You may be thinking that Japan is the land of rickshaws and ninjas but that’s only in the tourist areas.
Out here in the suburbs life is quite different.
I am on a two month Asialink artist’s residency in suburban Tokyo. That means I get to make art, whatever art I like, and go to exhibitions, lots of them, in one of the most interesting cities in the world. My partner is also here and we are ready to explore the city!
I’ll just do a little introduction to our part of town. We are in Suginami-ku, a city in it’s own right, which has been swallowed up by greater Tokyo. Suginami-ku is 15 minutes by train from Shibuya, you know the place with the busiest pedestrian crossing in Tokyo, the one that you see in all the movies.
Out here the pace is slower and there’s not much by way of highrise buildings. At the corner of our street is a small shrine with a number of jizu statues. Jizu is a (Buddhist) being who chose to help people on the earth after attaining enlightenment. He is considered to be the protector of many people including travellers, pregnant mothers and, in particular, very young children who have died prematurely. As one of the most popular Buddhist ‘saints’ statues of him are found all over Japan.
Jizu statues on the corner
Ours is a pretty normal street. Quite narrow by Australian standards with a narrow footpath indicated by the white line painted along the side of the road.
The powerpoles are masterpieces of contemporary installation art, draped with wires and additions sprouting from every direction.
The powerpole outside our window
Our building was in a former life, a sanatarium for tuberculosis patients. It has now been repurposed as an arts residency that houses artists from Japan and around the world in a number of studios. There are another two adjoining buildings in the complex housing two more studios. On the ground floor of this building is another space which currently houses two young Japanese artists.
My studio and our living space occupies the entire top floor of this building. There is plenty of light and space in the studio. the living section is more compact, but not bad compared to other places we’ve stayed in Japan.
The biggest difference we are finding here is in the amount of noise and light. Our place back home is on a quiet street so while our the studio looks like it’s on a back street this actually a main route to a nearby station. The traffic is busy! Plus we have a large primary school next door. Yesterday I realised I was hearing the school assembly, which sounded just as long and boring as any I sat through as a schoolkid. The single light pole outside our house has been replaced by 5 or so as this building sits near two intersections and apart from the living space the studio has virtually no window coverings (the glass is frosted). These aren’t complaints rather it just shows what we take for normal until shown otherwise.
Nearby are restaurants, quite a good supa (supermarket) an electronics and a hardware store. There’s even more interesting shops a short bus ride away. It’s quite a dense landscape compared to an Australian suburb, but the locals are friendly!