Here’s where we can find a generational divide. There’s a river called Kandagawa in Tokyo. I just did a google search (in English) and the word Kandagawa brings up some anime. Or a chef by that name. That is not my Kandagawa nor that of my generation. For us, it immediately brings up an uta and a certain seikatsu and seishun.
In 1973, the folk movement was flourishing in Japan and a group called Kaguyahime was singing Kandagawa. For many a binbō student, it resonated deeply as it described our lifestyle. And yes, it was my lifestyle as well at that time. I have surprised Japanese people during conversations by describing something as “very Kandagawa.” It might have been when talking about the public bath. Or a tatami room in a wooden building. I miss those days, inconvenient as they were. And I’m not alone. There is a huge nostalgia for the Showa style of lie that had fewer choices, but a simpler way of being. Here are the words of the song:
Maybe you've already forgotten How we went to the public bath down the lane With our red hand towels as mufflers You said, "Let's go together" But you always made me wait My damp hair was frozen down to the roots I rattled the small soap You held me And said, "You're cold" When we were young, I wasn't afraid of anything Only your tenderness made me afraid Maybe you've already thrown away The drawing of me you made With the twenty-four-color set of pastel crayons you bought "Make it good," I said But it didn't look like me at all I can see the Kanda River from out the window Of my three-tatami room at the boarding house You looked at my fingertips And asked, "Are you sad?" When we were young, I wasn't afraid of anything Only your tenderness made me afraid Credits: http://megchan.com/lyrics/index.php?title=Kaguya_Hime/Kandagawa
For those of us who remember going to the public bath with a partner and separating as you entered the women’s side and he entered the side for men— and trying to coordinate leaving at the same time, it is particularly poignant. You’d finish bathing and step outside hoping that your partner had either finished a few seconds before you or would step out momentarily. In fuyu it meant the difference between staying warm and being cold again, which defeated some of the purpose. And you’d walk home together, perhaps stopping for some oden. But that’s another story.
- Kandagawa – 神田川 a river in Tokyo. Kanda is a part of Tokyo, and kawa means river. Very straightforward. If you’re riding a train through Tokyo you may see it from the window. Very urban. The Kanda area is where all the used bookstores are and was a favorite lodging place for students back in the day since it was cheaper to live there.
- uta – 歌 song
- seikatsu – 生活 life style
- seishun – 青春 youth. Often combined with jidai, which means era or period to talk about younger days
- binbō – 貧乏 poor. What did you think it would mean?!
- Showa – 昭和 the period from from 1926-1989. Of course most people are nostalgic about the last forty years of it, though those war years are not to be forgotten.
- fuyu – 冬 winter
- oden – おでん a type of food that is sold by street venders and in bars (it practically cries out for beer) and now in 7-11 and other stores. It has an unmistakable smell to it due to the fish products it uses. A lot of non-Japanese fail to see the charm of it. But in the winter, before many homes had heat, it was a great way to warm up before returning to a stone cold room.