I work and live in Chiba City, Chiba Prefecture. When people ask me what it is like to live in Chiba, I often have a difficulty to explain. It takes about 40 minutes by express train or 1 hour by local train from central Tokyo to Chiba City, and the large area between Tokyo and Chiba City is densely populated and well developed. On the other hand, the majority of the prefecture are located in the Boso Peninsula fringed with beautiful coastal cliffs, beaches, and fishers villages. The inland of the peninusla is underdeveloped, and mountains with thick forests are nicely preserved. I often wonder why the nature of this vast peninsula is well preserved in spite of its proximity to Tokyo. Time goes so slowly in the countryside of the Boso Peninsula in a good sense.
The nice characteristics of Chiba - nature, people, culture, industry - are often underrated, probably because Chiba is in the shadow of Tokyo. For example, many key attractions and facilities in Chiba have their names starting Tokyo. These include Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo-Narita International Airport, Tokyo Deutsche Village -how come they do not proudly call themselves with Chiba at the beginning (or even in any part) of their names. In fact, it is rare to find such names for tourist/travellers destination, even though some of them adopt the city names (e.g., Kamogawa Sea World, Ichihara Elephant Country). One of the reasons they do not use the word "Chiba" in their names is that the word Chiba, according to many of my elder friends in Tokyo and Chiba, remind of rice paddy, the most common scenery in Japan's rural areas, instead of modern tourist attractions or posh resort areas.
Well, I love visiting rice paddy in the countryside of Japan, and today more and more people appreciate rice paddies and other traditional use of farmlands, which have been disappearing from many parts of Japan. But in 1970s and 80s, when Japanese economy was rapidly growing, and many parts of the country became industrialized, the preservation of these farming traditions were often neglected as an old-fashioned living, and that might have affected the naming of the tourist/travellers gathering spots in Chiba then.
Fortunately my worries about people's ignorance about Chiba have been gradually alleviated over the past several years, as I found more and more people (including intellectuals and famous writers as well as rich pensioners) are moving to Chiba. But there are more important thing that contributed to the better understanding of Chiba Prefecture, notably the Boso Peninsula. That is Haruki Murakami's latest novel and the international best seller, 1Q84.
Whereas more than half of the story in this novel took place in different parts of Tokyo, many prominent episodes took place repeatedly in two cities in Chiba Prefecture. The two leading characters in the novel spent their childhood in the well-developed and populated city of Ichikawa, which is in the prefecture but is located close to Tokyo. Another vital city that repeatedly appear in the novel is Chikura in the southern tip of the Boso Peninsula. Chikura is a small farming town on the coast with a warm and sunny weather. It has several resort hotels and pensioners houses, even back in 1984, and one of the leading characters of this novel visit here repeatedly to see his father in retirement house and the hospital. That leading character calls Chikura as the Town of Cats. So now I am thinking of visiting this town soon, and write a blog article about it with photos for Murakami fans.
If you would like to know what Chiba is like, please read Haruki Murakami's novel 1Q84. Chiba is never like George O'Well's 1984; rather, the Town of Cats seems a much nicer and more appropriate naming.
Posted on Sunday 13 May 2012