Tuesday, November 06, 2007

That's progress (so get over it, Michael)

The small town in Japan in which I lived, laughed, loved, hated, cried, struggled, languished and thrived for three years no longer exists.
Physically, it's still there and is largely as I remember it, thanks to a recent bird's-eye view on Google Earth.

But its name has been stricken from Japan's roster of municipalities, a victim of a great nationwide consolidation of little villages and towns into bigger towns and cities, many complete with new names that sound sterile and squeaky clean because they're so new and pure and without baggage.

In 2006, Nosaka Town in Chiba Prefecture combined with Yokaichiba City to form Sosa City.
And in the process, local lore was lost.

Nosaka was formed in 1954 through the consolidation of two villages, Noda and Sakae. The first two kanji, or Chinese characters, of those names were blended to create Nosaka.
Yokaichiba, literally "eight day market," was named for the farmer's and tradesman's market held there on days ending in an 8. It, too, dates from 1954.

House entrance, Sawara City (now Katori City), Chiba Prefecture, Japan, 1997

Japan had tens of thousands of municipalities by the end of the Edo era in the mid-1860s, when the feudal period met its bloody demise. Those ranged from tiny villages of just a few homes to castle towns to great cities such as Edo (Tokyo), Osaka and Kyoto.
This dizzying hodgepodge has been winnowed down at intervals during the ensuing years so that now, just a few thousand distinct municipalities remain. There are fewer villages than ever.

I have no doubt that this consolidation, this simplification, this shedding of the past has cut some of the red tape that existed when there were more towns and villages, and has unquestionably saved money in the process.

But the connection to the past has suffered.
Novels, poems, biographies, period accounts, lovers' secrets make reference to place names that exist only in memory, if at all.
People have to qualify their answer when asked their hometown.

I'm sure it was like that in 1954, when Nosaka and Yokaichiba became strange new names, and in the great consolidations before that.
But a place name ties you to the land because it personalizes what you see as both yours and shared. You are a part of this place, and these are your fellow townsfolk. This is where you cast your lot. This is where new life is brought into the world, and where souls are launched into eternity.

Reality is impermanence and impermanence is reality. It's not a difficult concept to understand, at least superficially.
Feeling it in my bones, though, is another matter.

5 comments:

Matt K. said...

I understand your feelings - but it is true that change is the only constant in the universe. Once upon a time, the city you love used to be New Amsterdam, and the capital of Japan was Edo - and wasn't the capital in Kyoto before that, even?

Your town will continue to exist, as long as people such as yourself continue to write lovingly about it.

YourFireAnt said...

Oh, I can relate to this post. That push/pull in my chest, the way I can know a thing is truth, and yet feel it otherwise, and yet....

And yet.

FA

Michael said...

Thank you both. Very good points, indeed.

Craig Photography said...

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Peace ~ John

Michael said...

Am heading over there right now ...