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Townscape of Onomichi

2016.07.01

There was a chance to visit my hometown Onomichi last month. It is surprising that 50 years have passed since I graduated high school. I got invitation to an alumni gathering, and more than 100 alumnus who graduated in the same year as mine attended the ceremony. There is a system where alumnus of a few generations younger than those who graduated 50 years before organize the gathering and invite them, then next year those hosts in previous year become guests of new year alumni gathering invited by younger generation, and this cycle is to be succeeded continuously.

In this article, I would like to talk some about townscape of Onomichi. Through this visit, I found the atmosphere of the town has changed into something much more lively and open, which is interesting as the landscape have not changed a lot.

■Continuity to the sea from the town
Onomichi has flourished as a shipment center for trade, and the port still has its function having organic connection with the town center. There are 3 main streets in Onomichi, one by the coast, one through the town, and one through the mountain, and people can enjoy each different townscape walking through them. There are fascinating devices along the coastal street, such as a telephone box made from a container crane or a monumental film-shaped sculpture made of stone associated with a local film director Nobuhiko Obayashi, through which visitor can enjoy the view. The 2 km long promenade serves as a life space for residents along the street and also a recreational space for pedestrians. The street looks like floating on the sea with islands at its back. This peaceful scenery is one of representative townscapes of Onomichi. The sound of ship engine and ocean, sunshine reflected on the surface of sea, wind in his face, and its fragrance, all of them stimulate people’s sense and lift their mind up.

■Active front space of shops
There are a lot of old shops in the commercial street called Hondori, and recently, some interesting shops are opened by young owners, making this street far from ghost mall; one of concerns in other rural town in Japan. Encouraged by low rent and new shops that have opened already, more and more young people are moving to this area to open their business.
I found that lively shops have charming front display with their products. This display allows visitors to get information of the shop, feel welcomed to enter and free to talk to the owner. It was lovely to see children looking at displays in front of shops. Furthermore, one has made an outside alcove serving as a small relaxation space for visitors, showing the hospitality of the shop owner. This is a maximum use of the space, and those inventions contribute to new townscape of Onomich with new communal spaces for locals to exchange pleasantries like idobatakaigi in old days.

■ Creating new business unique to Onomichi
I bumped into a shop filled only with jeans. The owner explained to me that they wash and sell vintage jeans, which local workers such as fishermen or farmers wore for a year. Those jeans are stretched into the shape comfortably fitting to local workers movements, having new values enriched through time, are on demand even for posh price. At the same time, customer can trade in used jeans. It was surprising to know how various businesses exist in the world.

Reflected the historical background where Onomichi had produced various items from shipping, a local shop is selling items such as bags made of mast working together with students at department of Art and Design of Onomichi University and increasing their sales. There is a marriage of local industry and academic association, producing new values in the town. Talking about another unique business, have you ever seen signboard with smallest number of letter ‘ろ’? This is of the workshop for professional repairing oars in Onomichi, who could not find anybody to succeed his techniques. Recently a son of my friend opened his restaurant here, and named it ‘Takahara Seiji Syokudou (means casual restaurant for labors)’ despite of its trendy look typically seen in posh area like Akasaka or Aoyama in Tokyo. I heard it is hard to reserve tables for its popularity at current, but the aesthetic impression which entrance give is convincing that it is worth to wait and the limited number of table guaranties the quality of services to reward customer’s patience.
To be continued.

Yoshiki Toda

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