The Other Side
And so I made it back to America.
The drudgerous ten-hour flight to Seattle was delayed by less than an hour- but it was enough to make me miss my connection. And so I waited. Twelve hours. Passed out on the filthy carpet of Seattle-Tacoma International, feeling like a ghost haunting the terminal as other people came and went.
I ended up here.
Milwaukee, greatest city of the cow-cheese state Wisconsin, a major regional city at some 590,000 people.
Now wait, you might say, I don’t care about the American Midwest! I want to know about Japan!
I, though, have decided to take nothing for granted. When I lived here, I paid little attention to anything, but I returned as a visitor with a new interest in city space, to examine the places I lived as if they were new.
So Milwaukee- a former city of fishing and industry on the shore of the vast and cold Lake Michigan. The fishing declined in importance in the early 20th century, but the factories stayed on until the 1980s. Unlike almost all major American cities, Milwaukee avoided the great bleed-out of population that hit cities in the 1950s, growing until a peak of around 740,000 in the 1960s. Milwaukee still has more people than it had entering the Great Depression, which is more than can be said for many of the old American cities.
It’s a city that feels a lot smaller than it actually is, perhaps because Milwaukee isn’t nearly as prosperous as some other cities its population, and thus doesn’t have the same scale of high-rise construction.
Milwaukee’s a nice place, with some great people, and I do appreciate the depth and diversity of American urban architecture compared with Japan, where most city spaces were uniformly mass-produced out of small nondescript buildings postwar. Still, I was reminded of why I left- I had no career future there, and the city is quiet almost to the point of feeling isolating. I like the architecture of an American city, but will always prefer the dynamics of Japan’s big cities.