NationalGeographic.com [an error occurred while processing this directive]


 

  Field Notes From
Tokyo Bay



<< Back to Feature Page



On Assignment
Arrows
View Field Notes
From Author

Tracy Dahlby



On Assignment

View Field Notes
From Photographer

Michael
Yamashita



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Michael Yamashita (top), and Ryoma Kashiwagi

 

On Assignment On Assignment On Assignment
Tokyo Bay

Field Notes From Author
Tracy Dahlby
Best Worst Quirkiest

In 1994 I wrote a story for National Geographic and recounted my hitchhiking expeditions with Tomosuke Noda, my oldest Japanese friend. I met him 30 years ago, when he was a struggling young writer and he wanted me, a student of Japanese, to get to know what he called Japan’s “real” people. So for this story we took a “reunion” hitchhike in another old haunt, Chiba Prefecture on the eastern side of Tokyo Bay. And what an odd sight we must have been, two old guys standing by the highway bickering like an old married couple over—among other things—Tomosuke’s insisting that we hold out for a Mercedes sedan. But we had no trouble getting rides. At one point the driver of a white van slammed on his brakes so hard his head almost hit the windshield. “Hey, are you the guys I read about who hitchhiked in Kyushu?” he asked in amazement. “That’s the big American,” he said, nodding to me. “And you’re Noda-san, right?” We got in, and he seemed as thrilled as if he’d had Mick Jagger and Elvis riding with him. All I could say was, “We’re the guys.”



On the surface all the flashy new malls, Ferris wheels, and hotels on Tokyo Bay seem impressive. But take a closer look and you realize that the façade can be deceiving. For one thing, the darker side of the Japanese “economic miracle” is more publicly visible these days—in the area’s expanded homeless population. In the dozen years I lived in Japan to the mid-1980s, there were homeless to be sure, but I only occasionally saw people living on the streets. Today’s larger problem is a relative thing, of course—and still modest compared to big American cities. But for me the sight of the typically neat encampments the homeless have erected in certain places near the bay is a reminder that even the headiest miracle doesn’t last forever.



When I lived in Tokyo in the 1970s, smokestacks, oil refineries, steel mills, and warehouses dominated the bay. During the booming economy of the 1980s, government and business tried to change and make the shoreline more accessible to the citizenry. Up sprang world-class convention centers, aquariums, and condominiums, among other things. During the gentrification process, a sort of “battle of the Ferris wheels” emerged in three localities, all within a relatively short distance of one another. Amusement parks in Odaiba, Kasai Rinkai Park in Tokyo, and Minato Mirai in Yokohama each built their own Ferris wheels and claimed to be home to the tallest or the biggest or the best. Who would have thought that the Ferris wheel could be such a symbol of change and pride?





© 2002 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy       Advertising Opportunities       Masthead

National Geographic Magazine Home Contact Us Forums Shop Subscribe