Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Nakagoshi 中越

The Nakagoshi section of the village sits on a wide butte above the Otaki River. The butte stretches out in a half circle from a large escarpment of rock and brush above which sits the school and the rest of the central village. A significant portion of Nakagoshi is made up of fields and rice paddies, probably the largest agricultural space in the village.

On a cloud-filled afternoon, after morning rains had lifted, I descended into the Nakagoshi section walking along a series of roads that zig-zag down the steep embankment at the north end of the section. Here a row of homes stand against the vertical wall with their faces turned to a hillside on the far side of the Otaki River from Nakagoshi. I stopped at a small wooden shrine to admire the stone buddhas that sit on the wall around it. Most of these hotoke-sama were worn from lives spent out in the open, exposed to all nature's elements; a couple were lacking heads, which had been replaced with regular round stones.

Resting quietly on the southwestern edge of Nakagoshi are a series of small, single-storied buildings topped with red steel roofing that is commonplace in Otaki. In the past these buildings served as housing for national forestry workers. Constructed with local timber well suited to the unique climate of the region (wet summers and cold, dry winters), these homes are still standing sturdy, giving them an eerie and uncertain air, as if their long absent residents might return at any moment. However, that time has passed; no workers, sweaty and smelling sweetly of cypress sap, are coming home today. The empty halls and weed infested exterior of a grander, two-storied building--white and official looking--gives a certainty to the finality of the scene. I'm not absolutely sure, but I imagine this was once the Otaki eirinsho 営林署--forestry management office. A nearby building carried a sign labeling it as the north Otaki forest office; this building too was abandoned.

Forestry carried Otaki through the better part of the 20th century and was a boom time for the village. However, a three hundred year history of external control of forest resources most certainly guaranteed that Otaki, with no real access to these resources, could not sustain itself along this path. Sure enough, when national needs shifted and domestic forest resources were no longer required, Otaki was left with stripped mountains, abandoned buildings, and few economic options.

Untouchable resources--buildings and forests--seem an added slap to the face for a community struggling to maintain basic services and find a way into the future. One hopes that new forms and structures that allow the residents of Otaki to access these resources will be allowed to develop in the years to come. If not, the scenario of an Otaki comprised entirely of empty buildings will become more and more of a possibility.

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