Windows on the World is a series on what writers from around the world see from their windows. This is the final entry in the series, which we began in January 2012: it’s Matteo’s sketch for last November’s contest winner, Simon Rowe. Many thanks to Matteo for illustrating so many views over the years. Some of these drawings are now available in his new book, Windows on the World: Fifty Writers, Fifty Views.Time has gathered Japan’s villages into towns and cities, even turned some into metropolises, but the cho, or neighborhood, remains the heart and soul of the nation.
Mine resembles an overcrowded circuit board with its dense clusters of houses spanning a century in design and its winding pathways, which deliver children to school, businessmen to bus stops, and elderly to their kitchen gardens. This is Kamiono-cho, in Himeji city—where the westward sprawl that begins in Osaka finally runs out of steam.
Bamboo grows as thick as a man’s leg in the forests beyond the neighborhood, lofty and mesmerizing when the valley winds blow. In Autumn, the smell of burning rice chaff reaches through the window, signaling the end of the harvest season and the start of the festivals that celebrate its bounty. Taiko-drum volleys rattle my window, just as the earthquakes do.
Snow dusts the rooftops in winter. Through the opened window, knife-edged winds carry a whiff of Siberia—chilling, yet invigorating. Spring sees cherry blossoms garnish the neighborhood and family picnics mushroom beneath them. Then the blossoms fall, like the brief and beautiful life of a samurai, with the first spring rains. Summer arrives and the window is shut to the whining insects and the suffocating humidity, which descend on the city. The pane rattles once more with the typhoons of late summer; TV antennas waggle on tiled roofs, momentarily lost to the rain.
The old neighborhood, once famous for strawberry growers, is vanishing. Where fruit grew, model houses now stand. Outside them, housewives gather on dusk to chew over the day’s proceedings and await their children’s return from school. Long after dark, the buses will disgorge their tired husbands, who will drift heavy-hearted back to their homes and sleeping families. —Simon Rowe