Shinbashi ruins

by on Tuesday, 20 November 2007 Comments

 

On my last trip to Tokyo before I came home, I was supposed to meet a friend at Shinbashi Station. Having never been to that district I went about two hours early and wandered around the backstreets, in which I came upon one of the combination demolition/construction sites that frequent the developing regions of a city.

Judging by the empty lots, the entire neighborhood of aesthetically undistinguished and mediocre in quality post-war construction seemed to have been marked for replacement with the gleaming high rises that most people around the world associate with Tokyo.

Sandwiched between the fenced in dirt lot on one side and the only symbolically roped-off already demolished lot, still covered with what appears to be the tile surface of the vanished building’s ground floor, remained an isolated block. Although the building was clearly labeled off limits, the barriers barely covered one third of the perimeter, and many of the doors were wide open, if not missing entirely. The ones that were present were decorated with signs declaring “DANGER!” or the demolition schedule. There was a typical example of hastily build postwar concrete and wood construction, the ground floor was occupied entirely by shops-a bar, a “snack” bar, a locksmith and a small restaurant. With the construction worker in the empty and properly fenced in neighboring lot asleep in his tiny crane and the security guard distracted, I sneaked inside the first open door to see an expectedly decrepit and yet surprisingly full restaurant.

Slipping out of the long closed and forgotten restaurant, I entered the neighboring husk of a so-called “snack bar,” that had apparently once been called Azumi. Having been in a number of abandoned and pre-demolition buildings before, I found the left-behind contents in Azumi to be unusually numerous and diverse. On a shelf above and behind the bar I spotted a tiny glass, still shiny enough to reflect the room even in the dim light, and yet so laced through with microfractures that I imagined it would shatter into a thousand pieces if touched.

Exiting Azumi, I checked the next door which led into the living room of what was presumably a flat belonging to the proprietors of one of the stores enterable from the front-side. Of all the vacant buildings or abandoned sites I have ever set foot in, I had never seen such an abundance of furniture and personal artifacts. The sheer presence of so much personal property strewn about left me wondering: what happened? You wouldn’t normally expect people to leave both their business and their homes, to move away without bringing anything with them. The presence of subtle details of life in motion, such as this yellowed and crinkled shopping list caused me to picture not a family simply moving to a new house, but being dragged off suddenly in the wake of a Chernobyl-like toxic disaster, or at gunpoint by an armed militia. From the hardware left around, it seemed as if the former residents were in the very middle of improving maintaining their home as they vanished. A disquieting feeling of wandering through lives interrupted was continuing to grow.

Among the scattered papers, my attention was attracted by an incongruous writing in English: the lyrics were the final verse of the song ’I Could Have Danced All Night’, from the musical ’My Fair Lady’.

"Eliza I could have danced all night,
I could have danced all night.
And still have begged for more.
I could have spread my wings,
And done a thousand things I’ve never done before.
I’ll never know What made it so exciting.
Why all at once my heart took flight. I only know when he
Began to dance with me I could have danced, danced,
danced All night!"


What is the significance of the errors in the handwritten lyrics? Was it being transcribed from the radio, or perhaps a record? Was the transcriber a child or adult? Male or female? Was it the last music ever heard or hummed in the room before the residents moved on?

As I stood there pondering all the mysterious and melancholy possibilities of the sweet, sad scrap of lyrics I heard the sudden noise of a construction worker in the next room, and I cut my explorations short and fled the building, as quickly and quietly as I could manage. As I walked away, I took a quick snapshot of the view across the street from the front door of the condemned building, standing on a border between a piece of the past and the future.


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