I am a nostalgic person.
I like walking around neighbourhoods where I used to live to rekindle memories of life as it was and routines that have long since changed.
I like visiting places I used to frequent to see what’s new, what’s disappeared, and what’s remained the same.
I like finding mundane out-of-the-way spots where I can be alone with my thoughts and then return to them at odd intervals when the mood strikes me.
These places are passageways in time where I can reconnect with my former self and ponder things to come. They are a way of reassuring myself that my memory is intact and that reality is still as it appears. They are a reminder that everyone and everywhere is in a constant state of change.
One such place for me is Machida (町田市), a small city which serves as a “bed town” (ベッドタウン) between Tokyo and Yokohama. Don’t get excited, this is no hidden gem. It’s an unremarkable place that was born during the Japanese post-war economic miracle, when a rapid influx of population into Tokyo led land prices to skyrocket, causing many to settle on the cheaper outskirts of the city.
At some point in 2014, I visited the Machida City Museum of Graphic Arts (町田市立国際版画美術館), a nondescript building set within Serigaya Park (芹ヶ谷公園), which hosts exhibitions of Japanese and Western prints. Opened in the late ’80s, the walls of the galleries are pot marked with nail holes from previous exhibitions, but despite its faded appearance, is neatly maintained.
I find myself drawn back to this place time and again, not because it is anything particularly special, but because it is quiet and unassuming. Here I feel totally relaxed and at ease. I can turn up, leisurely look at some art (without needing to “get” anything from it), take a stroll through the park, and if I so please, sit and watch the trains fly by.
I’ve never been here with anyone but myself and this post is not a recommendation to visit Machida; you’d probably be disappointed if you did. It is merely a reflection on the need to give ourselves space to think, reflect, and be free for a moment from the pressures of everyday life. We spend so much time crammed into small boxes surrounded by others every day that this need feels inevitable.
One day, should I leave Japan, I will probably never return to Machida but it shall remain forever in the corner of my mind, a place of solace.