Personal History__

Kikuko Hosoi

-- Where were you born?
I was born in March 1942 in Horaicho. When I turned three, we left under the fire of WWII to live with my dad's side of the family in the countryside of Saitama.
Soon after the war, we returned to Ooka in Yokohama, and then moved here to Makanecho when I was 6. Our house was a salon. My mom was able to put up everyone's hair in a Japanese fashion. This is where I grew up.

The salon patrons were what you would call the girls of the nightlife. Of course I was young, and didn't really know what kind of world that was. Directly after the war, the bustling life in Yokohama's downtown area, Isazakicho Street, revived to a certain extent. There was an airport on the other side of the Shinyosida River that the city subway ran along and Isazakicho Street. Beyond the airfield was Koganecho, with Ooka River flowing in front of it. Kids would gather Chickweed grass from around the airport with their grandmother and use it as bait to catch eel. The sight of the airplanes from across the fence was amazing. Thinking about it now, the planes weren't large passenger planes, rather small 2-person aircrafts, but in the eyes of a child, they were huge.

The airfield was completely surrounded by fencing, so you couldn't get in. For me, Koganecho was a place past the airport on the other side of Ooka River that I'd never been to. My family would tell me daily, 'That place is only for adults so kids can't go.' What was once the red-line - blue-line area had become Maganecho - Koganecho.

After gradating high school, I found a job in Tokyo and started commuting between Tokyo and Yokohama. Koganecho become more and more a place that I couldn't connect with. I would see Koganecho on the Keihinkyuko line on the way home from my rehearsal as we passed Koganechomae station and cross Ota Bridge. The anti-prostitution law passed when I had entered middle school and I had thought that 'prostitution' had disappeared. But despite that, women with their cigarettes would come out and stand around along the river from Ota Bridge across to Koganecho once the sun went down. It was a strange atmosphere, both rich and lonely.

Several years after my practices had ended, I passed by Ota Bridge on the way to visit a former professor. The crowds of women that had once lined the Ooka River had disappeared, and instead, Cherry Blossom trees had been planted.

Current picture of the area where the US Air Force base used to be

The Cherry Blossom trees became really impressive. When I was walking my dog around the area one day, I found a fountain. It was an area where there was spring water, and I had heard that during the war, it had been extremely useful. I remember walking the dog under that Cherry Blossoms and thinking, 'This is where the water was from.'

I saw in a newspaper one day that this thing called 'Operation Bye-Bye' had happened around here. All of the old-style bars under the overhead structures had disappeared and had been replaced with tinplate fencing.

Even now, the area under the Keikyuu Line is covered in metal sheeting.

I have this vague sense of, 'This is old-style Koganecho?' Even excluding areas under the overhead structures, the buildings that housed the shops still remain. It doesn't feel like something has change, but rather 'all the women are gone'.

'Where did all of the owners of those kinds of shops went,' I wondered. I wondered what would happen to the city after everything was cleared out. Even along the river was being reconstructed, and every time that I saw it, it would get more modern. I was thinking that all of the local residents were working together to make sure that the town didn't return to its old ways.

-- Now and days, the project, including the Koganecho Area Management, is a part of the Yokohama Sakurai Planning Associates, but where do you think that the motivation comes from for those who quit working in Tokyo and return to try committing to the efforts?
When I was in my 30s, I was in a traffic accident, and everyone came to help. So, I think that my life now is a gift. Everyone came to help me and now I feel I must return the favor and do everything I can to help them.

--You didn't think that you would ever be connected to Koganecho like that?
Not even in my dreams.

-- What kind of atmosphere was there around areas like Isezakicho right after the war?
When I was in elementary school, there were still Quonset hut near Isezakicho. American soldiers were there, and foreigners would do stuff like steal goods from out in front of the shops.

The US Army had confiscated the area where a Fujiya now stands, and inside of that area, they had extraterritorial rights. So when the soldiers would steal, they would flee to that area. Japanese citizens were not allowed in the occupied area, so even if the shop owners followed the thief, once the thief entered the area, the shop owner could do nothing about it.

Until all of the places like that were returned to the Japanese, ships would frequently come into Yokohama harbor, so there were a lot of sailors and pilots walking around with their khaki-colored hats.

