My haikyo adventure

I’ve just learned about haikyo, or ruin-exploring in Japan. You can read about it here and here. The pictures on the second site are fantastic–especially the old mining towns in the hills of Japan which remind me in a way of similar places you see in Colorado.

I actually learned in my preservation classes about Japan’s preservation policies which, unsurprisingly, are formal, strictly categorized, and top-down hierarchical. The national government largely determines preservation policy and institutes it all levels, from national to regional (in contrast to the States, where preservation is usually a local movement, and state and federal recognition is usually requested by a local entity). Also in the States, preservation policy usually only applies to buildings and sites, where in Japan, fascinatingly, it can apply to objects, people, animals, and landscapes. Traditional artists like kabuki actors and sword makers can even draw a salary from the government as “national treasures.”

Haikyo seems like the perfect complement to Japan’s formal, state-directed cultural management efforts. Clearly old amusement parks and smallpox wards are not yet seen by the government as representative of Japan’s cultural legacy, but they seem to resonate with the people who explore haikyo. Interest in the ruins demonstrates an authentic and organic curiosity about all aspects of Japan’s past, including the ones the government, understandably, might be hesitant to formally acknowledge (eg the suicide torpedo base). And though the ruins are not being preserved in the strictest sense of active conservation efforts, they are being well-recorded by those who are interested in them. Their romantic disintegration is also a perfect example of the Ruskin aesthetic  that, again, one doesn’t often find in officially sanctioned cultural legacies.

Haikyo exploring might not be the ideal activity to pursue with a baby strapped to one’s back, but last week Chip and I inadvertently had our own haikyo adventure. On a lovely afternoon, we went for a hike at Ikego, which is a Navy housing area in nearby Zushi. Ikego was used as an ammunition dump by the Japanese Navy until we took it over after WWII and somehow decided that a former ammunition dump would make a great place to house Navy families. Ikego is a little America, complete with American-wide streets, a mini-mart, gas station, pool, restaurant, loads of playgrounds, ball fields, a post office, a beauty salon, a grade school, and rows of apartment towers and townhouses. The housing looks pretty institutional, but contains marvelous inventions like dishwashers and ovens.

Anyway, Ikego also has hiking trails, and even some darling little rustic cabins in the woods that one can rent, if one’s spouse enjoyed rustic pursuits like sleeping in cabins without electricity and running water. As Chip and I were exploring the trails, we came across ruins in the woods.

Can anyone read this?

Knock, knock. Who's there? General Creepiness.

I’m not sure what era they’re from exactly, and if the wall was meant to keep stuff in or out, but the whole experience was rather unsettling. It didn’t help that I somehow got lost. I think I’ve seen too many war movies set in Asian jungles–I half-expected to find some ancient holdout of the Imperial Navy hiding out there. Now that I’ve started watching Lost, too (thank you, Betsy!), there’s no way I could go back there.

I might not be cut out for hard-core haikyo, but I look forward to all future glimpses of Japan’s past, especially those that aren’t in the guidebooks. And clearly someone needs to write a good history of Ikego…


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Emily
    May 24, 2010 @ 12:31:57

    Holy cow, my friend. Ironic that you write about this because I listened to a paper at VAF about ruins, tourism, and preservation! It has caused me to ponder much.

    I’ll write you in detail soon!


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