I decided to make a world class collection of photographs that captured the life at Kanto’s final stations, or “Shuuten”. The task was large, difficult and expensive. But the rewards were great
DAY 1: I started the second leg of my journey in the jewel of Saitama Prefecture, Chichibu. Famous for its gorgeous fields of vividly colored flowers and quiet charm. Unfortunately for me, I arrived in March. No flowers. Just a pre-spring, soggy landscape and a mountain that has been stripped bare for resources. But it still had plenty of quiet charm. I hiked up to a small park near the station and found a few interesting sights before heading off.
Next up Seibuen. To call this place desolate, under states the feeling of loneliness one gets when they come here out of season. Especially a Gaijin. The Race track, which I hear is fantastic, was locked tight with not a soul in sight. I examined the area, and much like the rest of Saitama, it was awash with small homes and convenience stores. That is with the exception of a huge theme park, which was nightmarishly empty. But it was very interesting. The rain was coming down a bit and I had secured my camera coat over my trusty Nikon, my pack tarp over my back pack and my rain coat over myself and went ahead. To my surprise, this park was open to the public and only 1,000 yen. I had an entire theme park to myself. But no time to ride. I was busy. I got to shooting. It was a bit of a trek back to the station and I really didn’t want to hike in the rain.
Kami Kitadai was charming little station which, like many others, has a small assortment of shops and restaurants built to service the station. But it has one key difference, it’s a monorail station. The town is more or less centered beneath the tracks and stretches a for a few stations. Luckily, the rain had eased up a little and some people had even decided to get outside while they could. I caught a wonderfully cheerful group of seniors out at play in a neighborhood park without a care in the world. They were so pleased to see a Gaijin had come to visit their isolated town, I was an instant hit. I spoke with them for a while and snapped photos until the skies turned dark again and I had to say farewell.
By the time I arrived at Hon-Kawagoe, the rain was relentless. Even with my overpriced camera coat, I didn’t dare temp the fate of an even more overpriced camera in the rain. I scoured the station for portraits. Most people in this suburban epicenter were too busy or too afraid to even pay attention to the Gaijin at the corner begging for portraits. Finally, after an hour of strolling the standard Saitama prefecture mall/train station, I found one of the most interesting men on my entire trip. He stood nearly as alone as me and just as out of place. Staring into the rain, holding a snowboard, wondering why he left Nagano to return home. He was happy to let me photograph him.
I got to my hotel soaking wet and in need of a shower. A slow day, but some great shots.
DAY 2: I awoke before dawn to make it down to Musashi Itsukaichi. Itsukaichi really seems to be the town that Japan forgot. It’s settled in a small out of the way valley and remarkably uninterrupted. I drew quite the shock as I strolled through the neighborhoods with my giant pack and camera. Many people thought I was lost and asked me why I came to their town. Even after I explained the project, they mostly thought I was silly and not where I intended to be. But they were nice, sort of. This town is mostly small farms and huts, but there were a few modern homes scattered about. But not so much as a glimpse of Tokyo’s cultural footprint. Things here are quiet and routine. And the people like it that way.
Next, I took a detour to catch a station I passed on my first trip. Keio Hachioji. Busy, but laid back. It had a very bohemian vibe in a very Urawa type world. I grabbed a coffee from a little music shop and had plenty of interesting subjects to photograph.
I headed back up through the mostly dead transfer station of Haijima.This place resembled a common sight in America, a town that used to be great. It really took the wind out of my sails for a bit. In less than two hours, I had photographed enough empty, old playgrounds and closed shops to depress me and head on. I got a feeling of mistrust from the locals as well. I was very uncomfortable outside of the station.
The day came to a dramatic conclusion at the quiet little village around Oku Tama station. There was a large factory right next door which I’m sure is 99% of the local economy, yet it was all but invisible among the deep green forest which grew along a crystal clear river nestled in the foothills. The river was the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Its water, which came straight from the spring and still smelled of sulfer, had a surreal shine of bluish green. Rope foot bridges spanned back and forth from the town to the campgrounds and temples and back. Sitting under a bridge that crossed the river was a small, orange yakitori shack. It serves the best yakitori I have ever had, and I’ve had quite a bit.