|Otsuki Award (Japan)
" Three Maps "
Yasuo Maeda, Tokyo
63 years passed since I was born in the students' quarters of Waseda. Since about 30 years ago when I became totally blind, private shops located along the main street began to be replaced by multi-story buildings through buyup or joint projects. That trend still continues, and the streetscape has completely changed.
I saw some graduates of Waseda University who visited the town for the first time in a few decades to attend the university's Home Coming Day event dumbfounded by the change of the streetscape and returned home in disappointment saying "I walked as if I were in a different town I don't know."
But deep in my mind was firmly stored the scene of this town, which I vividly and visually remembered including every back alley I cherished so much since my childhood, as recorded in the map I saw 30 years ago.
When it comes to the map of the recent town, I heard buildings were constructed here and there, such as a 12-story building just completed or a tailor and a second-hand bookshop jointly constructing a building, but it is difficult for me to clearly visualize a new townscape because of those drastic changes.
When asked, "You know that building was constructed there several years ago, but do you remember what was there before that?," I can instantly answer "If I remember correctly, there were a used bookstore, an umbrella shop, an ice shop, a stone dealer's shop and a meat shop, who had to relocate because of land buyup." It's thanks to the map in my memory of the past.
The other day I walked with a helper to the neighborhood of my high school, about 30-minute walk from my place, and visited the school as part of a leisure walk.
The building of the high school when I attended was originally used as that of an elementary school until the end of WW II and was constructed as a sturdy reinforced concrete 3-storied building, rare before WW II. Because of the structural strength, the building was spared the destruction despite the Yamanote Air Raid on May 25, 1945 that completely devastated the neighborhood into a burnt-down field. The building continued to be used as a high school of the new education system after the war.
It was when the Tokyo Olympics were held and the Beatles visited Japan that I was a high school student attending that school for three years. Although the surrounding area became modernized, I didn't have a very good impression of the old school building; the balcony sticking out from the teachers' room toward a small school ground and teachers arranged in line on the balcony during every morning meeting, and what not aroused a feeling of repulsion in the mind of a high school student partly because of the influence of the then campus activism.
About when the Imperial Era changed to Heisei, I received a notice from my alumni association that our school was going to be reborn as Tokyo Metropolis' first unit-based high school and that the name of the school was going to be changed with the school building to be demolished and replaced with a new building. But I never had a chance or mind to go to that area.
There is a complete difference in the townscape of the neighborhood of the school between my memory and what the helper described. I finally found three stores I remember after a long search, but their descriptions are quite different from the impressions of the stores I remembered, or the long-standing stores squeezing through on the first floor of the building. But when I went to a back alley, I felt relieved because I found that a public bathhouse and a big printing shop I remembered continued their business at the same location although the buildings were reconstructed. Furthermore, I felt nostalgic to be in the wooded area, the garden of a Buddhist temple with a large compound located at the back of the school. While I was resting, an old person spoke to me and said that there was an old map available for view at the nearby ward's branch office.
The map I found posted on the wall of the branch office had the following note: "This map was a reconstruction of what we, the classmates, born in 1931, of the Yamabuki Jinjo Elementary School, remembered as a busy shopping street in around 1941." The name of every store, centering around the school, in the shopping street busy with people in the days before the area was burnt into a devastated field by the air raid is written on the map. The street width was about half of what it is now, so the prosperity of the shopping street is easily imaginable because of the smallness. In the neighborhood ran three lines of the tram car, and I imagined Waseda University students also walked in this narrow street going to school in those days.
There were a variety of shops, including geta shop, charcoal shop, grocer's, miso store, cafe, shooting gallery, hairpiece shop, and photo studio standing side by side in the street. While I was listening to the descriptions of those stores, I felt very much excited and intrigued despite my lack of knowledge of all those stores.
As I explained, the bathhouse and the large printing shop we just saw still stay at the same place as they were in the pre-war days, and the temple is shown in the map occupying as large a compound as the school.
While I was creating an image of the busy townscape in my mind, a completely different idea came up. That is, all that hustling and bustling instantly disappeared because of the air raid, the people living there mostly scattered, the neighborhood newly readjusted after the war, new people coming to settle this once-burnt area to create a new streetscape. All these facts attracted my attention suddenly and for the first time because of this map. I feel the map strongly tells a tale of misery and woefulness of the war and disaster and how the long years of relationship of all those people were destroyed in a flash. The map drawn by those classmates not just resurrected a memory of good old days in me but also revealed what the map makers really wanted to tell. It brought a lump to my throat.
I heard many communities were totally destroyed by the tsunami of the Tohoku Earthquake. In the process of community restoration, if the day comes when they can have a mental elbow room to think back and then if they recreate the townscape before the disaster in the form of a map, I believe that would surely be a silent warning to the people generations in the future that we should not let the same thing happen again and also be a service for the repose of to all those victimized people. In addition, if we realize the place we live now is built on all those lives, their emotions and their communities that lasted for generations but were gone, we could be able to live in a bit more modest and humble attitude.
In these days I more frequently take a walk around my school. With the map of 1941, the map in my high school days, and the present map vivid in my mind, I take a break under the trees in the compound of the temple that must have firmly seen all those changes of history.
Because that is the only place where the three maps join all together and my heart peacefully rests.