Shi – Signs, Statues and Quirky Frontages
I realised when I posted the Panna Cotta recipe in September that I’d planned to write at least one more post while I was in Asahikawa back in April. However, life became very busy for the last few weeks I was there, and then once back home, other events took over (as they often do). But now, getting close to a full year later, here is that final chapter.
And The Sign Says…
I’m sure that everyone who’s known anyone who’s visited Japan will have a story about this or that amusing sign they saw. It’s not just the slightly incorrect translations into English, it’s often the combination of words and kawaii images that catch the eye. I must admit that by my fourth week in Asahikawa, I’d stopped noticing the signs… I meant to hunt them all out, but ended up by only collecting a few.
The sign ‘As Know as Pinky’ (advertising a fashion boutique) left me with more questions than answers. And ‘Hard Off’ definitely caught my attention… ‘Garage Off’, less so. It was explained to me that the store sold second-hand hardware and garage items at discounted prices, hence the ‘Off’.
Supermarkets were a good source of amusing product names. For some reason, calling babies’ nappies ‘Goon’ cracked me up, and it took me a long time to realise that the ‘Love Love Sand’ range of items, were actually regular sandwiches (their egg sandwiches were one of my regular snack foods).
Three Dimensional Art Objects
One tourist site describes the Asahikawa area as, “A thriving world of art, filled with sculptures, set against the magnificent background of Daisetsuzan mountain range”, and indeed, one of the things you notice straight away is that there are sculptures everywhere.
They’re situated on corners, amongst gardens, and/or in front of significant (and not so significant) buildings. They depict people (the famous as well as the ordinary), animals, and a wide range of inanimate objects.
When I first arrived I couldn’t help notice all the statues of naked girls and women, but later I discovered a few naked bodies of the male variety, too.
I took photos of most of the sculptures I encountered, but the promise of yet another discovery was always ‘just around the next corner’.
In fact, there were so many that I can hardly do justice to them here… they would take up several pages, so I’ve included just a few to illustrate my point.
Some featured large pieces of natural rock, or rock slabs.
Others depicted interesting creatures, or body parts. The huge metal disk (above centre), is topped with a line of individual metal people.
I particularly liked the clean lines of the metal sculptures against the blue skies. The spiral was a favourite in my early days when snow was still deep on the ground.
Evidence of the Individual
Another thing I liked about Asahikawa were the unexpected examples of individuality. While driving in the suburbs, amongst the dwellings toned in neutral shades of grey, brown, blue and green, you might suddenly see a canary yellow or an astonishingly vivid orange house. And scattered across the city, interesting shop frontages can be found tucked in amongst the common grey commercial buildings.
Often these frontages are populated by ‘things’, such as logs of wood, strange mechanical bits and pieces, or cute little chairs.
Asahikawa only achieved city status in 1922. Before that it was a town (from 1900) and prior to that, the area was largely rural. Because of this, the city doesn’t have lots of old buildings. So, if you’re looking for classical Japanese architecture you’d be better served to visit Sapporo or the islands further south.
Most of the buildings in the central city area are drab concrete blocks. Perhaps this is why some of Asahikawa’s residents decorate things in their own way – so as not to be defined by the dull grey city buildings with all their ugly wires and unoriginal rectangular shapes.