, all the time, looking back, but still not a soul in sight.

SOUND DETAILS FROM FREESOUND.ORG:

Both effects put into audacity, amplified with echo. Details below from sound authors.

Howling wind effect: A doctored vocal imitation of a cold howling wind. Recorded using a Blue Yeti USB microphone. includes reverb and light stereo panning effectsCrickets: A minute of raw audio of night wildlife in Callahan, Florida. Crickets more or less dominate the ambiance.

 

Traffic interrupted the drift back to base. A long stretch of cars, bikes, trucks, some heavy articulated trucks were building up, clogging the 179. Many of the vehicles were too close to the curb so I dismounted the bike and walked for a while on the pavement slowly passing the steadily moving traffic. Down a few winding roads, I could see the turn-off in the distance. A small battered drive way on an incline caught my eye along the way. I noticed an old Showa house practically in ruins at the end of the drive. My eyes lit up instantly. I strolled down the drive way as though I lived there. Anyone watching me from the traffic would have thought so. Anyway, I was now on public property, I considered what to say in the event of being greeted by a person bearing a frown emerging from the front door entrance, holding a shotgun (as if!).  Fortunately, no one seemed to be around but a pair of old grey trousers on a rusty metal hanger hanging outside suggested a presence. Obscured from the drive way view was another ruin of a house but this one had much more character. This one was my cup of tea. It was connected to a structure I couldn’t work out. A workhouse of some kind. The protecting outer layers of wood had completely deteriorated. What was left were a chaotic assembly of upright rotting beams with buckets, bottles, ubiquitous yellow plastic crates and other nondescript ephemeral articles poking out of the weeds and brambles. Looking at this spectacle made me think if this were a human body, then I would be observing static internal organs. I sketched some of the outline but then re-positioned myself. Over the next few weeks I would return to this very spot. However, I’ve not been back to the area in Miyadera though. That picture of emptiness and abandonment still resonates in my mind.

horinouchi-saitama-2016

Horinouchi, Tokorozawa Shi, Saitama Ken (2016)

 

 

 

 

 

Cyclogeography 1: A Linear Drift Through West Tokyo

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”

Shiraitodai-Chitose Karasuyama

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.

1 Musashinodai 2   2 Musashinodai Rail Crossing

 

 

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.

33 Stone Garden on Shinagawa Kaido4 5 Flower Pot Scooter (Kyu Koshu Kaido Avenue)

 

 

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

55 Tobitakyu (Chofu) 66 Selfie (Chofu)

 

 

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.

7 7 Chofu Station 8 8 Yamaguchi Off License (Chofu)

 

 

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.

99 Flower Shop (Fuda) 1010 Free Rubbish

 

 

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.

1111 Tree in Shibasaki Station 1212 On the Track (between Shibasaki & Tsutsjigaoka

 

 

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?

13 13 Nice Day Nice Smoking (near Tsutsujigaoka Stn)

 

 

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.

1414 Old Shack 15 15 New House

 

 

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.

17 17 A House with a View 1818 Plot of Land

 

 

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!

1919 The Kind Steps 20 20 An Allotment with a View

 

 

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.

2123 Airing the Futons2224 The Bridge (Setagaya Ku)

 

 

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.

23 25 Narrow Road (Setagaya ku)    24 26 Airing the Cushions

 

 

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)

25 27 A Tunnel

 

 

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.

2628 Decorative Concrete (Chitose Karasuyama)2729 Cracking Structures

 

 

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.

28  30 Cemmetary Gates   29 31 Architecture

 

 

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.

30 32 Protecting the Aloe Vera    31    33 Decorative Man Hole Cover

 

 

32/ ‘Hidden Heaven’ A house sandwiched between houses. 33/ Dead end street so I need to re-route.

32   34 Hidden Heaven  33  35 Dead End Street

 

 

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.

3436 Crack Pots    3537 Keeping out the Crows

 

 

36/ Another ramshackle front yard. A pocket of curiosity. More airing in evidence. Rugs this time. 37/ Another dead end!

3639 Airing the Mat   37 40 Dead End Street 2

 

 

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.

38   42 Roof in need of Repair 39    41 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.

40   43 Brolly Collection    41   44 Backyard (1)

 

 

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.

42 46 Backyard (3)       43  45 Backyard (2)

 

 

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.

44  48 Man Hole Cover (2)  45   47 Dead End Street (3)

 

 

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.

4649 Dystopian Playground

 

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 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ome Shack

This weekend I stayed with my in-laws (or ‘The Out-laws’ as I sometimes cheekily refer to them!) in Ome. Ome (Translation: Japanese apricot) is in the Kanto region of Japan; a beautiful, scenic area about an hour away by express train from central Tokyo. Unfortunately, my father-in-law hasn’t been very well in recent years so every now and again, when my mother-in-law needs assistance, I go up and help out.

