The story of the city of Kokura may feel at first familiar. Like any small city with a history long enough, it is a story of new and old, where the latter seems to exist in general aloofness of the former, and vice-versa. Or, where varied sorts of buildings and ways of being exist in defiance of one another.
In the financial district, or beside a new rash of apartment towers, there may be some rule of truth to this. It is a rule however, that clearly asks to be broken, and in the comfortable places where one would like to spend hours just existing, you could say it is a rule to break this rule.
In Kokura, the windows of glossy office buildings send a shimmering light from one side of the city to the other, where tired old factories with tall smokestacks puff like dragons over the seaside. Between the offices and factories is a park where one can sit and watch this shimmering and puffing, and on this day along the grass and fountain of the park are two young girls practicing kick flips, and three young men playing guitar, and two foreigners under a tree with cans of beer in hand. Though at this moment it is not on the minds of the kick-flipping girls, nor the guitar players nor the foreigners, their skateboards and guitars and beers came from one of the factories puffing clouds, if not here, than in another Kokura, somewhere else. For this, they joyfully play some part in that factory, too.
If one walks further away from the coastline with the dragons and shimmers and the kick-flippers, they will shortly reach the new Kokura train station. Sleek, shiny, and flanked by shopping malls, this new station is a remodeled version of the old station, and parts of the old one still stick out here and there. Depending on the angle one looks from, you could be standing in 1975, or in 2023, or else, in some otherwise undetermined time and space. Through its platforms and staircases and escalators of varying vintage, passengers rush out of ticket gates to a cake shop or to a business meeting, and every now and then one of them takes a seat on a bench beside a statue two old animation characters, clicks a photo, and heads on to wherever they had actually meant to go.
In physical space the old and new butt up against one another in Kokura, and yet you might also say that they tend to exist in their own worlds. What ties old and new together physically does not necessarily force them to commune with one another.
Yet somehow, there are places in Kokura and cities like it where such a communion occurs — places where a difficult to identify force does this work of pulling together that which seems opposing into a common view
These places do such work inherently. Pulling together the old and new is an ingrained part of their existence. They must try. They can not help but try.
Cities cry for such trying, for a breaking of rules that were constructed by a way of seeing that never did ask what the city truly needed. If a city is to go anywhere, its in-habitants and dealers and builders must ask. They must carry with them, some intuition, a way of seeing and doing which proclaims that the old and the new are but necessary compliments, and that what they share in common is stronger than what sets them apart.
Here in a small kissaten beside the train station, the old and the new dance with each other in their own way, and it feels like a dance we know. It is a dance we know. The universe would not function otherwise, less a city or neighborhood.
Thanks to the kind staff at Green Grass [ グリーングラス ] in Kokura for allowing me to sit and sketch out this scene while enjoying a nice lunch and coffee. And thanks to you for reading, for signing up, and for sharing this little illustrated corner of the internet with others.
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