So where do we live? What is it like?
Well, Sakai city is a city of about 850,000 people. Historically, it was important as a trade port and a link to early European contact, including Portuguese Jesuits such as St Francis Xavier. It is known for the production of knives and blades, and was the home of the inventor of the tea ceremony, Sen no Rikyuu.
The name 堺 Sakai means border, referring to the city’s location at the border of three ancient kingdoms.
This area of Japan, the Yamato plain, was the cradle of Japanese civilisation, and the priest-kings of Yamato became the Imperial line of Japan, unbroken for at least 1500 years. These early emperors left extraordinary monuments in the form of the kofun keyhole tombs or tumuli, which deserve to be better known and will serve as the subject of a later blog.
Sakai is in Osaka prefecture, and is a suburb or satellite city of Osaka. I will be working in the centre of Osaka, in the Osaka Gas Building in Hira-no-machi. This is a 25-minute journey on the subway from our local station, Shinkanaoka, which is about 10 minutes’ walk from here.
Sakai city is divided into villages, or cho, and one of them is Minami-hanada-cho, where we live. Other nearby villages are Shinkanaoka-cho (where Yuko’s dad lives) and Nakamura-cho.
Most of this central area of the village is developed with low-rise housing, schools, light industry, shops and restaurants, all jumbled together in a maze of narrow streets. While this may seem haphazard, I think it is far preferable to the sterile uniformity of a “well-planned” suburb, and makes for a far more liveable and human environment. It’s a great place for getting about on foot or by bicycle, with little vehicle traffic on most of the small roads.
Many of the houses in our immediate neighbourhood are large modern houses with traditional features.
On this gate-house of a large older traditional house, you can see the 焼杉 yakisugi charred cedar boards typical of the exterior of Japanese houses. This charring is a means of preserving wood, instead of using creosote.
And everywhere there are remnants and evidence of the previously rural character of the area. Among the modern houses are many traditional farm-houses.
Many rice- and vegetable-fields are still being farmed, tucked in among the houses and shops.
The network of drainage ditches with their sluice gates was formerly a network of irrigation channels for the rice fields.
And the network of narrow streets, many too narrow for vehicles, was once a network of farm lanes for field access.
Further east, the landscape is still predominantly agricultural, although new houses are progressively taking over.
Behind our house is a shrine called Yasaka jinja–eight-slopes shrine,
and there are two temples locally.
But the star attraction is the park. At the end of our street, just 50 metres from our house, is the largest park in Sakai city, おおいずみ緑地公園 Ooizumi Ryokuchi kouen.
Every morning I take the dogs for their early-morning walk in the park. It’s about 1 km wide and 1.5 km long, so a complete circuit would be around 5 km. So far we have only visited the northern half. It has lots of features and areas to explore, including lakes, forests and flower-gardens.
When the cherry-blossom comes, it is a favourite location for o-hanami–flower-viewing.
East of the park, on the borders of Nakamura village, is a large cemetery.
This explains the number of stone merchants on the main road (check out the pig-faced guy):
Also along the main road are our local hardware store, コーナン Kohnan, and our local konbini, Family Mart:
and this All-American shop and café:
Note on the word of the day:
南花田Minami-hanada is made up of 3 kanji: 南minami–south, 花 hana–flower and 田ta–field. So the meaning of the place-name is simply “south flower-field”.