19. Reject Yokohama
From Patchwork Yokohama by Pencil Louis

Vince always wondered about the little rivulets that often ran along the sides of the streets. Water babbled along between stones and around curves and more often than not they got clogged with autumn leaves. You could find them in the most unusual places and they were a testimony to the Japanese love of water sculpture. Who made these and why?

One such rivulet stretched for 850 metres outside the Isogo Ward offices quite near to Isogo station. This was one of the most elaborate water ways Vince had ever seen. It had twirls and swirls of patterned rock, wooden bridges, seats, stepping stones, plaques, little gardens and sets of steps that seemed to go nowhere. Little pieces of glass, shells and even some throwing dice were set amid the concreted pebbles.

Vince might not have thought any more of it, had he not been with Osamu at the time. He had casually remarked on the Japanese love of miniaturisation and Osamu had informed him that there was more to it than that.

"100 years ago," Osamu noted, "we would have been standing in the water here. This is all reclaimed land and this monument represents the coastline of the area before it was filled."

"Oh, really," Vince replied, only half interested.

Osamu dragged him back to the first part of the sculpture and pointed to three cone-shaped fountains, "These represent the mountains that used to be on this coastline."

"You mean they're not there any more?"

"Oh, they're still there. They just look very different now, a lot flatter. The pond is where the sea used to be and this is where the beach would have been. See all the sand and the shells."

"And what about the dice?"

"Oh, that's a Japanese symbol for good luck. You find dice on the New Year rakes that you can buy at temples or shrines at New Year."

Vince knew well enough that a large section of Yokohama was in fact landfill. On his first visit to the Yamate Museum, an elderly woman attendant had showed him an early map of Yokohama and explained to him where some current spots were. Sakuragicho, the terminus of the first railway line in Japan was right on an outcrop of rock and Yokohama station was in the middle of Tokyo Bay.

This was a comparatively new phenomenon for Yokohama, which had only really attracted settlers after the foreign invasion set in motion by Commodore Perry's gun boats. Vince was well aware that people had been filling in Tokyo Bay around Edo since the 1600's when the Shogun, Ieyasu Tokugawa, made it his capital.

If Vince wondered where the landfill had come from, he need have gone no further than his own back door. Even through the peep hole, from which you could spot unwanted visitors like Daily Yomiuri salesman and Jehovah's Witnesses, you could see the candy red and white shades of the Midori Ward Refuse Centre smoke stack. Garbage collection in Yokohama was not at all like that in Tokyo. You didn't spend time sorting through your rubbish into burnable and non-burnable bins, trying to remember if this was the burnable rubbish collection day or a non-burnable rubbish collection day or no rubbish day at all for that matter.

Vince, indeed, worked with a American man called Peter whose landlady had a habit of bringing his rubbish back to his door step and resorting it into what she thought were burnable and non-burnable piles. Pete had called the local ward office to check exactly what was burnable and what was not, only to discover that he had been right in the first place. Still, no one could convince his landlady that she'd got it wrong.

Yokohama provided Vince with none of these hassles. There were rubbish collections three times a week and everything went into the same truck. The rubbish men even hosed down the rubbish area and the disposal truck played a variation of "Coming through the Rye". The tune seemed to be the theme song for the district. The traffic light cross signals also played it and Vince had little doubt that it had Japanese lyrics and no doubt most Japanese people thought it was an enka like "Auld Lang Syne".

Vince didn't believe in burying his head in the sand. He felt that it was every man, woman and child's duty to know exactly where their rubbish went. Out of a sense of moral responsibility, he visited one of these refuse plants. It wasn't, as it turned out, the one he could see from his back door, but the Hodogaya Ward Refuse Plant He was led through a series of control rooms and given screeds of statistics on the amount of rubbish that went through the plant in a week and how much power it produced to heat a nearby Senior Citizens' Centre and the Hodogaya swimming pool. He was shown the pollution control systems and noted that the smoke that came out of the Midori Ward plant was also a fleecy white and made it look as if the election of a new pope were being announced.

He was finally led to sealed off rooms that kept out the smell and looked down into a massive pit, which was just like a Jackson Pollack drip painting with polythene bags in red, orange, white, green and blue. While Vince peered into this latter day Gehenna, a Mr. Sugimoto explained about how a garbage truck had once tumbled into this pit and another occasion when one of the plant workers had fallen in. He explained about the one week in the year in which the pit was completely emptied and cleaned out and just how bad it smelled.

"Five minutes in there and you smell just like it does."

While Mr. Sugimoto spoke, Vince watched a crane with six humongous claws pick up tons of garbage at a time and feed a giant furnace. The contents were burnt to ash and Vince asked:

"Where do you take the ash after it's been burnt?"

"It's used as land fill."

Just as he had suspected, it would be used in the same way as the rubbish in the days of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Vince was not at all convinced that this process would cease as soon as they had filled in the entirety of Tokyo Bay, thus linking Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures. There was no doubt in his mind that the Japanese obsession with land fill would continue until the whole country was just one big island that was completely square.