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June 23, 2011 / Karen Hill Anton

Hanging out downtown

Dinner with family at our favorite Italian restaurant “Esse”


(February 13, 1992)   

The other evening my husband and I decided we’d have a night on the town. Now, where we live, in order to have such an evening, you have to leave the vicinity. Around here, after seven o’clock you have your choice of going to a karaoke place or a sushi bar, or you can flip through manga to your heart’s content at the local convenience store. That’s it.

So we went to Hamamatsu, the largest city near us, which has a population of more than half a million. First we had dinner at a small restaurant, and after that we planned to go to a movie. Since the movie didn’t start until 10:30 p.m., after we’d finished dinner we had almost two hours to kill. (The movie we wanted to see was playing with a double feature so we could have gone earlier, but chose to forego part eighteen of a movie about a doll that commits murder, or some such thing.)

“So, what do you want to do?”

“Yeah, that’s a good question,” Billy said. “I guess we could walk around.” Although it was pretty cold that night, we were dressed warmly and decided to stroll around the downtown area.

Wow. Talk about dull. Talk about killing time.

There were no stores open so shopping was out of the question. And it wasn’t even possible to do window shopping since so many stores have shutters. (I don’t shop as an activity. But with three daughters born in February, it wasn’t too soon to think about birthday presents.)

One street we walked down was teeming with people – all of whom appeared to be in their 20s and on their way to discos. I love to dance and have been to a disco, once. I can’t imagine what it would take for me to want to repeat the experience.

Bill suggested we stop for a drink, but I didn’t want to. If I had anything with alcohol in it, I’d probably fall asleep in the middle of the movie. And actually, neither of us could think of a place where we would like to sit and enjoy a drink, alcoholic or not.

Then we thought we would stop at a place we knew and have some dessert – but it was closed. We passed one place that was open, and selling ice cream like hot cakes. Ice cream? According to the thermometer above the bank, it was 5 degrees centigrade.

Well, we walked around for almost two hours, and what we found was there was not one interesting store, cafe or place to hear music. There were fast food places and pachinko parlors on every corner, and of course those places where, when you pay, the last thing you think you’re paying for is a “snack”.

When Bill and I first became friends, one of our favorite things to do was go to the late night cafes near his home in New York City’s Greenwich Village. They served cappuccino and Florentine apple tarts, and you could sit and play chess for hours while listening to Vivaldi. And then there were the bookstores where you could browse until midnight and where you would bump into poets.

You could drop in at the local folk music clubs to hear the latest unknown – it’s where I first heard Bob Dylan. And of course there were the jazz clubs where, for a few dollars, you could hear musicians like Eric Dolphy and Thelonious Monk.

To be sure, the whole time we were walking around downtown Hamamatsu, the message was coming in loud and clear: If you want to listen to good music and enjoy a dessert or a drink in a nice atmosphere, you’d better stay home. And in case you didn’t notice, this is not 1960-something, and you’re not in Greenwich Village.

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POSTSCRIPT

Hamamatsu then sounds positively thrilling compared to what it is now! The last thing I would dream of doing these days is strolling around the downtown area. I don’t know if there are fewer or more places to go out – I just know it’s not an attractive place.

A lot of businesses have simply disappeared in the interim. Not least because of the growth of shopping centers. Now, what little business there was in the downtown has almost disappeared completely.

I hear a few enterprising foreigners have opened small bars and restaurants, and appear to have a viable business and steady clientele.

Now of course, it’s not possible to stop and have a drink without thinking we will need to hire daiko (car service) to drive us home. Not even one drink is tolerated if you are going to be behind the wheel of a car. Certainly it’s safer – but one does think twice before going out, as the cost of the car service is equivalent to taking another person to dinner. But that’s cheaper than paying a heavy fine.

But I assure you, you will never, ever see a mature couple out of an evening.

Even when Billy and I go to our favorite Italian restaurant, we are generally the only couple there who is not dating.

Because there is no daylight savings time, even during the summer months you will not see mature couples out. I am not saying that is the reason they don’t go out, but I do think if it were lighter it might be more attractive to them to go out in the evenings. Or even sit out on their verandas and terraces – which they don’t do. 

Unfortunately, the downtown also has a seedy element these days, with rowdy troublemaker types hanging around the station. I remember a time here when there was never a concern about these kinds of things.

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