A Better Place

On an early autumn day in Shiwa, you can see cosmos flowers growing in gardens and fields, wild in the forgotten lots of abandoned houses, and stubbornly in cracks in the sidewalk. They are almost everywhere, and they bloom in purple, pink, yellow, and orange.

A man from Shiwa bred an orange variety called “Sunset” and won the prestigious All American Selection award for his efforts in 1966. Now they grow in abundance, low like ground fog on which orange flowers float.

Other varieties can grow taller than people and would look like the worst kind of weeds with spidery leaves and reddish stalks but for their flowers. The flowers seem as thin and weak as paper, like they wouldn’t survive the wind of a typhoon or even the rain. Yet they grow in difficult places, in cracks, between rocks, and along chain link fences.

This is what I love about them. They don’t choose where they grow, but they survive, and in so doing they make it, no matter where it is, a better place.







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.