Project of Shinmachi Juku

@ This sentence was translated by THE NARA INTERNATIONAL FOUNDATION (NIFS)
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The city of Gojo lies along the center of Nara Prefecturefs western edge, and there is a street here named gShinmachi-dori.h It is a peaceful and quiet street lined roof to roof with old homes. But on the last Sunday of May, for just this one day each year, it shows another face. Its narrow stretch fills with people milling back and forth, stopping at stall after stall of mostly handmade goods, in the street fair known as the Kageroza. We introduce in this issue the Shinmachi Juku (juku = gschoolh), a group centered on people who live here and formed by them to work out ways to breathe new life into their neighborhood. It is they who plan and run the Kageroza, which has become one of Gojofs main annual events.
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Blind until you see things from outside

The Shinmachi Jukufs managing head YAMAMOTO Yoichi is a resident of Shinmachi-dori. The quietness of this street is only something of recent times, because from the Edo Period,(1603-1867) on through to the middle of the Showa Period(1926-1989), it was Gojofs bustling main street. But around 1960, in the third decade of Showa, the new National Route 24 was built right alongside it, and as Yamamoto says, this street was gradually ignored.
gEven today, the street has plenty to speak for it, in the old homes still standing as reminders of the days when it was a rest stop along the old Kishu Highway.h Constantly aware of this, Yamamoto could not help wondering why it had gone downhill and just been left that way, despite having merits not found elsewhere. It would strike him all the more each time he went to see other towns that had succeeded in reviving themselves and came away feeling, gGojo has more than thatc.h He became more aware of the good points of his own Shinmachi-dori, Gojo area when he saw them in another light, from outside. With that in mind, he gathered together with some other people who lived along the street and in 1990 formed the Shinmachi Juku. He reflects, gI probably never would have started it if I hadnft had the chance to see things from outside.h
Members of the Shinmachi Jukufs study group came to know that the book Gojo, put out in 1977 by the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, lists among its records of surveys on the townfs layout that Shinmachi-dori is the oldest street in Japan. That is the foundation of all their efforts to have more people come and see their street, and through that, to lead toward its revitalization.

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Appearance of streets

To this day, people in Japan have never paid much attention to what the streets look like or to the overall scenic view when they plan their towns. This led to the appearance of Shinmachi-dorifs rows of historical old homes being spoiled by things like telephone poles and green-painted fences. Yamamoto and his group have been working on how to adjust these things to fit better into the overall view of the street.
Actually going out and taking a walk along Shinmachi-dori, you can immediately feel how much people here concern about the appearance of their street. They have painted the fence running along the river brown, in keeping with the overall appearance, and held negotiations with the power company so that even the color of the telephone poles fits in. When the road was dug up for work on the sewer system, they took the chance to get the authorities to repave it in a muted shade of brown, this, too, with appearance in mind. Street lights were changed for ones they designed themselves and mailboxes of each home exchanged for ones made of wood, and they continue giving their time for a whole range of other projects.
None of this would have been possible without the understanding and cooperation of the local people. But though they now give favorable responses, Yamamoto says with a laugh that some were conservative in the beginning, and it took some doing to change their way of thinking. These days, they have come around to where they will say, gYoufre up to somethinf, arenft ya. Well, guess we can leave ya to it.h When the first Kageroza was held, most of the local people looked on from a distance. It took three years to receive some kind of understanding and five to be accepted. Now, though, the point has been reached where everyone looks forward to the street fair.



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Festivity of the street fair

Today the Kageroza is run by Shinmachi Juku, but the idea came from a small project by a group of women. They had borrowed part of an old home and used it as a gallery, and this spread out to become what is now the Kageroza. The first year, there were about 50 stalls, but that number has grown to nearly 400 stretching 1.5 kilometers down the street. A Shinmachi Juku staff of about 20 members take care of everything from handling applications for stall space to supervising the event area. As for participants, the 2001 fair was such a success that their number approached that of the total population of Gojo itself (35,000). This year brings the tenth anniversary, and while voices have been heard to question whether the fair has not fallen into a single-pattern rut, Yamamoto speaks of his intention to keep with the present form. The event depends on person-to-person ties and includes participation from people involved in town development from various other regions, and he hopes others may someday use it as a model. While it follows the same pattern each year, he feels that if it could become a regular occurrence as, for example, with traditional events, it might serve as a hint in town development.

Making Shinmachi-dori gfaceh of the city of Gojo
When asked about new projects, the answer Yamamoto returned was gto make this neighborhood the face of Gojo.h Plans have been drawn up for constructing, among others, the Kyoto-Nara-Wakayama Highway, and while this may make transportation by car more convenient, it will inevitably leave Gojo a by-passed city. In the Edo period Gojo was considered vital to transportation, but that was back when people went from place to place on foot. With transportation conditions the way they are now, it is quite sure to wind up a blur on the windscreen. To ensure that does not happen, the next town-planning goal of Yamamoto and his friends is to make Gojo ga town youfd like to visit.h

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