Our last day in Hiratsuka City dawned too bright to take photos, but as the day wore on storm clouds began rolling in over the ocean. Tatsuya took me on a hike up the big hill in town with a steep path, flowers growing in stumps, and totem poles. Sometimes I wonder which side of the Pacific I’m on.
The clouds were thickening, but we could see the main parts of town and white Shinkansen plying north and south on their tracks further inland.
The summit of this hill had an observing deck along with a TV antenna tower. The local Lions Club took part in maintaining the park between the towers.
The viewing decks of the observing structure had diminishing staircases leading to nowhere.
This is where you come with your date to declare your love in permanent marker to all the town.
Surrounded by wire mesh, the TV antenna tower appeared to be covered in moths. As I approached, I noticed that the dark marks on the mesh amidst the graffiti weren’t insects, but instead were padlocks.
Come here with your sweetie and a padlock that you fix to the mesh. Throw away the key and know you’ll last forever. The 20-month mark of a relationship is apparently lucky in Japan; may of the locks were added at that point for a number of couples.
Someone had hung an edo fūrin from the corner of the tower, playing a sad glassy tune in the wind to an audience of silent, sullen padlocks.
Some locks had comments added later: “we broke up on this date”; “this person died on this date”. It was heartbreaking.
We descended from the TV tower and set about eating our bento lunches, when we were interrupted by a pair of obā-chan (grandmothers) who, fascinated as to how a foreigner found the top of their hill, invited us to join them at their picnic table and practice English with them. They became even more excited when they found I was working at JAXA, telling me how they’d attended a rocket launch three years ago. I was a little surprised by the women’s forwardness: most people in Tokyo ignore me, the odd female foreigner riding the train, walking through Kunitachi, or shopping at the local supa. Here in Hiratsuka, I was no longer invisible but approachable.
Lunch finished, we ran down the hill as the clouds rolled in and the first drops of rain began to fall over Hiratsuka, perhaps the saddest place I’ve yet to see in Japan.