A Walk into the Past

It was supposed to rain today  Last night when Hiroo realized that he wouldn’t be able to work outdoors today, he offered to take me for a drive to Nishi Takaya. I mentioned that I wished I could revisit that town and see if anything at all was left from the days I lived there…40 years ago!

It dawned a sunny day but he was willing to take me anyway so we left at 10:00 AM. I was secretly excited that I might find even one old building to identify with, somewhereI’d been with a baby strapped on my back at the age of 24. I’d remembered a shopping area, one narrow street across from the station. There was a bookstore, a drugstore and a yarn shop .

Turn the corner and down a block, you’d find the City office where I’d registered my residency as a foreigner in Japan. In those days, foreigners were a rare item so it took them a long long time to process my papers, conferring with one another in this exotic language which i didn’t know a word of.

Nishi Takaya Station

Nishi Takaya Station

We found Nishi Takaya station without any trouble and parked nearby. Crossing the street, we entered a paved road with shops on either side, many of them shuttered and seemingly deserted. The street I remembered was much narrower but when I saw Inoue Shoten (bookstore) I knew this was the place. Unfortunately it was out-of-business but I was happy that it was exactly where I thought, where I once purchased a small cookbook about desserts and drinks which I still have today.

The bookstore I frequented

The bookstore I frequented

Walking on I came to the corner where I thought there should be a yarn shop. A white-haired woman in kimono had sold me some darning thread and needles even though I didn’t speak a word of Japanese. I recall her smile and warmth even after so many years. But in its place I found an okonomiyaki restaurant. Could I be mistaken? I so wanted to find something I remembered.

Turning the corner, down one block, I found the city office but it was now a much smaller and newer building. We walked back to the shotengai and headed for the car.

Just then another sign caught my eye! It was a stationery shop, or bunboguya. It was clearly a very old building. It must have been there in 1974! But I had no memory of it. Nevertheless I peeked inside and shot a few photos of the old shelves.

I was about to walk away, but then I called to Hiroo.

“Let me see if anyone is around. I could ask about the yarn shop. Maybe someone remembers.”

In response to my “Hello?”, an attractive older woman ( that means my age) came out to greet me. And what she told me was more amazing!

“Yes. It stood right on that corner where the okonomiyaki shops is now. Old Mrs. Kinzanko-san had the stationery and yarn shop but she was 78 and just couldn’t do it anymore. She asked me to take over and so I did. It was late at night and we carried all these shelves over here. And this rack of thread is left, too. That was 38 years ago!”




Vintage spools of thread in original showcase

Located so near the train station, Kazue Otani runs a indoor parking area for motorbikes and bicycles. Although it didn’t look like she had many customers in her stationery shop, she is still in business. She showed me the old cash register that had keys with names of the clerks from long ago pasted on them. I’m sure the original proprietress must be smiling down from heaven!!

Otani-san was very accomodating and I may just pay her a visit again someday. I wonder if she’d be willing to part with the old wooden box of thread and how much she’d ask for it?

Today I visited my own past and am just  thrilled that those places in my memory really did exist. I don’t know if the old woman in the yarn shop knew how much one smile meant to a lonely gaijin bride, or that it still warms my heart today after so many years.

Otani Indoor Parking

Otani Indoor Parking

What a great day!!


The very gracious Kazue Otani!

Name Seals circa 1950?

Name Seals circa 1950?

 Cash Register from the Old Store

Cash Register from the Old Store

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Vividhunter
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 08:35:48

    What a wonderful story. I can’t believe how much has changed in Wakayama in only 5 years, let alone 40. It must have been wonderful to see reminders of the city you once lived in.


  2. leahmama1
    Feb 06, 2013 @ 07:37:03

    Sounds like you have been in Wakayama for 5 years, or visited often. I love to find places that still have the “Showa flavor”! I want to find an old “dagashi-ya” somewhere! I always enjoy your photos.


    • Sean sonni
      Nov 14, 2013 @ 15:02:26

      Hi Leah,
      I ran across your blog and saw you used to live in Nishi Takaya. Are you still in the area? My wife lives here and I found it amazing another foreigner has a connection to this pretty remote corner of Japan (my wife was raised here).

      Would love to meet others and hear what it’s been like living here long term


      • leahmama1
        Nov 15, 2013 @ 08:05:00

        I live in Hiroshima most of the time. Our little farm is about 40 minutes from Nishi Takaya. I spend the latter part of the week there. I’ve been in the Hiroshima area for 40 years now!Are you and your wife living in this area?

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