Their bungalow is deep in the Ome countryside. A 25 minute walk or a 5 minute bus ride from Ome train station. Depending on weather conditions, I usually opt for the walk. It’s a pleasurable stroll through the old town, snapping ancient shop fronts and stunning decaying structures along the way then across the bridge and into the Hatanaka area. Whenever I’m in this part of the world, it’s a welcome relief to get away from Tokyo’s overbearing concreted metropolis and find myself engulfed in the natural surroundings.

Ome Shop front 3.jpgOme Shop front 4.jpg

Their bungalow was built in the mid-60s and it still retains a lot of its original features though in a serious state of decay now. I’ve always been fascinated by the higgledy-piggledy interiors. Dated British sitcoms spring to mind; Steptoe & Son and Only Fools and Horses. In photographic terms, to some degree, I can see characteristics of Richard Billingham’s photobook, Ray’s a Laugh. Due to my mother-in-law’s reluctance to throw things away, the bungalow has become a cross between a bric-a-brac shop and a history museum.

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Each room is filled with objet d’ art and lost ephemera can be found everywhere. National and local newspapers stacked up high in the corners of each room. Collections of Badminton journals, books on botany, wildlife, cookery, judo etc dating back from the 70s and 80s.

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My mother-in-law’s shodo (Japanese calligraphy) proudly decorates some of the walls in the living room. The crème coloured washi paper now orangey brown. The sliding doors that no longer slide, nicotine stained walls, cat claw marks, crumpled boxes of vegetables, trays of dried fruits and chili peppers drying out, broken draws, cassettes, telephones, fax machines, empty boxes, greasy surfaces,  hole-ridden curtains, dead plants, turtles, the list is endless. Such a colourful visual spectacle!

Jonathan Meades: Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloodymindedness (Part One)

There didn’t seem to be much in the form of entertainment on the EK312 from Dubai to Tokyo last Saturday. However, in the Arts and Music section, I came across an art documentary called Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloodymindedness. It was presented by writer, journalist, essayist and film-maker, Jonathan Meades. I remember watching a Jonathan Meades art documentary at university called Jerry Building, the subject matter focused on architecture of the Third Reich. It was my first exposure to Jonathan Meades; he’s someone you don’t forget easily; he’s very visual, witty, and articulates such colourful sounding phrases that I’m usually reaching for the dictionary just to comprehend his rhetoric. Incidentally, I still retain a 20-year-old doodle with a comment by Meades from the Jerry Building documentary! Unlike other art presenters such as Simon Schama and Andrew Graham-Dixon and no disrespect to them, he has a very theatrical, eccentric and comical way of presenting his programs. He might walk into shot from left to right and something unexpected might fall on him. Also, his dress sense is very individual for an art presenter (i.e. a black gangster suit and black shades). When discussing his documentaries with friends/ work colleagues, I often get mixed opinions about him as an art critic. I’ve found you either love him or hate him. In my opinion, he doesn’t try to stamp his point of view on you yet he makes you think deeply about the subject matter and possibly change your way of thinking.

In Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloodymindedness, Meades looks at how modern gothic architecture in Victorian times influenced the modernist buildings (brutalism) of the late 50s/early 60s; often looked at in derision or contempt and seen as concrete monstrosities. A phrase you will become accustomed to during the program. However, as Meades points out, ‘Why should buildings and landscapes look friendly?’ and goes on to say, ‘We don’t expect films or novels or paintings or sculptures to be pretty so why should we expect buildings to be pretty?’ He has a point there though the more important point he makes is that architects from the 1860s to the 1960s were not viewed as servile technicians or social workers but as a maker, an artist. They make something that didn’t before exist. The program brought back memories from my university days, notably when a group of us made a short documentary about architecture in the Bristol area. We chose the high rises in the Bedminster area. Before shooting commenced, I recall researching the urban planner, Le Corbusier. The man whose dream was to build high-rise structures where people could live in harmony vertically. In countries such as Italy, France and Holland his utopia became a reality. However, in Britain, the high rises of the late 50s/early 60s became stigmatized and were often associated with social problems such as (in the program’s words) addiction, family break-downs, sexual violence, long-term unemployment, looting, diseases etc. Overall, it’s an insightful documentary that makes you draw your own conclusions on Brutalist Architecture.

A doodle from a university lecture when watching Jerry Building in 1994, I wrote, ‘The treehouse of the mad child that wanted to rule the world’ (J Meades 1994) . The treehouse being Berghof, Hitler’s private retreat in the Bavarian Alps.