“Danchi” is a Japanese word that refers to a type of large-scale residential housing complex. These complexes usually consist of several buildings with numerous apartment units, often with shared amenities such as playgrounds, parks, and community centers.
The place where Shizuku, the main character of the movie “Whisper of the Heart,” lived in was also a danchi.
Many danchi were built during Japan’s period of high economic growth in the Showa era.
But now, with aging buildings and residents, many are being replaced with new buildings. In order to refresh their image, the new apartment buildings are often not referred to as “danchi” anymore.
However, danchi that have been around since the Showa era still exist in various parts of Japan. One of the largest Showa Danchi is the Kirigaoka Danchi, which was once home to 5,000 households and is known as the largest danchi in Tokyo.
Exploring Japanese Danchi: Kirigaoka Chuo Shotengai
Kirigaoka Danchi is located about a 20-minute walk or 6-minute bus ride from Akabane Station. Akabane Station is four stops on the Saikyo Line from Shinjuku Station, which takes about 15 minutes, so it is not far from the city center.
Although Kirigaoka Danchi is gradually becoming modernized, it still has a very local atmosphere that cannot be found in Shibuya or Shinjuku. Walking through the complex feels like traveling back in time to Tokyo of Showa era.
One of the main attractions of Kirigaoka Danchi is the Kirigaoka Chuo Shotengai, a shopping street located within the complex.
Although it is called a shopping street, it is not quite like the typical image of a shopping street. It feels more like a small shopping space in a corner of the danchi, and its length is only about 100 meters or so.
It is unclear how many stores are currently operating there, but when I visited, most of the shops were closed and there were hardly any people walking around.
A woman on a break.
A cigarette vending machine exuding a melancholic atmosphere. Those who love such dimly lit side streets would be thrilled by it.
The dagashiya (cheap candy store) seemed to be open, and they had Showa era retro sweets, gachapon machines, and small games on display. It is sad to see such shops decreasing rapidly as well.
Kirigaoka Danchi: A Place Lacking in Bustle
Let’s take a walk around the shopping street. There are a few shops along the road that exude a Showa era atmosphere, but most of them have their shutters closed.
By the way, the weather was nice that day, so the balance of light and shadow felt very beautiful.
It may be hard to tell from this photo, but there was an old man sitting all by himself.
This is a danchi located at the end of the shopping street.
From the number of bicycles parked in the bicycle parking lot, it doesn’t seem like there are many people living here.
The park behind the danchi is where homeless people bring in their bedding and various possessions to build their own living spaces. Such scenes of homelessness have become increasingly rare in Tokyo.
It seems that the disappearance of the homeless from Tokyo’s streets began around the time when the city was selected to host the Olympic Games, and lasted until the games were held in 2021. Perhaps the government wanted to present a clean Tokyo to foreign visitors.
I’ve heard that many homeless people receive support from the government’s welfare programs and live in places with roofs over their heads, but I don’t really know the true situation.
This area also seems to be in the middle of redevelopment, so in a few years, Kirigaoka Danchi may also undergo significant changes.
One of the backgrounds for the disappearance of the apartments that have continued since the Showa era is the aging of the residents.
In fact, as I walked around the area, all the people passing by were elderly. Moreover, many of these elderly people are single and often die alone without being noticed by anyone.
It seems that they are often discovered in a state of decay even days after their death.
If you’re interested in Kirigaoka Danchi, I highly recommend visiting it.
NEW ZINE RELEASED.
Yusuke Nagata’s fourth zine, his first in two years, has finally been released.
This time, I am also offering a limited-edition print set. From a selection of 6 images, you can choose either darkroom prints or inkjet prints.
Want to create the best memories in Tokyo? Join my darkroom workshop!
Join our tour, where you’ll shoot with film, develop, and print your photos in a darkroom, all in one day.
Every participant will receive one roll of film as a gift. If you prefer, instead of you taking the photos, the guide can also take street portraits of you.