As the life lesson previously taught by older people says, “Once you have a familiar shop you can unexpectedly stop by on your own, you have become an adult”; not limited to familiar bars, how many “places where you can be yourself” are there, such as a café, or somewhere you can perform communal activities with friends?
■The diligent Japanese
In response to the question “Do you have your ‘own place to be (third place)’, which is neither ‘home’ nor ‘work / school’” of the “Survey regarding one’s place to be” conducted by YOMIKO Advertising Urban Economics Research Institute in 2014, 3 out of 4 Japanese (74.4%) answered “I do not have one”.
One could consider many reasons for this, but I think that the primary factor seems to be in Japanese people’s deep-seated way of thinking about work: “working long hours is a virtue”. In addition, because the weekdays are only for work, on off days, the time is required for “home”; as a result, many people’s lives seem to become a circle of alternating between “home” and “work”.
On the other hand, what do we see abroad? For people in the UK, it is normal to drop by a pub on the way home from work, watching sports and loudly discussing hobbies with strangers over a drink. It is said that pub culture permeates society.
Also, bars are famous in Spain, and it is said that in the city of San Sebastián, travelers gather from all over the world to tour the bars together with local people; their lively voices can be heard until late every night.
“Third places” exist in many European countries, and although they have become fewer in today’s Japan, in fact such spaces were all over the place just a little while ago. For instance, “sentō” (public bathhouses) are a typical example. When I was a child, I often went to a public bath; every day, there were many locals enjoying a soak, while amusing themselves with gossiping—the spectacle of so-called social bathing. Also, although remarkably I have not seen this recently, the veranda of old Japanese houses also served as a place for local people to have a chat.
Since there are no hierarchical or interest-based relationships in such places, interactions become straight-forward, without ulterior motives. Nowadays, I think that the exchanges in these places provided an ideal opportunity for children to learn the basics of communication, and that these were also places of education to learn about the local society.
And I think that such spaces, where local people interact, have once again become necessary in today’s Japan.
■A place to meet the locals
The establishment that I casually stopped by the other day was pretty amazing, so I would like to introduce it here. This is the Cultural Creation Base “Sirius” in Yamato City, Kanagawa Prefecture.
This new-style library just opened in November 2016, made with the concept of “the citizens’ place to be”. The exterior is a modern glass-covered design, and the interior is fashionable enough to be mistaken for a Tsutaya bookstore; a Starbucks cafe is also included.
What is wonderful here is that four facilities, “Arts and Culture Hall”, “Lifelong Learning Center”, “Indoor Children’s Plaza”, and “Library” as the core, are combined in one building, providing a cozy place for every local man and woman of all ages, and in order to promote interaction between people from different generations, fine details all the way to the placement of desks and chairs have been considered in depth.
I visited there on a Sunday; although people (who seemed to be students) studying at the desks stood out, the second floor’s “Interaction Lounge” (with an admission fee of ¥100 for 2 hours) or the “Interaction Space” on the sixth floor (free of charge) was full of people who must have visited for a chat. I think that the comfort of this establishment is related to the fact that one is not uncomfortably shushed like in stereotypical libraries of yore.
Further, as an interesting initiative unique to this library, they accept donations of “self-history”. This is a service where, if one writes about the life they lived so far in about 300 pages, the library keeps it for a long time. Moreover, visitors can only browse these inside the library. Besides being able to leave marks of their existence to the future generations, locals will also have the opportunity to know what people lived in this area before.
Although only a year and three months have passed since its opening, with a total of 3 million visitors already, it is beginning to take root as a place indispensable to the locals.
■In search of the place to be
Well, I have rambled about “third place”; whether I can say for myself that I have a “third place” other than “home” and “work”, I am afraid I cannot…
So, recently, I have been making time to dive into shops I find interesting in order to increase the number of places I am familiar with, but my interactions there are quite interesting.
For example, in an izakaya the other day, as I was being taught how to fish by an 84-year-old essayist who supposedly knew Takeshi Kaikō, there was a “chain of communication”, where a middle-aged surfer overheard our conversation and taught us the secret points of catching fish; then the shop owner, as if he was waiting for this topic, told us his recommended recipe. Inspired by this conversation, I went to try fishing the very next weekend.
The director Akira Kurosawa described the protagonist of the movie “To Live”, who lives a busy life going back and forth between “home” and “work”, with the words “as good as dead”. In the story, he embarks to find “the meaning of life”, inspired by the advice of people whom he does not usually mingle with; I think that surely this is what life is about.
In order to live life to the fullest, we need our own place to be. This is the conclusion of this article, and also the excuse I gave to my family when I hit the streets tonight, looking for another drink.
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(Article by: Yasuhiro Takeda)
Fields Research Institute (FRI) conducts research in entertainment.
This article was written by a member of FRI, through the original coverage of his/her interests observed in their daily lives.