A Year in Japan

By Jennie Rothenberg Gritz
Also see:
Japan Surrenders by James Fallows
The Atlantic, September 2010

In the late 1980s, at the end of a long stint in Asia, my family lived for a year in a far suburb of Tokyo called Utsukushigaoka. Literally that means "beautiful hills," but I thought of it as "Pleasantville"--a recently built bedroom community that, like its Levittown or San Fernando Valley predecessors, represented the comfortable life a newly prospering nation could at last afford. Its layout was centered on a commuter-railroad station for the privately run Tokyu line, which also owned the neighborhood's main department store, an amusement park, and much of the subdivision's land. Just a 40-minute ride from the big city, salaryman families could live in their own stand-alone houses, rather than the infamous urban "rabbit hutch" apartments that symbolized Japan's postwar privations. The houses were so closely spaced that their eaves nearly touched, but each had room for a patch of grass, a carefully shaped bush, a small stand of bamboo. The brand-new house that we rented had a small lawn, which our two sons would trim, with scissors.

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