On our way to Nezu jinja in the Bunkyo ward of Tokyo, we walked through a side road with a few interesting shops. Most of the houses were one or two-storeyed, and there was even an old-fashioned two-storeyed wood-framed house. “How nice”, I thought to myself, “such an old-fashioned lane.” I couldn’t have been more wrong. Last week I looked at an article written in 1992 by A.W. Sadler. He described this road in 1965 as full of mom-and-pop stores “with the shop (fish, meat, vegetables, rice crackers, stationery, magazines) in front and family quarters in back. You could stop in at nine at night, and find the family gathered around the supper table or the television set, always ready to enter the shop and welcome the late patron.”
But about his visit in 1990 he wrote “only two of the wooden frame houses are now left standing. The destroyer this time is not war, nor earthquake, but prosperity. … The young no longer move out to start a new home elsewhere; real estate is too tight in Tokyo. And so the old house is torn down and a new one built in its place.” Inevitably, the process has moved on in the next thirty years. I saw only one old wooden frame house, that in the photo above. Even the other houses are more modern than Sadler’s description from thirty years ago.
The 1990-era Tokyo that he writes about was my first glimpse of Japan. “The national dress is effectively gone. … At festival time we did see a few yukata, but young women were, for the most part, dressed in shorts, jeans, and trousers.” Again times have moved on, and huge changes have accumulated. Sadler wrote then “During the autumn festival, twenty-five years ago, girls stood on the sidelines as the mikoshi went by, and giggled at the somewhat underclad young men. Now they seem more grown up, more involved, less giggly.” Although Japanese women still speak publicly in a high-pitched voice, this patronizing description would now be looked at as critically here as it would be anywhere else in the world.
On the boulevard Sadler talked of sidewalks as new in 1990 where a pedestrian no longer has to watch for cars, but only for bicycles. Those bicycles are no longer visible now. We strolled down the sidewalk looking for our bus-stop. The houses here were higher, four to six storied, and most people seemed to live in apartments. Much of the street level was given over to shops of various kinds.
Right across the boulevard from the bus stop was a very popular food stall. A long queue had formed outside it. We were to see this many times in Tokyo: along a road one food store of a kind would be really famous, while the others waited for walk-ins. When we tried the unfashionable ones, they were still quite good. “Reminds me of famous versus not-so-famous sweet shops in Kolkata”, I told The Family once. It was time for our elevenses; should we cross and investigate? Before we could decide, our bus was at the stop and, like automatons, we boarded.