Once, I took a long walk from Tokyo to Tsukudajima. I passed through the business district of Nihonbashi and into Kayabacho. The world was largely monochrome in these parts—outside of the office buildings and the constant traffic, it was only the sky that decided the color.
I walked the banks of the Sumida River, and crossed the Chuo-Ohashi bridge. Around me, high rise apartments reached for the skies, while portly office buildings huddled around them like sidekicks that could only dream of being so big.
Outside of the business district, time seemed to slow, as though each second were a touch longer.
I lazily followed a map towards Sumiyoshi Shrine. I discovered a small park by the side of Tsukudajima elementary school. I stopped to watch a mother play tag with her son. Nearby, an old man fished by a small pond with a young boy.
I’d heard that’s where it all started. Fishing. Tsukudajima was named after a place in Osaka where fishermen lived; Tsukudamura. Those fishermen were moved from Osaka by Tokugawa Ieyasu, and they named their new home Tsukudajima.
I found a small canal housing old boats and aging wooden platforms crowded with wooden poles. Parts of the platform had collapsed under the weight of plastic buckets and boxes of old fishing gear—it looked as though it had been like that for a long time.
A man sat at a bench nearby, smoking a cigarette. He watched the boats, and occasionally tipped ash into an empty can of coffee. I wondered how long he’d been there; sitting, staring, killing time.
I crossed a bridge, and watched an old lady stop at a tiny shrine wedged between two houses. She rang the bell, and clapped her hands, and then she hobbled off.
I followed a few lazy cats to Sumiyoshi Shrine, and looked around. It was all pleasant greenery surrounding old, aging structures—stone lanterns, torii gates, and the shrine in the center. Parts of it looked old, and parts of it looked new; like it hadn’t fully decided where in time it wanted to exist.
This conflict of chronology was intriguing. I looked up at the old shrine, and the apartment buildings off in the distance. One small town, and yet within it, two different worlds.
I walked the neighborhood. I passed old homes, and wooden nagaya houses, and an old man quietly making chopsticks. There was a broken arcade machine, and a family run dagashi snack shop.
And down the tiniest of alleyways, hidden between houses, I found the tiniest of temples, built around an ancient gingko tree. Incense wafted up and out into the alleyway. I rinsed my hands, and looked up at the tree.
I felt as though time was malleable here. As though it moved as fast or as slow as it wanted to, and everyone simply let it.
And I wondered if there existed a place, somewhere in this little neighborhood, where time stopped completely.
It was an idea both romantic and impossible, but I still liked it.
I hoped that the place might stay like this forever.
Written by Hengtee Lim