Gondo Now & Then…

While I was in sub-zero Nagano, I managed to fend off cold. Then back in unseasonably mild London, I’ve succumbed to the pesky germ! How could this happen?! Anyway, I am confined to bed right now and feeling rather betrayed…

Apart from a mass congregation during the New Year holidays in & around the Zenkō-ji compound,the street scene of Nagano in general was a rather sparsely populated one, I must say…

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The town was quiet and looked even deserted for the eyes which got used to see the sea of people in London 24/7.
An arcade called Gondo used to be brimful with shops and shoppers three decades ago…

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However, the shops and their clients ebbed away as the fringe of the city which used to be rice fields and apple orchards were developed and offered as new residential areas. For young families with children, the lure of being able to afford a house with a garden was irresistible and an exodus out of the city centre to the suburb followed as a result. This kind of demographic change was a death-blow to any traditional town centre and Gondo did not escape the repercussion.

Upon entering the roofed arcade from Chuo-dori, there was a temple named Oujo-in…

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The temple was founded in the 9th century by Kūkai (空海), also known posthumously as Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師), the founder of the Shingon-shū (真言宗 True Word School).
In the 12th century, during a power struggle between the Taira and Minamoto clans in the late-Heian period of Japan known as Genpei War, Zenkō-ji was razed to the ground by fire. After two decades, Minamoto no Yoritomo (源 頼朝), the founder and the first shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate of Japan vowed to rebuild Zenkō-ji and its Hibutsu – the most important icon of temple, was temporarily moved to Oujo-in. A word “Gondo” means “a temporary shrine”. It explains why the place earned the name, Gondo (権堂).

The present Gondo arcade housed some shops, bars and eateries. The roofed promenade was dotted with a few clothing & accessories shops…

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A tree decorated as a Christmas tree in front of the building occupied by bars and restaurants…

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This stall was selling ornaments for the New Year…

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They were to be hung on the front doors as an invitation to gods to walk into each household and bring prosperity and luck to its receiver.

By the east end of Gondo arcade, there was Akiba-jinja shrine. And in front of it, there was a statue of Kioi-jishi (勢獅子)…

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This fierce looking mask was used for Lion Dance (獅子舞) which was to be performed during the New Year celebration.
It was a cold day and the snow clung to the base of the statue refused to melt away. Brrr…

From the arcade, there were narrow alleyways spreading out like small veins…

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On one of the alleyways, I noticed a tricoloured canopy standing out of the greyish hue of urban wintry scene…

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It was a small cake shop, Patisserie Aux Suga.
I fancied a break from cold with hot coffee & cake so opened a sliding door and walked in.
The dining area was empty and a soft tune of Simon & Garfunkel was filling the space…

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I ogled the showcase and after a long pondering, opted for a slice of Creme Marron – Chestnuts cake.
Ta-dah! It was my very first cake in Japan…

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However for the tongue which had been exposed to more sugary food in the UK, the cake was flavoured rather too delicately. Still, it was very well made…

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While a patisserie owner blew my coffee, he explained that the shop opened in the mid October last year therefore it was a new comer to Gondo…

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As I munched through the treat, a trickle of customers came and went with boxes of Mr.Suga’s creation. It was heartwarming to witness how local independent businesses like his were not only surviving but also thriving in the local community. Instead of running the path of boom & bust by relying on big money investor or franchises, they chose to nourish the ground they took roots in a more personal way. I sincerely hoped that their service would one day lure back people to Gondo and the place would be overflowing with laughter and excitement again. I must come back here every time I visit Nagano and I shall bring my mum with me next time, I thought…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

2 thoughts on “Gondo Now & Then…

  1. Hopefully the good independent businesses would survive because you can usually feel the love they put into their work. The expression of mask looks like it did something naughty and got away with it. Hehehe.

    • Yes, indeed! It will be nice to see more people on the street. Nagano being so cold, the locals don’t saunter around like me – my mum thought I was crazy to go shopping on foot! However, the area has to have more “pull” so shoppers and visitors alike will be coming even if there aren’t large car parks like out of town shopping centres.
      The mask meant to scare evil spirits. But I agree with you, he does look mischievous 😜

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