I. What’s in Kawasaki?
Three times at work today I was met with blank stares when mentioning my weekend visit to Kawasaki 川崎市, an industrial city probably overlooked by most travelers (and Tokyo natives) as they head south from Tokyo to Yokohama. The wide and occasionally flood-prone Tama River 多摩川 (Tamagawa) acts as a physical and psychological barrier between Kawasaki and the nearly endless Tokyo expanse.
In Kawasaki, I walk northwest from Shinmaruko Station 日本神奈川県新丸子駅, passing an elementary school where kids are practicing Dodgeball – this is Japan, so even Dodgeball is practiced. I stroll the vast Todoroki Ryokuchi 等々力緑地 – 川崎市 park complex, which is full of tennis players, bird watchers, and couples lying splendidly in the grass. On the far end of the park is the Kawasaki City Museum where I spend two hours laughing at my good fortune.
II. com·ic /ˈkämik/
The first of the museum’s frequently rotating exhibits spotlights the life and career of Ippei Okamoto 岡本 一平 (June 11, 1886 – October 11, 1948). Okamoto-san is one of the early pioneers of Japanese manga, but among my co-workers is known only for fathering Tarō Okamoto 岡本 太郎, an avant-garde painter and sculptor. Shame on them. The father’s talent is undeniable, as is his historical importance. In the early 20th century Ippei’s work was seen widely, as he was a cartoonist for the widely circulated Asahi Shimbun 朝日新聞社. Ippei also brought American comics to Japan, and his work appeared in advertisements and books (source). In just a few glimpses of Ippei Okamoto’s cartoons I could see humor, emotional content, and a timelessness that makes his work fresh and accessible. [Enjoy these pictures – these are hard to come by online]
III. 中田 和昭 Nakada (Nakata) Kazuaki (1931 – May 2005)
If the Ippei Okamoto gallery confirmed my love of pen and ink, this next gallery destroys my cynicism regarding photography. Most references to Nakata-san’s work relate to his slice-of-life photographs during the post-WWII, post-occupation period. His most prolific period apparently was the early 1970’s, during which time he earned several Asahi Camera awards. Despite the awards, Nakata-san has almost no presence online in either Japanese or English. He has a brief mention on one Wikipedia page, and only one book listed on the Japanese Amazon.jp site. Furthermore, practically all internet references lead to this very Kawasaki exhibit. Perhaps posthumous popularity will result from the current exhibit.
The work exhibited is Kawasaki in the 1960’s. Many of the black & white matte photographs juxtapose children at play with the hyper industrial background of post-war Kawasaki, which is a parody of an industrial wasteland – it’s all smoke, suit, gravel, and scrapheaps. Wasteland or not, these children exude playful innocence as though they were mucking about the woods of Mayberry. Sheet metal they use as sleds, gravel as snow, and an abandoned bus their clubhouse. Many of the pictures are staged, yet still feel candid. Even when the kids play to the camera, their poses and facial expressions speak about the time and place in which they live. Fifty years later these photos give us not only artistic statement about irrepressible youth and joy, but they give us a powerful emotional connection to the past. (A similar exhibit was held in 2008; see this page for details.)
IV. A River Runs through it, A Bridge Too Far
Walking north from the museum I notice the conclusion of a children’s baseball game, where the players on each team stand shoulder to shoulder and, in unison, bow deeply in a display of good sportsmanship. No “potato chips, potato chips, munch, munch, munch…” for these rascals.
Continuing north to the Tama River 多摩川 Tamagawa I climb up to the top of the flood berm, which is lined with a busy bicycle path. Downhill I admire the wide flood plain, which is covered almost continuously in each direction by soccer fields, baseball diamonds, and golf courses. Continuing down to the river, I see an uneven row of trees and then the rocky riverbed. I walk to where the river narrows to less than 20 yards; I contemplate crossing here but the river is fast and has dug a deep channel. I head to the shore, continue across a gangplank floating on plastic barrels, and climb up the muddy embankment. Three men pass me, headed for a small dock back at the river-narrow. As the men near the dock a small boat on the opposite bank motors across, collects the men, and ferries them to the Tokyo side of the river. Watching this, I consider taking this ferry, but am stopped by the language barrier and my lack of initiative. I walk upstream towards the next bridge crossing and the decision gnaws at me. I will soon regret not jumping into this small adventure – how many chances will I have to cross a river in this way? It is a perfect reminder of how Japan is at once so modern and polished yet still tolerant of life’s unfinished edges.
I practice my Japanese – Ikura desu ka? How much is it? Another golfer joins me at the dock and the ferry crosses the water to pick us up. The golfer and his bags get in, and it’s my big turn use my newly acquired language. Ikura desu ka? The ferry driver says something I can’t understand. Go-ru-fu. I clearly understand his crossed fingers forming an “X” – I can’t ride the ferry. I look at the golfer and he says sumimasen. I am sorry. Only as the boat leaves without me do I understand what the ferry driver was saying. Go-ru-fu. Golf. ゴルフ. One more data point in my plot against golf.
Ferry crossing for golfers only
It’s a full 2-mile walk upstream before I reach the next bridge. The sunset is obscured by dark clouds and the air is cool. I cross Futakobashi 二子橋 towards Futakotamagawa 二子玉川駅（東京）station. I squeeze by a woman taking a photo of the sky. I do the same. Upstream, on the far side of the river, dozens of people congregate, walking or sitting on a small river island and sandbar. I join them on the river’s edge, wondering what they are looking at – perhaps they are waiting for bats, like Congress bridge in Austin, Texas.
There are no bats. There is a river, there is a sky. That is enough.
More Kawsaki tourism:
- Visit beautiful Kawasaki! (You can’t get there from here!) かわいい川崎に行こう
- How to get to the Kawasaki industrial zone
- Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum (Kawasaki City)
More Tokyo-area walks:
- Haneda sanpo! (Walking to Haneda Airport) 羽田空港への散歩
- Tokyo day trip: riding into Shibamata on Tora-san’s coat-tails