Nostalgic diorama recalls allure of 1960s Ueno
BY AZUSA ITO STAFF WRITER
A large diorama shows a street near Shinobazunoike pond in Tokyo's Ueno district in the late 1960s. (Photos by Azusa Ito) A reproduction of the previous building that housed the Izuei Honten eel restaurant
Izuei Honten, an eel restaurant in Tokyo's Taito Ward that has been in operation since the Edo Period (1603-1867), is serving up a dollop of warm nostalgia along with its old-fashioned tasty food.
Folks are thronging to reminisce over miniature scenes in 1/80 scale that recapture the old Ueno district of the late 1960s.
Lit to show the sunset glinting on Shinobazunoike pond at Ueno Park in around 1965, at the height of the bustling Showa Era (1926-1989), the diorama is attracting visits from people who knew the area back then.
The diorama is the second one that Kazuo Doi, the 67-year-old president of Izuei, asked diorama artist Takaki Yamamoto, 46, to recreate.
Yamamoto, who lives in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward, is noted for a series of dioramas he created of Showa scenes.
His first creation for Doi was of Izuei Honten's previous building, which was rebuilt in 1984. It shows in loving detail the old-fashioned, two-story wooden restaurant, complete with food displayed in the windows.
The new diorama, measuring 90 centimeters wide by 70 cm deep, shows a section of Ueno Park and its famous pond in tiny detail.
Yamamoto even included Toei streetcars and the monorail that still runs today inside Ueno Zoological Gardens. Soft light falls from inside the street stalls lined up along the pond's edge.
Doi is originally from Sado Island in Niigata Prefecture. Arriving in the metropolis as a young man, he worked at Tokyo metropolitan government's Bureau of Transportation as a subway driver from 1964 to 1971.
He used to travel by train back to his hometown for holidays. On one such trip, he met his future wife, Yoshiko, now 74, who was traveling with mutual friends. Her father owned Izuei Honten.
After they married, Doi left his job and began working at the eel restaurant.
"A streetcar track used to run through this area," Doi recalled recently as he walked along a street near the pond. "It was Line 37 and connected Komagome with Mita via Ueno."
The streetcars were thronged. The Ueno zoo monorail service, which started operating in 1957, was the first in Japan.
Doi met Yamamoto at a filmfest in 2008 that showcased a movie featuring dioramas created by Yamamoto. Soon after that, the artist created the miniature model of the original Izuei Honten. Doi wanted "to remember what the old building looked like before it was rebuilt."
When Doi and Yamamoto walked around the area, they talked about how it used to look when the streetcars were running. They got along well and began making enthusiastic plans for a second diorama with a streetcar and the monorail train running near the Shinobazunoike pond.
However, few photographs of that era remain today to show how the area looked back in those days. Yamamoto had to recreate the landscape based on Doi's memories.
The diorama artist calculated the measurements of the streetcar based on photographs. He consulted with Doi on the details as he designed the tram.
"In old comics aimed at teenage boys, monorail trains were always featured as illustrations of what the future would look like. I think it was everybody's dream," Yamamoto said. "This diorama depicts the shift in eras from streetcars to monorails."
"Back then, everybody rode the Toei streetcar services," Doi said. "I'll be glad if many people can recall their warm memories (of the Showa Era) when they view the diorama."