Kawasaki: An Old Trading Area

River with cement embankments, a boat resting on an embankment in the foreground, houses can be seen on the other side, and a path on the side the photo was taken from

Yesterday (March 6) after lunch, we went to 河崎 (Kawasaki), a part of Ise along 勢田川 (Setagawa River) that used to be an important area for trading, especially in fish, rice and sake. For reasons unknown to me, the university had arranged for taxis to take us there, although from the map I’d guess it wouldn’t have taken more than 15 to 20 minutes to walk.

River with cement embankments, a boat resting on an embankment in the foreground, houses can be seen on the other side, and a path on the side the photo was taken from

Multiple groups of ducks were swimming on the river, but taking photos of them proved to be difficult. As soon as someone pointed a camera at them, they took off and flew away. I have no idea while the cameras disturbed them when our whole group walking by didn’t.

Wooden building on the side of a footpath, sign with "河崎"

The first place we briefly visited here was 河崎川の駅 (“Kawasaki River Station”), which looks like a small harbor (building above, harbor below). It didn’t look like there are any regular connections these days, though. In the old days, fish from all around Ise bay and beyond was traded around here, though I’m not sure of the exact spot.

Step leading down to a river, with fenders on the outmost wall

After a short glimpse into a shop that offers traditional tableware, we visited the 伊勢河崎商人館 (“Ise Kawasaki Trader’s Hall”), a beautiful traditional style building complex with many nooks and crannies. The complex was used for cider production in the past and now houses various small exhibits about the history of Kawasaki.

Wooden building with ornate roof, gate into a traditional style garden on the side

The first interesting thing I saw there wasn’t part of an exhibit, though, but instead a feature of the house itself. As you might know, you generally have to take off your shoes when entering a Japanese house. The floor of the “clean” area is usually a bit higher than the entrance, so dirt is naturally kept out. However, shop or workshop areas are often part of the “dirty” section. So what do you do when you need to carry stuff from a workshop in the backyard to a shop in the front? Going through the clean area means taking off shoes all the time, which is impractical, and would prohibit using a cart. The simple solution is to leave a low path through the house, but that leads to another problem: Putting shoes on all the time to cross that path on the way from one part of the house to another is annoying, too. Admire the solution below:

A board crossing a low "dirty" path between two elevated "clean" parts of a traditional Japanese house

This board allows crossing the path without touching it, and someone walking along the path can just step over it. And if it’s in the way, you can slide it into a socket below the floor on one side. 🙂

Traditional Japanese style garden, seen through a sliding door from a room with tatami floor

The house also had a very nice garden.

Museum exhibit with 3 broken roof tiles

Sadly I didn’t have time to understand all the details about this exhibit of roof tiles, but the gist of it was that this type of tiles is not used anymore because they break and fall down far too easily during earthquakes. And earthquake safety is something I care about very much due to personal experience.

Corner of a tiled roof, with a decoration in the shape of a large frog (or toad)

Many roofs of older buildings in the area had such decorations. There were animals like the frog above, or a turtle, and also inanimate objects like the wave below. Taking photos of them from below was tricky, though. People used to believe that their watching eyes would help keeping the city safe. Can we please replace the world-wide epidemic of “security” cameras with this?

Corner of a tiled roof, with a decoration in the shape of a rising wave

Afterwards we had the opportunity to explore a still used building originating from the Edo era (1603 to 1867). The entrance was very narrow and felt like entering some kind of mine, especially with something like rotten tracks in the floor.

Long corridor with something similar to tracks in the floor and stuff hanging from the walls

From the corridor we got into some kind of two story storehouse, which indeed looked like stuff has been accumulating inside since the Edo era. As you can see, new support beams have been added, but we had to watch out for loose floor boards, and I definitely wouldn’t want to be inside during an earthquake, but it was fascinating nonetheless.

A storeroom supported by old an thick wooden beams, full of stuff, especially ceramics

From the Edo era house we walked to a traditional style knife shop, where the owner showed us his sharpening techniques. Afterwards, he effortlessly cut through a towel folded multiple times to be about two fingers thick. Very impressive, but I couldn’t get a good photo.

Interconnected buildings in traditional Japanese style stretching down a hill

In front of the store, we were once again picked up by taxis and went to 麻吉旅館 (Asakichi Ryokan). A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. Asakichi has a long tradition as evidenced by “guest book” calligraphy from the 19th century, but to me, the most interesting thing was how the building stretches down the hill. From the entrance we walked down 4 floors, and at least 3 of them were technically still ground level (I’m not sure about the 4th one, it may have been a basement). Add the second floor above the entrance on top of the hill, and it’s a five story building that’s never more than two stories tall. :mrgreen:

From the Asakichi Ryokan we took a relatively long walk to two smaller museums (one with items related to pilgrimages to Ise, one with art) and then back to the dorm. The walk at the end really improved my orientation for Ise, and more importantly provided time to talk to the Japanese volunteers. 🙂

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