When I’ve looked at cases of urban decay in the past, I’ve typically focused on two types of hollowed-out human settlements: towns that were suddenly abandoned, and those that transformed from prosperous to troubled as their principal industries waned. But there’s a third model of decay to be considered, and that is one in which a town goes gently into its good night. And there is no better example of this sort of demise than Ikeshima, which a treasured reader turned me on to after checking out last week’s post about Hashima.
Whereas Hashima was deserted in a matter of weeks after its local coal mine closed, Ikeshima still claims approximately 220 residents despite the closing of its own coal operation in 2001. Without any economic engine, of course, there is nothing to attract new residents, or to retain those who might dream of something better than simply holding on to what they always knew. But a few loyalists do remain, and last year the great blog Spike Japan paid a visit to their beloved, increasingly decrepit hometown. The trip produced a bunch of haunting photos, as well as an interview with a rare local optimist who believes that redemption is right around the corner:
“What’s the redevelopment plan?”
“Coal tourism,” she exclaimed animatedly. “Do you know how much they’re raking in down at Battleship Island?”
I confessed ignorance.
“Y600mn (about $7mn) a year.”
“Well, in a couple of decades, you’ll be in the same state of dereliction as Battleship Island,” I blurted out, and immediately began to worry that I’d said the wrong thing. No one wants to bring ruination on themselves, after all, do they?
“Yes, that’s what we’re hoping! After all, nothing’s been pulled down yet, except for a couple of apartment buildings by the shore. The problem is Mitsui Matsushima. They still own all the good bits. We’ve been trying to get the prefectural government to persuade them to cooperate, but we never get a clear answer, just keep getting rebuffed.” She sighed.
“And the restaurant, well, I’m lucky if I do five or six bentos for the construction workers. It’s barely enough for the electricity, to be honest.” Her voice trailed off.
I, for one, see the appeal in coal tourism. But I’m an oddball.