Slow Motion Change

Shiwa is in a state of change, but it’s a slow motion change. One that’s been going on for more than a generation. The agricultural sector is shrinking, and in the central part of town, the part sprawled along national highway Route 4, fields are being replaced with housing developments. Given the difficulty of freeing land resources and the established tradition of close quarter living, these new neighborhoods are as packed as the old business district.

The houses are nothing like the suburbs from my childhood in Colorado. They have just enough space between them for a car or two and no yards. Asphalt and gravel cover the ground from the street to the doors. The soil beneath is so fertile that despite these efforts weeds still push up in unlikely places.

This may be ideal for commuters who use Shiwa for a bedroom, but the newly confined space reduces the green and shrinks the sky.





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.