• Cory Howell

Living Among Ruins

I live in a city of ruins.

Stone walls stand with ferns and roots reaching from the cracks, an outpost built in the dying days of sieges and samurai.

Wind and time tore down the blue-tile roofs, the white towers and gates that make me think of Japanese castles. Retired couples stroll the grounds, glancing up from their tourist pamphlets to take photos on digital cameras hung around their necks.

We build cities as a reflection of our universe, our values–the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, the Forbidden City in Beijing are at the center, and the world expands in circles.

What does it mean for a community to build around its past? To ripple out from something already gone?

As part of my job, I have to study local history. I learned that 20 years ago, the Japanese government gave massive grants to cities and towns to stimulate growth–money with no strings attached.

Some places built museums, some invested in the arts. We renovated the street where the castle guards used to live.

One of the homes is a free museum, a tiny building with tatami mat rooms, old dressers and tools. In the bedroom, we hung the guards’ contract–a promise to protect the castle, stamped in blood.