At first, our new neighbourhood in Nerima comes across as any other near-city suburb in western Tokyo: acres of boxy, two-storey houses with blue or rust coloured tile roofs and little or no yard; grimly functional two- and five-storey low-rises with open hallways and stairwells; rust-streaked, gap-walled light factories and warehouses; fields of cabbage where no-one has thought to put up a building yet.
Compared to a semi-rural neighbourhood like Kodaira, where we lived until recently, Nerima at first feels claustrophobic: house fronts, gates, cars, bicycles, pedestrians, cabbages all have to share too little space. Stepping out for dinner our first night in the new neighbourhood, we both felt threatened by the big cars and SUVs that dodge the narrow, poorly lit, sidewalkless streets, headlights swerving to the left of us, to the right of us, straight at us… and that was in in front of our house!As we settle in, however, and explore our new surroundings, the character of the place starts to open up.Across the street from our house there’s a spooky parkette with the copper-green statue of a child but never any real children — or anyone else, for that matter.The local Muscle Gym around the corner — that’s the name, by the way, translated from katakana — with the jacked up 4×4 parked in front, a middle-aged guy with a perm and sweat suit smoking by the door, and on the weekend knots of young men in work out gear.Next to the gym the rice shop run by two kindly obasans, middle-aged women, who are hard both hard of hearing and make healthy, handmade bento lunch boxes.
Mornings, I wake before the dawn starts to show through the skylights in the living room. A rooster crows around the same time I hit the shower. By the time I start my walk to the station, some of the local farmers are already at work, trimming cabbages with long knives and loading the bodies into barrows. i don’t know where they take them from there, but other signs of activity are evident: tucked back from the road under a little shack carrots, cauliflower broccoli are left out for sale on tables, or in clear-fronted, coin-operated lockers. Only in Japan.