Of a walk in the dark streets of Yokosuka

IMG_1139 copiaOne of the main things I wanted to do in my last trip in Japan, that I couldn’t make during my first vacation, was to go to Yokosuka.

Just two stops away from the way more famous and beautiful Kamakura, this city is mainly known for the huge american naval base, whose presence highly influences the population of this little city and everything you can see around its streets.

But why Yokosuka? Is there anything special for a tourist here? Frankly, no. The reason I came here is because this the place where my favorite Videogame called Shenmue, from which I got part of my nickname, is placed. I wanted to come here not only to see the similarities between game and real life, but also because I felt I had to, for a personal feeling that I can’t exactly explain; I just had to do it.

The station is the endpoint of the Yokosuka line that begins at the Shinagawa station in Tokyo, and you can reach this city in about an hour. At my arrival at the very small station, the first thing I can notice is the huge naval base and the impressive number of ships, both American and Japanese. After a quick look in the station area, I wait for one of the several buses regularly stopping in front of the station and head towards the area of main interest, which is Dobuita Street, where all the main plot of the game takes place. After a 3 minutes ride, I finally reach the main entrance of the street under indications of the driver and start walking towards the entrance.

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It’s January 3rd, so almost all the shops in the streets are closed for national holiday, yet the atmosphere is all here. And just like in the game, it’s FULL of jackets and American/Japanese military clothes shops and everything combining both the western and oriental cultures. Walking in the street (it’s 4:30pm, still day) I can actually see more American militaries and western people than Japanese citizens; As I’ve already said, the influence of the base is extremely heavy in this city, including Empire State Building shaped lamppost and reproductions of the Statue of Liberty here and there. Even the symbol of Dobuita Street itself features both the U.S. and Japan flags together, like a sign of unity, which is undoubtedly a demonstration of the respect running between these two countries, leaving the past far behind.

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I walk towards the centre of the city, leaving the other direction leading to the Hill (where Ryo’s house is located in the game) as last destination. There are many pubs filled with piles of Asahi, Budweiser and lonely militaries, as many quiet American/Japanese couples walk towards the romantic seaside walk to fully enjoy their day off. I’m honestly impressed with the similarities of some streets and corners with the game, and as good nerd, I instantly feel like I’m inside the game: A new and exciting feeling that I honestly couldn’t wait to live.

I keep walking on and I reach the end of Dobuita Street in just five minutes. I take a look around the commercial area, visit a little but pretty nice music store, take a break in a Conbini drinking matcha latte and eating one of the fabulous Family Mart sandwiches (my personal drug), and then I’m ready to continue exploring the Dobuita zone, this time towards the Hill area.

In the game, Ryo lives in a beautiful traditional house at the top of the hill of Yokosuka, and that’s where I’m headed now. I already now there’s no house at the top of the hill (the game is set in 1986), but I bet the similarities will be a lot.

I walk all the way back in Dobuita Street, and just like in the game, as it gets darker, the true soul of this little city comes out: Sailors literally invade pubs and locals to drink (and probably get drunk), while bikers dressed in leather jackets with their Harley Davidson parked near the street gather together to talk about something I can’t possibly understand, as the weak Empire State Building lights shyly illuminate the street: It’s a very underground atmosphere, but I like these kind of situations, so I don’t mind at all. I finally reach the street leading to the Hill, now completely covered in darkness.

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“Do you know where sailors hang out?” (cit.)

The beginning of the HIll area.

The beginning of the HIll area.

As I walk up the hill, I can almost say this place looks like the Japanese version of the Favelas: Abandoned cars, empty houses, total silence, and a very intimidating atmosphere. There’s probably only some old couple living here but in all honesty, for the first time in Japan, I’m feeling pretty scared and unsafe. As I keep going up, I walk in front of what looks like an abandoned elementary school, some empty parkings and a couple of random guys talking that definitely give me a weird stare and stop talking as I walk in front of them: Where they dangerous people, or some evil bikers from hell sent by a Shinigami? No. They were normal guys. Because I’d have the same look on my face if a tourist shows up in my abandoned hometown, so I guess it’s absolutely legit and normal to behave like that. Just something to add to the atmosphere.

I finally reach the end of the street. I’m still not at the top of the Hill, but I can definitely recognize it: the street leading to Ryo’s house. There’s no traditional habitation at the end of it, but still I smile at the sight of it: It’s identical.

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View from the Hill.

View from the Hill.

The street leading to Ryo's house

The street leading to Ryo’s house

This is where Ryo's house should be.

This is where Ryo’s house should be.

I can say I’ve finally accomplished my mission: Visiting Yokosuka and being inside my favorite Videogame. I know this statement sound disturbing and extremely nerd-ish, but Shenmue has a very important meaning to me, even after all these years. Leaving aside the fact that it’s a masterpiece of a forgotten era, just like the message hidden in the game, it’s also been the sign of my personal transition from teenager to adult, a sweet yet melancholic revolution, the last witness of the thoughtless days that will never come back. When Japan was important, but not vital. When the future wasn’t scary, but exciting. And as Ryo will probably be in search of his father’s killer forever, I’ll never forget the emotions I lived in that summer when I played this game for the first time. Because every period of our lives is tied to a song, a band, a movie, a videogame, or anything that can leave an emotional trace inside us. 

I walk down the hill and go back to the station, waiting for the train that will bring me back to Tokyo, in my beloved Shinjuku. There’s a shivering wind. A young Japanese mother plays with her little son, smiling as he joyfully laughs at her funny expressions. The train finally arrives, and I take a seat near the entrance. For one day, I lived in the border between reality and imagination, where my present and past meet and face each other, where my real life and the one inside my head collide.

Maybe I’m going too far with this. I close my eyes and put my headphones on. I’m still inside my world after all, still in Japan. As the lights quickly appear and disappear outside, I fall asleep on the notes of Echoes.

♪ Pink Floyd – Echoes

– Alex