Affirmative action アファーマティブアクション

We are on the east coast of Shikoku Island a few kilometers from the  coast along a river the zigzags up from the shore. It extends into the mountains starting from the route of the Buddhist pilgrimage called ‘henro’. As the river goes deeper into this small valley, the roads along the river get narrower. The road we are traveling on is the only one and will eventually stop when the valley becomes too narrow and too steep. The road will be a dead-end and is always tranquil and safe. It is if you have traveled back in time and left the current age behind. When we asked the way we were given a dubious look “where are you going? There will be nothing there” .

四国の東岸、ぎざぎざの海岸から川の支流にそって数キロ、四国遍路のオリジナルのルートから1キロほど伸びた谷にいる。谷の枝から枝分かれした子谷、さらにその枝の孫谷に入るにそって、道路の幅が次第に細くなる。行き止まりになる道路はいつも気持ちがいい。静かで、安全。時代の流れにとり残されているようなところがあって、秘境の趣さえある。道を聞い ても、この先へ一体何をしに行くのかという、遠慮のない怪訝な表情が返ってくる。

Suddenly, a two lane road appeared opening up from a narrow one lane road further up the valley. Nothing was on the road all the way to the end except us-then suddenly a dead-end. Probably this 2 lane road was part of an upgrading project but it ended when an economic crisis hit here a couple of decades ago. Although where would we go even if this project was completed? Nowhere!! It means that only 20 houses along this one mile of road would  have the benefit of this wide road! The old road is just beside this new wide road. This means this wide road was totally new, in such a small narrow valley. Hundreds of farmers lower in the valley are not having any benefit from this winding new road?!?.

ところが突然、二車線の立派な道路が目の前に現れた。ずっと先まで私達のほか誰もいない。何も走ってない。変だなと思いつつ先へ進むと、山に当たって忽然とその道路が行き どまりになった。高度経済成長期に、新しい道路の計画があったものの、一部だけ工事をして辞めになったのだろうか?それにしてもこの先、道路を延長して、 一体どこに出るのか?いや、どこにも行き着かないじゃないか!! だとしたら、この拡幅で利益を受けているのは1.5キロの谷に建つ20軒ほどの農家だけ?この細い谷には古い街道が別にあるから、この二車線の道路は特にわざわざ作られたたものだ。この村の手前にあった何100軒もの民家にはまったくご利益が ない。

At the end of the day, we solved the riddle. This village is a so called “ buraku”. The old road was too narrow for two cars, but wide enough for one way. Why didn’t they organize the traffic system? Possibly the old road could go west and the new one to the east and save some money and use the money to widen the road to access the whole village? It would be enough to circulate inside for the people of the buraku, and more beneficial to go out to the bigger cities for everyone. The partial widening of the road seems like an excuse/gesture that affirmative action was done by spending some money anyway. Is this too deep a reading? is it “ you have enough convenience inside, but do not come out from there” I wonder if we now understood the dubious reaction to our question about the route. There is a warm custom along so simple – a warm heart and discrimination can co-exist.

Anyway  a TV program made by the BBC about this pilgrimage was broadcasted in NY though PBS several weeks ago. Probably this program inspired the New York Times to include SHIKOKU as  one of 52 places to visit in the world this year. Is there anyone who could use this chance to activate these local towns and villages?