Ducking into a Coat

Before moving to Shiwa, close spaces made me think of modernity and its population booms and industrialized cities. Now the shoulder to shoulder buildings in old areas make it easy for me to imagine that when villages developed along the Kitakami, people gathered around wells and stuck together for fear of being lost to the wild.

With kuras, garages, businesses, and even in some cases former houses next to new ones, the oldest families in town live in close conditions. Their homes are compounds.

In other cases families gave over plots of land for relatives to build houses, but the fields always had priority. Leaving them untouched meant sacrificing living space. Houses were built feet apart and became clusters.

Yet this kind of nearness is comforting. Surrounding oneself with family and basing a town on the premise of resource sharing and protection is to build a support system.

The old commercial district, Hizume Shotengai, is packed with long and narrow buildings. Some are new, and others old and abandoned.  Of all the places in Shiwa, it feels the most like New York City. Yet it’s cozy. Stepping out of a bar on an autumn night and into streets too narrow for cars can feel like ducking into a coat. It’s a feeling of  safety and warmth compared to the darkness that hovers over the mountains and rice fields.







This is Shiwa

Imagine a valley between two mountain ranges that don’t rise above the alpine line. They don’t even aspire towards it. Instead they are covered from head to toe with forests of many kinds of trees.

Now imagine generations pass like seconds and the valley, equally lush with vegetation, is remade by the industry of farmers. The trees disappear except for those around shrines and those used by farm houses to hold back the wind and snow. The earth is flattened and partitioned into square rice fields. The valley is now wide open.

Beneath a big sky, the rice fields change. In winter they’re rolling plains of snow. In spring they are pools that reflect the sky and mountains. In summer they are all the same shade of green. In autumn they turn gold, and then suddenly the soil reappears.

Imagine a river flows through the valley. Farm roads lead towards it, and a highway runs alongside it. On some banks trees remain, and in spaces tight compared to the openness of the fields, buildings spring up and a commercial district develops.

This is Shiwa.