Memories of Nichitsu 4. The Dr.’s brain in a jar
Nichitsu is a tiny little village huddled in a chilly mountain pass, far from the nearest population center. Come an emergency the Doctor’s office would have been the only ER, so its few rooms were crammed full of equipment, now forgotten and lying in shadow: rusted iron operating tables, toppled X-ray machinery, birthing stirrups lying in puddles of water and moss, leather dentistry chairs ripped and spewing foam, ancient defibrillators on window-sills, walls lined with shelves stocked with bottles of nondescript pills and musty tinctures, documents sheafed and scattered everywhere, surgical clamps in heaps and organs floating in formaldehyde jars. All of it now sinking, as the floor-boards bow under the weight of 30 years of absence and neglect.
This was the reason we came back to Nichitsu. We ‘d first come over a year ago, as the last stop on our first haikyo road trip together, but the cold, haikyo fatigue, and fast-growing darkness had driven us away. This time we were resolved.
We came across it at the last, after exploring all the rest of the town that was new to us, as the light was draining from the sky. We hurried over the slack rope blocking access, across the bridge over the valley stream below, and through the gaping open window at the back.
After confirmation we hurried on into the place, and within seconds Jason called out: “I’ve found the brain!”
A moment later Mike cried: “I’ve found the surgery!”
The light was dimming, we were racing around shooting, exploring, carefully handling aged specimens while stepping as carefully as possible on the buckled wooden floor, weaving around metal detritus and shattered glass.
I was last inside, so went for the one remaining room unexplored- the darkest. The X-ray room.
I staggered over jutting metal and uneven flooring to a cupboard in the back- a tiny windowless room lined with insulation, pitch black but for my flash-light. I didn’t linger.
Once outside, I dipped in and out of as many rooms as I could while the light still held.
Emerging from the recuperating area I took my first glance at the wreckage at the entrance to the main surgery, and literally gasped at the beauty of it. The bizarre cyan oil-can graffiti on the wall, the play of shadow, the black rot of the wood on the floor, the machinery, the complexity. It was amazing. I resolved to not use flash for anything, at all. I wanted the light, as it was.
I didn’t head in at that time though; Mike was still inside shooting and I wanted to leave him to his discovery. That’s an important facet of haikyo, especially with dying light in a small space. You have to find a way to still be struck by the reverence of a place, by the empty weight of a place, even though your friends are bustling around in the room next door. I didn’t want to intrude until we’d all had our fill of it.
We’d known about the brain, of course. We’d seen it in other photos, taken by other haikyoists both Japanese and foreign. To see it, to shoot it- that was very satisfying. But there was one other thing I wanted to check off- aÂ gorgeous surgical light that hung huge and blue-tinged over the surgical table like the eye of Sauron over Mordor.
I wanted to save that for last.
I detoured out to the dentist’s room. I had no idea where the other two were at this point. I was singularly focused.
I moved on, chasing the last traces of light, sometimes now resorting to flash, into the filing room. Here I found the X-rays.
And hidden beneath a pile of blue medical records, a stash of medical clamps.
And finally, I stepped into the surgery.
At first I was puzzled that the light was gone. It was one of the main draws for me. Then I soon became enraged, when we got to our hotel and checked the Internet and found photos dated as recently as Dec 2008- showing the light.
I was mad. Why do this? Why deny other people this? Why?
Now, I suppose I just accept it. It wasn’t smashed or torn off and defaced by vandals or dumb kids. It wasn’t lying there in pieces. Someone had unscrewed it and taken it away. They had looted the ruins of one of its most beautiful features. How could I feel other than angry, but impotent. I was denied. They now have that light on their wall, or in their studio.
That’s life, I suppose.
Here’s what it looked like:
Did that person take it? I have no way of knowing. Perhaps.
Anyway- I don’t want to end this post on a down. To be frank, we were lucky to find as much in as good a condition as we did. That nobody has stolen or smashed the brain in a jar is a great testament to the community. I’m glad of it.
And so, onwards. The final section of our haikyo road trip- the massive Shin Shu Kanko hotel in Nagano- is coming up next.
Location – Nichitsu, Saitama.
Entry – Over a rope, across a bridge, through a glass-less window.
Highlights – Excitement, dark X-ray room, brain, apothecary, recovery room, surgery, X-rays, everything really.
RUINS / HAIKYO
You can see all MJG’s Ruins / Haikyo explorations here:
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