Taking a dog for a walk, Tokyo style

There have been suggestions in the past that Japan’s falling birth rate and the increase in pets are connected. The growing legion of little dogs, it is said, are more than merely companions, they are child substitutes.

Now how true this is it’s hard to say, but there’s no denying that these pooches are generally pampered way more than your average pet. They are continually cooed over, and clothing is practically compulsory, ranging from colourful winter woolies to rather more stuffy school uniforms. The odd one or two even wear wigs.

And as for walkies, well, that could tire the poor tyke out. Much better for master to take care of that.

Tokyo shrine in Autumn

A Shibuya girl’s glance or glare?

When taking photographs on Tokyo’s streets, discretion is always my watchword. For starters I don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable, and more importantly — at least in relation to the resultant photo — the aim is for an image that’s natural; a moment of day-to-day life caught, uncontrolled and totally unselfconscious.

However, even with the best of intentions, it’s simply impossible to go unnoticed all the time. And yet even though I fear this look may be much nearer a glare than a glance, it’s a photograph that at the same time quite inadvertently contains far more character than it could have.

Shibuya girl in black and white

An abandoned but perfectly preserved Japanese school

Pretty much all haikyo that contain items related to the building’s past are interesting. On the odd occasion even empty structures are too. But while memory-filled houses and sorry-looking snake centres are fascinating in their own very different ways, there’s arguably something that little bit special about a long-abandoned school.

abandoned Japanese school

And this is especially the case when it’s an elementary school; the kind of place that is usually associated with noise, laughter and overly energetic young children. All of which make the complete silence of such haikyo really quite eerie — particularly so when it’s one as well-preserved as this.

abandoned Japanese school

A small, village school up in the mountains that feels like it has only just been vacated.

abandoned Japanese school

In fact, it is so untouched that there’s a real sense the students will suddenly return. Each and every one of the small class charging in from the entrance.

abandoned Japanese school

And then sitting.

abandoned Japanese school

Quietly.

abandoned Japanese school

At their allotted desk.

abandoned Japanese school

Obediently waiting for the teacher to start the next lesson.

abandoned Japanese school

In reality, however, it’s an awfully long time since any students studied in this room — 37 years ago to be exact.

Under an old procedure that gave away forest land as a ‘gift’ from the Imperial House — an antiquated practice that was eventually superseded by the National Forest system — the mountain village that surrounds the school began life back in 1907. The school, on the other hand, was apparently founded in the previous century, in 1873. Quite why it would have been built in such an out of the way spot really isn’t clear, but with the arrival of the village 34 years later, its location was ideal.

A tiny structure that was literally at the centre of community life. The place where village youngsters would have studied basic mathematics.

abandoned Japanese school

And more than likely marvelled at the latest technology.

abandoned Japanese school

The room that contains this television (its doorway is visible in the second photograph), is also where the school’s last teacher, Yoshifumi Amemiya, would have been able to enjoy some brief time to himself. Providing him with the chance to put up a few posters.

abandoned Japanese school

Relax.

abandoned Japanese school

And generally have a well-earned break.

abandoned Japanese school

It’s also where he obviously studied the medical journals that were piled up there, as Amemiya-sensei was almost certainly a doctor too. A profession he presumably returned to when the school closed, as there was a clinic nearby run by a man of the same name.

Why the school boarded up its doors though isn’t completely clear, but a typhoon that badly damaged much of the village more than likely marked the beginning of the end for the settlement, and eventually the school itself.

In fact, an earlier typhoon in 1959 destroyed what was possibly the original school building, but it was rebuilt the following year. A factor that could well account for its relatively good condition, along with the unusual practice by the local Board of Education of visiting once a year in order to maintain the school’s ‘temporarily closed’ status, rather than letting it officially become a haikyo.

abandoned Japanese school

All of which result in a wonderfully preserved structure, where that aforementioned silence is almost deafening. A place where there’s no fun and games.

abandoned Japanese school

No sports.

abandoned Japanese school

And definitely no more singing of the school song.

abandoned Japanese school

There are simply no more sounds or students at all. And almost certainly there never will be.

abandoned Japanese school

Typhoon Roke uprooted trees

When Typhoon Roke — or plain old No. 15 as it’s also known — indifferently passed through Tokyo yesterday, there was no denying it brought some wet and especially windy conditions. And yet despite the howling and the horizontal rain, it was hard to appreciate just how strong a force it was. Or at least it was from the comforting shelter of an apartment complex.

However, having seen the staggering amount of debris scattered over the streets this morning, it’s clear that the winds Roke brought were very strong indeed. So powerful in fact that trees were uprooted all over the capital.

Typhoon Roke in Tokyo

And old men, much to their dismay, were even forced to curtail their constitutional bike ride.

Typhoon Roke in Tokyo