Not many people may know, but my first two years in Japan were spent in the prefecture to the southwest of Tokyo, called Kanagawa. I was teaching English on the JET program (1996-98) in 4 Junior high Schools in the sleepy little town of Isehara. I had a great time of it (which maybe explains why I came back eventually), but alas tales from those two years could fill a book or two, let alone a blog posting.
Anyway, since this was a long weekend, we thought we’d spend Sunday and Monday out and about in Kanagawa-ken, not only because I used to live there, but so did my partner, in Yokohama. We decided to take a Romance Car on the Odakyu line from Shinjuku, just over an hour to Hon-Atsugi. This is an express train which also lets you perform the important task of sitting down for the journey. Many of the older Romance Car trains are pink, but sadly many of the newer ones, though more comfortable and quiet, are a more sedate grey. These trains essentially connect Tokyo/Shinjuku to Odawara, Hakone and the beach at Enoshima.
Once deep into Kanagawa, we went to check in to our hotel in the growing town of Ebina which in the 2 years since I was last there has received a HUGE new shopping complex bolted onto the still rather quaint station building which looks kind of odd now. The new shopping centre though wouldn’t look out of place in Odaiba or Makuhari though – it’s really amazing – it’s own multiplex cinema, and even a toy-train for the children, and a few tired adults. Yes, I kind of missed the quiet old Ebina we used to hang around in, but I suppose it’s a step up for the town compared to it’s neighbours though. Aside from the station not really fitting, the across of rice fields a few hundred metres away also tell the truth – this is a dormitory/apartment town in the middle of a rural farming area.
So what of Isehara? Well, I have to say that not much has changed – a few new buildings, but it seems as sleepy as ever, which is no bad thing. Indeed one of the nice things was that the last time I went there in 2002 many old shops had become car parks (truly a sign of local business death), but now many of these tarmac graveyards are being converted into business premises again, which is a good thing. The old Denny’s I used to sleep in is still there, my old apartment is still there! The rather bizarre ‘Little House on the Prairie’ church is still there. And yes, the video rental shop with ‘Video Lental’ written on it’s roof is still there, as are it’s paintings to advertise Rocky 3 and Star Wars. I always enjoyed the town, and hope it flourishes. Isehara also stands at the foot of the majestic Oyama, which rises up to meet the sun and guarantees amazing sunsets. I took some pics, which I’ll try to get in the gallery as soon as possible.
On Monday, from Ebina, we went on to Yokohama, and saw my partner’s old apartment building, which required a lengthy walk uphill in the heat, but it has a great view over Yokohama, and fortunately a pleasant breeze. We spent a bit of time around Yokohama, having a look around the Minato 21 Mirai area, including the new Queen’s shopping centre, which is right next to the Landmark Tower shopping centre, which has resulted in one huge shopping centre. This one has a nice twist though – as the underground train is in the B3F (that’s third basement floor) the architects have made that a feature, so one of the the open areas between floors extends from the roof right down to the train, so everyone can watch the trains coming and going.
All in all then the weekend featured a lot of walking, some shopping, and eating, and I have to say that it made a nice change not to be doing that in Tokyo. The theme by default was definitely on shopping centres as more ‘out of town’ style ones open in Japan, and it’s interesting to see how these are melding in, especially in areas where the main access point is still by train (certainly the Yokohama one was). The other theme of late has been watching films in cinemas, but I think I’ll save that for a later post.