-- It's exactly like the world of the 'Red Shoes', isn't it.
Yeah. When I was growing up, Yokohama was developing very quickly, with the scenery and things like people's clothing gradually becoming more modern. Tree and paper houses were turning into concrete ones. It was truly interesting times.

I had lived in the red-light district of Maganecho. I had heard that it had originally been the red-light district near Kannai that had moved after the Great Kanto Earthquake. A black-market popped up in nearby Noge where the foreigners would often sell stuff for cash. And people actually bought the stuff.

There was also a market with daily necessities for the wives of a troop called PX. There were a lot of things sold there that couldn't be supplied in Japan at the time. There were also people who would request items. That is why the first chocolate that I remember is Hershey's, and why I was able to drink things like cola in my own home early on. It left an impression because it tasted just like the cold medicine for kids that you would get from the doctor. (laughs)

Ota Bridge Today

When I cross Ota Bridge, I notice the sights of Koganecho as it follows the river. There still aren't a lot of households with heating and cooling though, so during times like summer's heat, everyone would come hang around the dirty river and smoke once dusk came. That's the impression I still have.

You know what it means to be 'flippant'? They say it's 'warped behavior', a 'being crazy', purposefully having an attitude of 'I'm evil!' The atmosphere where women just hung around really felt like that. That's probably not the right word, but I think that the women at the time were envious of what other people had. I would say that we ignored them, and I'm pretty sure that we also gave them dirty looks. So when our eyes would meet, I remember there being an instant of fiery tension.

-- What was the average age of the women?
Probably about the same age as I was. I think they were about 20 years old or so. They were probably people whose father had died in the war, or who had so many siblings with family in the country that they were forced to move out to the city. But there was still a sense of pity. You would see them and think that it really doesn't have to be that way. And it must have been the worst thing for the women. She girls would call out 'You think we do this on purpose?' If you walked by and ignore that, people would start yelling, '?' And if you ignored the yelling, cigarette butts would start flying. It was scary.

There was a sense that these women, who once had jobs, were being toyed with by the time period, and they were sacrificing themselves in order to raise their family. I think it's a bit different from the manners in the world today.

Then the world calmed, and soon we entered into an era of high economic growth, and it got to where you were able to make money without doing work like that. I think that a lot of the women finally settled down. The number of Japanese people who had been brought down by the bad times were gradually decreasing, and then the number of foreigners in the area started to grow in the 80s. I want to say that there were more Filipinos in the beginning. Then the number of Koreans and Chinese grew.

I just learned this recently, but the area around Koganecho and Hinode was originally full of wholesale shops. I had no idea, and only the scenery around the Oka River is left in my memory. That's my image of Koganecho.

Even my friends in the neighborhood are surprised at the recent change in the town. What I mean by surprised is that before, everyone in the family would say, 'This is not a place you can come to.' Even if it there was a shortcut through the city, it's a place that you would skirt around to avoid. It became such a beautiful place for being an area that women couldn't go.

It was called '?' when we were going to school, but there were a lot of people who would use a completely different address for their residence certification. They would commute from here, but because an address in this area was seen as unacceptable, it was requested that they use a different address for their mail. The men at the school and from other families would be upset with student's being from that part of town.

Even when you start working, the attitude of the men at work is different just because of your address. I worked at Maru no Uchi, but when work ran late, your parents would always ask you to take a taxi home. But I have never had to guid anyone. It seemed like all of the men knew the area.

-- Looking at your work in 'art and city restoration', how do you feel about the prospects of today's Koganecho with all of the young people coming in and getting involved?
I grew up in the old part of town, and I think this is an old part of town. It's just me, but it seems like still-empty houses are being remodeled little-by-little, and there are still isolated spots dotting the city. I would like to see at least 1 out of 5 stores always open, like a candy store where kids could gather and play. Or see that it's safe at night to where you can walk around aimlessly. I'd like to see this town become a stylish place where young people hang out at cafes. It's especially busy during the Cherry Blossom Festival and the 'Koganecho Bazaar', but as soon as they're over, it becomes lonely again, you know. I want it to become a place that people can enjoy anytime. We're reaching our goals of 'Safety' and 'Peace of Mind', and even before we reach that, I expect that it will be a place for kids.

Data: 12.12.2010
Interview with Kikuko Hosoi
Interviewer: Takahiro Masuzaki

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