Okutama: Staying traditional.

As is my tradition, after 5 days in Tokyo, I am ready to escape, ready to leave the swarms of skyscrapers and find some green and quiet.  Yesterday morning I made my move.  A two-hour train ride took me into the steep green valleys of Okutama along Tokyo`s mountainous border.  The suffocating sprawl of the city was left behind in the foot hills.  Okutama may technically be in Tokyo, but it is yokel Tokyo.

Tokyo is sometimes called a city of villages; Okutama is the closest to my idea of the real thing –  small and peculiar.  Outside the train station stands the rusting hulk of a limestone plant – one precious natural resource ruthlessly exploited.  Along the sloping roads signs warn of bears, earthquakes, rock slides, nuclear power and the threat of 10% consumption tax.  In a medieval konbini tupperware tubs of pickled plums sat plonked next to a stuffed pheasant; a scrawled sign advertised wasabi gelato.

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The town charter is displayed on a wooden noticeboard.  It promises to dento mamoru – protect tradition.  What tradition?   The only tradition I am familiar with in Japan is the tradition of talking about tradition.  Nobody seems to know what the traditions are, only that they need to be talked about regularly.

I boarded a bus to take me up to Tokyo`s tapwater reservoir, Lake Okutama.  The calm emerald waters of the lake are held up by an enormous dam – what tradition built that?  But I can`t really complain of a dodgy view when my water bottle was filled from the lake.

About 10 minutes after we passed the dam I got off the bus – at the wrong stop, as is my tradition.  For 30 minutes I was forced to walk through dark narrow tunnels, backing against the wall when trucks, sports cars and motorbikes flew past.  “What the hell am I doing here?,”  I asked the wall, as is my tradition.

At last I found a path up into the pine and cedar covered hills.  At last some green and quiet I thought.  But there was no green.  Unlike in Devon where green grows up, here all the green was in the canopy above me, hanging in the air waiting for the killer cold of autumn.  All I could see was brown – dead leaves and brittle bark on tree trunks.

There was no quiet either, just the constant chugging of a digger below.  There`s a Tokyo tradition, the construction industry, putting up and taking down buildings like a child playing lego.  Their commitment to redeveloping could fit onto a new city charter:  “We promise to build and demolish.  Relentlessly.  If the next earthquake does not knock your house down, we will.”

So as is traditional, I come to the end of a blog post and can not remember why I started in the first place.  It was pretty profound I am sure.  Hang in there, I`ll let you know when it comes back to me.

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