2009-01-10

Big Yellow Taxi

A while back, my dad gave me a shoebox full of old snapshots. This photo got me thinking. It was taken on Okinawa around 1967. That's me in the boat. One of the houses on the other side of the river is my grandmother's house. The river empties into the sea about a hundred yards to the right of where this photo was taken.

Fast-forward to 1975. The river is still clean enough to go splashing around in and catch minnows with a glass jar. (Do kids these days still do that kind of thing?) On either side of the river are open fields. The field where the boat used to be is now a garden where my great-grandmother tends to her vegetables. Hundred yards downstream is the sea. The water is clean enough to swim in. Along the beach is a gravel road and a concrete seawall about a foot high and a foot wide. There are also lots of amazing tidepools. Fishermen in open boats come in with the morning's catch. They tie up by the riverbank. Trees sway in the breeze. For an eight year old boy this is paradise.

Fast-forward to 1980. The fields have a few more houses on them. The river is a bit dirtier. The garden is now tended by a neighbor. The beach and tide pools are still there.

Fast-forward to 1987. There are no open fields, just concrete buildings. The garden has been paved over. Many of the old wooden housed have been replace by ugly concrete apartment blocks. My grandmother's house now sits at the edge of a parking lot.

A part of the river has been turned into an underground sewer and paved over. An apartment building sits directly on top of it. The rest of the river is an open sewer filled with garbage and raw sewage. The river is now completely dead. It's hard to believe this is Japan and not some Third World country. The seawall that was a foot high is now a twelve foot concrete monstrosity. The beach is gone. At least there are stairs cast into the seawall so people can still walk down to the water. The tide pools are still there. They're the only beautiful things left.

Fast-forward to 2004. Some things are better. Other things are much, much worse. The river has been cleaned up. The garbage is gone. Sewage is no longer dumped into the river. Life is returning to some degree, but the river is little more than a concrete canal. The old 12 foot seawall is gone and a new one stands a half mile farther out to sea. Those beautiful tide pools are now under ten feet of dirt and asphalt. On top of the reclaimed land sits a brand new sewage treatment plant. The destruction of paradise is complete.

Worst of all, a quarter mile down the shore they've built a McParadise. There are now fake beaches of the kind that never existed; fake rocks with slides and diving boards; a giant resort hotel with an ugly wind turbine; a boardwalk with boutiques, restaurants, and nightclubs. On the ruins of paradise they've built an amusement park, catering to off-island tourists who'll never know what true paradise was like.


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