Arayashita Shoreline
(Akita Prefecture, Japan)

In the Akita Prefecture city of Nikaho, many pathways, bicycle lanes, corners, walls, and landings hold a variety of small surprises. On close inspection, a curious observer will begin to notice a wide range of miniature doors, escape hatches, hidden shortcuts, and levers, as well as a variety of spiritual markers, totems, and even a few toadstones. If fortunate—with the help of a well-trained local resident—one might even witness the mercurial flash (or is it just a glister, a glint even?) of a temporal talisman or informal area mascot. In the waterfront district of Arayashita Kisakatamachi, these small events and objects seem to grow in quantity, and appear to radiate outwards from the easternmost of 2 small boat harbors, with its broad concrete boat landing and ancestral petrified tree-fragment, a roped-down monument-of-sorts, standing guard over the area’s proceedings.

One recent addition to the Arayashita district, located in the upper parking lot of Family Restaurant 123, is the vending machine area’s new wood-slat pedestrian bench (plus royal-blue sun umbrella seating accessory). Additionally, a handwritten (and laminated) note can be found attached to the neighboring concrete wall (between the power outlet and the umbrella stand). The well-crafted note lists a local telephone number, plus a generous offer of an insider’s knowledge of the district’s surroundings, to any confused or inexperienced passerby to the area. Secondarily, the laminated correspondence offers small change for anyone trying to use the vending machine during the restaurant off hours, with the gentle addendum of “just please, not between the hours of midnight and 6am”. And finally, it is announced with confidence that this “concerned neighbor & friend, always ready to help out” can be found just a “harpoon toss” from the restaurant’s location, and will when necessary, appear at the blink of an eye.

Due to the apparent lack of telephone booths found anywhere near the rest area bench and vending machines, one might imagine that very few (if any?) calls have ever been fielded by the area helper. On the contrary, couldn’t one possibly imagine (as was once hypothesized by a member of the vending machine replenishment team) that despite the rise of personal cell phones as self-navigation devices, many aspects of a quiet seaside town are usually lost and unavailable to these new search engine technologies and digital mapping systems.

During early morning hours, while the regional fog slowly lifts and dissipates, the appearance of the area helper can unknowingly be witnessed by visitors to Family Restaurant 123’s vending machine rest area. Off to the south—just down the sloping run of the small connection road leading to the eastern harbor landing bay—a wide-brimmed, straw hat can often be seen emerging from just behind the concrete flood barrier wall. The hat’s shifting movements (sometimes left, sometimes right) appear to float magically on top of the barrier’s accompanying patch of wild grass and weed. And then at the last moment, a frail, time-worn hand might just materialize from inside of the overgrowth, to grab hold of the bright white, recently revitalized metal pole support of the short roadway’s southernmost yield sign. The helper, a resident of the district since the time before the harbors, who is known to pass much of the day along the concrete-beach boat landing, often makes a journey, and takes a short break in the scrub just adjacent the yield sign. Here he can quietly rest his legs and surreptitiously spy upon the new rest area seating arrangement. With strong eyesight, and the slight bob of the head, the helper keeps diligent, yet remarkably subtle watch over any errant, peregrine visitors to the district—those possible lost voyagers in need of expert advice over elusive trails, former floods, or any other lesser-known area histories.

And if any new visitors find themselves at a loss, two initial topics worth covering with the area helper might be: the possible reasoning for the use of 5 separate satellite dishes at the humble Family Restaurant 123, or a brief explanation regarding the origins and history of the fastened-down, petrified tree fragment that guards the easternmost harbor boat landing.