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Exploring a Showa-Era Town

Updated: Jun 24

If you're visiting Fujiyoshida, the best way to start your stroll around town is from Gekkōji Station.

Fujiyoshida is often described as a town in the Showa era, but actually, 'Nishiura' just downhill from Gekkōji Station, was used to be downtown until now.

As someone who's moved here from the city, 'Nishiura' is an area that catches my eye.

This 'tin sheet' town has a nostalgic atmosphere and no matter where you take it, anywhere here would make a great picture.

Japan's era name, known as 'Gengou,' began with 'Taika' in the year 645. Considering this, 'Reiwa' marks the 248th era name in Japanese history. So, if we divide this number simply, era changes occur approximately every five and a half years.

'Wait a minute, wasn't 'Showa' a whopping era that lasted for 63 years?'

That's because during the Meiji era, a law called "Issei Ichi-gen no Sei" was established, which meant one emperor had one era name, and that's why it lasted so long.

Before that, they would change the era name quickly for reasons like wars starting, diseases spreading, or if the shogun in the Edo period didn't have an heir, they'd change it for various reasons to try and change the times.

Among them, the Showa era, which lasted the longest, saw incredibly rapid changes in the world, starting from Iincandescent Light Bulb' era and advancing to 'Computer' era at an amazing speed.

When I was a baby, I visited Osaka to see a train. I saw something you can't even imagine today - steam trains puffing out smoke as they rolled along, and next to them, a Shinkansen was passing by.

At the Osaka Expo, companions would carry around 'cordless phones' (like today's smartphones), and for some reason, there were 'moving walkways' on the roads.

The Showa era was a time when expectations of the future gradually turned into reality, one by one.

That's why people of this generation often think that someday, things like cars flying in the sky or material teleportation, similar to Star Trek, might become a reality.

However, I felt like everything in Japan was stagnant during the 'Heisei' era.

Now, I believe that one of the symbols of the 'Showa' era is the 'Nishiura' in Fujiyoshida.

At its peak, there were about 250 Geishas and you could hear the sounds of Shamisen and *Dodoitsu from all around the town.

*Dodoitsu: Japanese poetry which is rhyme-less and meter-less poem divided into 7-7-7-5 syllables per line.

There were so many people that you couldn't walk in a straight line, much like the crowds on Takeshita Street in Harajuku nowadays.

The Showa-era vibe in Nishiura got even busier during the post-war reconstruction. Let’s walk around the town and see if I can find any old-timey things from back then.

First, I got off at Gekkōji Station.

The staircase in front of Gekkouji station features a stylish arrangement of white bricks that appears to lack a specific pattern.

The station itself had a retro vibe, but this was due to a relatively recent renovation that aimed to create a nostalgic atmosphere. However, as I ascended the stairs, it hit me: 'Ah, this is so Showa.' The peculiar pattern in which the bricks were laid gave off that unmistakable Showa-era feel.

When I turned away from the station and looked down the street, there it was on the right – the 'corrugated iron building.'

Surprisingly, it's three stories tall.

In the past, there was a proper Showa-era disco, complete with a DJ booth surrounded by glass and a large mirrored ball on the first floor. The second and third floors had a few snack bars and izakayas. Some parts of the inside haven't changed, but you can't get in anymore.

The red roof on the side of the alley was the entrance to the disco. It's quite a remarkable corrugated iron structure.

I remembered the conversation with Shinobu Machida, a writer and researcher who helped me out when I was working on the 'Lucky Charms Encyclopedia' during a night out at a bar.

"Corrugated iron is like the perfect example of the Japanese sense of 'Wabi' and 'Sabi'. That's why we feel nostalgic about it."

Suddenly, I found a massive corrugated iron at the entrance of Nishiura.

'This is gonna be good, I can tell!'

Machida-san also said something like this.

'You know, art and heritage often get preserved in museums and become cultural assets. But, Showa's living heritage consists of everyday items and tools used in the lives of common people, which are continuously consumed and integrated into daily life. It's a very precious heritage, yet it's being lost. That's why we should cherish and preserve what still exists, and document it.'

It makes me feel that we should preserve that corrugated iron building right in front of Gekkōji Station, just as it is.

I took a few steps forward to explore further.

'I found it. this, this is like a corrugated iron map that was used as a kind of signpost in the past.'

Upon closer inspection, I could see quite a few bars, restaurants, beauty salons, and eateries. I'd like to take a walk using this map as a reference. The map remains on the crumbling wall of the building. Some of the businesses are still in existence, but it seems that many have been lost.

There was a camera shop that's still running today.

'It just screams Showa, doesn't it? Pretty cool.'

Found a hidden gem here!

'Do you all know Kodak?'

Kodak was an American company that used to be a major player in the photography film industry. Most of the photographic film around the world was either Kodak or Fujicolor.

"Oh, look, there's Fujicolor too"

"The sign for the incredibly popular '*Utsurundesu' product is still here."

* Utsurundesu : Instant Cameras

Signs of the Two World Film Giants. Both have survived in different businesses.

‘Wow, this is like a cultural treasure, just casually placed here.’

‘Heh, heh, heh... I'm already full just from this much.’

But we've still got a long way to go.

Once again, I found another thing in front of the camera shop!

‘Student Hall Pal.' I wonder what it is?

Is it a student clothing store, a bar, or perhaps, as indicated on the corrugated iron map I saw earlier, a snack bar or sushi restaurant?

‘What's this? It says 'Schooler House.' Maybe it is a student clothing store after all.’

Anyway, it piqued my curiosity, but I'll leave the mystery for later and move on to the next thing.

It's fun to see scenes that look like corrugated iron art scattered everywhere in the vicinity.

I made a left turn before the river and entered the snack street.

It seems like this area is still thriving and in business. Every shop might have undergone changes and be relatively recent. It has a Showa vibe, but there's something different about it.

Still, the streetscape is pure Showa, and when you look closely, the remnants of that era keep flooding in.

'Here it is – Mt.Fuji and Showa!'

It's someone's house fence, but it looks cool. They've even made a window in the shape of Mt.Fuji. This is undoubtedly a Showa heritage.

Let's end this city stroll here for now, and we'll continue another time. Even though I've only walked a few hundred meters, it's been so fascinating, and we're still just at the entrance to Nishiura.

Post-war Showa was all about mass production and mass consumption, and everyone was busy with it. But now, it's the era of recycling and sustainability.

'In our daily lives, it's essential to think about what we should value and what we need to preserve and utilize.'

Fujiyoshida makes you ponder this a lot. While it's crucial for newcomers to bring different cultures, it's also important to blend into this town and think about what you can do. I thought that was the best part. If we can make the most of the remaining heritage and pass it onto the next generation, that would be wonderful.

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