Monday, May 19, 2008

The village: Shimonohara

I live in a hamlet of less than 100 people, called Shimonohara, which means "lower field". About 150 years ago, when the modern state of Japan was created, Shimonhara was incorporated into the village of Tanijyugo, which means "inhabited valley". Tanijyugo was later incorporated into the town of Sakurae, which means "cherry inlet". 2 years ago Sakurae became incorporated into the city of Gotsu, which means Go Port, Go being the name of the river that enters the Japan Sea at Gotsu.

Shimonohara is about 20kms upstream of Gotsu on the bank of the Go.

My hamlet is further subdivided into 3 sections, Upper, Middle, and Lower. Each of these sections is composed of 5 household units called "Gumi". Gumi were created by the rulers of Japan as a form of political control. Each 5 household group was held collectively responsible for any crimes or misdemeanors committed by any member of the 5 households. This goes a long way to explain the extreme "interest" Japanese have in their neighbor's behaviour!

The gumi as a unit still function, though there is no longer any collective punishment! If there is a death, it is the gumi that is responsible for the funeral and the complex set of rituals connected to it.

Japan has a very aged population, and in the rural areas the younger people have moved to the cities for "convenience", so most people in Shimonohara are much older than me. Unusually, there are no empty houses in Shimonohara. Most villages I walk through have 30 - 50% of the houses empty. In the mountains there are many small communities that have been reduced to just one household.

The houses are built against the steep mountainside, around the large central area of rice paddies.

The road ends here, so there is no through traffic.

See more photos of Shimonohara


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