I jumped as the traffic lights changed and an oncoming horn blast caught me taking a picture of these buildings, standing in the middle of Meiji Dori in Higashi Mukojima. Couldn’t resist the rust and corrugated iron. Not to mention this fellow, who waved at me.
Takao Iida was born and grew up in this row of nagaya shophouses. He says now the city government wants to widen the road and will tear down everything up to three meters beyond the present frontage. The reason, they say, is to create better access for disaster response vehicles. But the road looks pretty wide already. Maybe they just have a mission to erase stuff.
Iida’s father was a carpenter who bought these buildings in the early Showa period, so they’ll soon be a hundred years old. If they make it. How old is Iida? He says, How old do you reckon? Guess 70. He says Yes, 71.
He says he’ll have to move out but after the demolition there may be room to build a place for him and his older brother to move back in. He says, Who knows. People often make plans that don’t turn out.
Suddenly the woman in the prim house next door makes a show of opening and shutting her upstairs window. She scowls down at us. Perhaps we’re talking a bit loudly. Iida doesn’t seem to have much time for her. He makes a reference to snooty rich people.
He learned karate at a dojo up the street in Oshiage, reached seventh dan. He taught it too; a banner behind the house still advertises lessons. He trained a young Australian woman who lived in an apartment his father owned. Now it’s a coin parking lot, he says. Among his other jobs he managed a small hotel in Ibaragi prefecture. He played a lot of golf up there. I hurt my leg and had to go off work, he says. I hurt it playing golf. The Australian woman laughed about how I didn’t hurt it doing karate!
It seems like many people in this neighbourhood are being approached by property developers. He says, Sure, they come around all the time.
Perhaps he could sell up and buy somewhere really nice to retire in? No, I’m not selling, he says. I like it here. And my friends are around. And I don’t have kids but I go to the park and the kids there are like my grandkids.
A man rides up on a bicycle, says hello and enters the house next door. That’s a bag-making workshop and he’s a craftsman, says Iida. He’s 74. They make fancy bags, they sell them in Ginza.
Iida says his elder brother is asleep inside. His sister died last year of heart failure. He takes me next door and points out the disused sand-bag for karate practice, in behind the bicycles.
The house is not far from the Edo-period Hyakkaen botanical strolling garden. You can go insect-listening in that park. And they have moon-viewing events. But Iida doesn’t go there. He’s a local. I go to the park around the corner, he says.
Other times he sits in his shop front, watching the street. You don’t get the sense he’s bored or dissatisfied. He says, They told me the demolition would start in 10 years, but they haven’t got money because of the Olympics. So whether my house gets pulled down or I die first, we’ll see what happens.