Ito - its old buildings

Butsugenji - An influential sect founder Nichiren spent here several years under persecution.
Graves of Ito family are now in the templeyard of Saiseiji.
This old-fashioned grocery used to sell numerous camellia-oil products.
The same shop taken from another angle

The birth house of Mokutaro Kinoshita (1885-1945), a famous poet.
Ito is a town with rich tradition. Its name means "East of Izu", where Izu was an old provincial name including Izu peninsula. "Soga-monogatari", a famous revenge story in the Kabuki world, has its origin in the real story which took place at the beginning of the 13th century and the samurai who was called "Ito" because of his residential place was described as an archenemy.

Most of the old institutions, mostly temples and shrines, exist in the outskirts of the town and we can enjoy them there. On the other hand there are also a number of interesting buildings in the city area of Ito. Maybe "Tokaikan" is the most outstanding building which stands just beside the Matsukaw River. It was built in 1928 and served as lodging for spa guests. The hotel ceased to operate and the building was donated to the municipality. It is now taken over and restored by the city and serves as a sort of museum. People can see the old hotel facilities free of charge and enjoy its restaurant and public bath. Its neighbor "Inaba", which is managed by a relative of the earlier owner of "Tokaikan", is also a beautifully constructed wooden building and fortunately still functioning as hotel.

On the opposite bank of the river there are a few nicely built restaurants and a tea room and the whole area builds the attracting point of the Ito city. This is good. However, I regret that the scenic attraction of Ito is limited to this short section - it extends only 100m or so - of the Matsukaw River. I wonder why people in Ito do not want to create or keep a beautiful city center as a core of Ito"s unmistakable charm.

Tokaikan (left) and Inabaya (right) are facing the River Matsukawa.

"Kinashi" is selling "kezuribushi"

There are also other interesting buildings in the center of Ito such as the birth house of Mokutaro Kinoshita - an old rice shop. The charm is not limited to famous buildings. There is a beautiful two story building of "kezuribushi"(*) shop. I also know impressive old buildings of tatami (straw mat) shop, textile shop, vegetable shop and so on. However, they do not seem to be respected and taken care of by the people. They are then suddenly torn down and replaced by ordinary concrete buldings.

(*) "Kezuribushi" is shavings of dried bonito or mackerel and used widely in Japan as instant and delicious soup stock.

On the previous weekend I was surprised and shocked to see a concrete foundation where there was an elegant old-fashioned camellia-oil shop. I saw the old building only two weeks ago and now it did not exist any more. I visited the tentative shop and asked its young owner why the beautiful old building had to be demolished. He answered with regret that his grand mother could not stand the inconvenience of the old building any more, though many people tried to persuade her to keep the old house.

A picture taken a few weeks later from the same angle as the picture left.
Yes, it is true that Japanese wooden buildings are not capable to accommodate the modern convenience inside without changing at least their attractive external appearances. The traditional Japanese buildings have rather thin walls, because the winter coldness was not so severe compared to the summer heat and humidity. Therefore, it is not possible to separate the external construction from the renovated interior. If we try to keep old buildings, we have to live up with the inconvenience pertaining to them. Therefore we have a fatal handicap compared to Europe, if we try to keep our traditional townscape.

A tiny vegetable stall
I also have to confess that my mentality has become half European, as I have spent nearly 15 years in Europe and feel familiar and sympathetic to their passion to keep tradition. Ordinary Japanese people are nonchalant in keeping tradition. They are not much keen about their history. I presume this came from the fact that Japan did not have to compete with their neighbors for existence. Japan was and is Japan and this is unchallengeable. Therefore Japanese people are not much conscious about their identity. However, we have to bear in mind that we are in this regard extremely different from other people. Not only tradition but also contemporary culture, such as manga and anime and kawaii-culture, is also strikingly different from other culture. Therefore, we do not need to look into tradition and try to find fine difference from our neighbors' culture. But, this was and is made possible only under special circumstances and they might change in the world of globalization.

Though I understand the mentality of our fellow countrymen as I explained above, I personally want to see a beautiful city center with a public square and spacious pedestrian zone surrounded by attractive wooden houses.

A tatami shop in Sisido Street
We can gather old buildings which are to be deserted from every corner of the city and make an attractive city quarter from them. I mean we should make a sort of "Den Gammle By" not as a museum but as a part of the living town. In Ito it would be possible if people decide now, because there are still many beautiful wooden houses scattered over the wide city area. But, if we do not start now, they will be torn down one by one while we do not notice it, like it happened to the camellia-oil shops in the previous month.