Text and photo by
Grigoris A. Miliaresis
Conspiracy theorists and foreigners who have lived in Japan enough to have developed a love-hate relationship with it, explain the phenomenon to the muddy agreements between local and national governments, construction companies and electric power providers, those who see everything through the prism of finance (as well as the local and national governments) justify it because of the costs involved and conventional wisdom wants it to be a consequence of the frequent earthquakes and the need for immediate access to the places there has been a disrupt of service because of them. But it is something everyone has an opinion on –and justifiably so: it is almost impossible to walk anywhere in Japan, from the most densely populated areas of Tokyo to the fields and rice paddies of deep Japan and not see the sky being crisscrossed by thousands of wires starting or ending on one of the 35 million utility poles that are scattered all over the country. (The number is from a “Nikkei” article published last summer.)
I guess the real explanation includes all the above and several more: the fast development of Japan after the war, the Japanese’s system of priorities that puts functionality above aesthetics, especially as pertains in everyday life, their indifference about the environment, their reluctance to change something that is being done in a particular way for decades or their inability to see their country through the eyes (and the aesthetics) of a visitor. And I think that despite not having lived here as long as they, I can understand them: I rarely notice the cables anymore unless they meddle with a very specific picture I want to take –and even then, if I can’t easily find an angle that allows me to bypass them I let them in because, after all, they are part of Japan’s reality, no matter how it clashes with me preconceptions about Japanese aesthetics.
From what I hear, the present administration has announced its will to have the cables disappeared by the year 2020; having gone through the Olympic preparation in Greece, I believe that Japan too will mark the particular event as a deadline for all the things it needs (or claims it needs) to have done but until now has avoided to do or never got to do or couldn’t do. And although there’s little doubt that the scenery will change drastically after the cables will have been buried in the earth, I suspect that most of us who knew Japan as it is now, will have some difficulty adjusting to its “clean” version. Not only because we are all, to a smaller or larger extent, cautious when it comes to change but also because the existence of the wires is one of the most harmless yet obvious contradictions of this country and its culture; I wish they were all that way.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.
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