Revived Ford train used in Ashio
Life in Ashio would never have been easy, and certainly not at the peak of production around 1910 when 39,000 people called it home. Crammed into a narrow river valley, blasted by freezing winter winds while living in uninsulated plywood apartments, many would have turned to the ‘kamisama’ or Gods for spiritual succor.
We climbed up the disheveled stone steps, nearly stumbling over unsteady footing a few times, and walked around the main building, and a second one behind it. We were able to go inside both, but there was very little to see- wooden rooms with a few bits of furniture and ceremonial bits and pieces.
The second building at the top had a small plastic wallet just inside the open doorway, sheltered by the structures wide eaves, filled with 4 or 5 note books- each dated and filled out with comments from visitors. The notebooks stretched back over 15 years, with a few comments in English and one in French.
Of course I had to add my own comment, you can see it in the gallery below. Su Young added her own in Korean after me too. The ‘Kings of the Copper Mountains’ reference is because we’re in the copper mountains- dozan éŠ…å±±- and there’s a book I loved as a kid called ‘The King of the Copper Mountains‘ by Paul Biegel, about a beloved King who is dying, but kept alive by stories from the animals in his kingdom while a gnome adventures to find a fabled medicine to save his life.
We spent a little time in silence under the eaves of the shrine, looking out over the valley, trying to imagine what life might have been like when the factories were in full-flow, spewing fumes out over the clear blue sky. It was tough.
Then we descended. We went inside the factory and the train station, then took a final turn up to the old apartments, which had once earned Ashio the nickname ‘town of 1,000 houses.’
I’ve seen lots of fallen Japanese apartments before, but was astonished afresh by these, by how feebly thin the walls were- basically plyboard screens less than a centimeter thick.
I can’t imagine they had any insulating powers at all- at best they acted as wind-breaks. It must have been freezing in the winter inside. I can imagine families huddling together around their one stove under blankets while they ate, probably shivering, then drifting into a chilly sleep, all bundled together round the dying embers of the fire.
Then, like any tourist, I put my camera away and started the journey home.