Dispatch № 36: Dead Fountains

A disused fountain in Ome City, Tokyo
A disused fountain in Ome City, Tokyo

35°47’10.2438″N, 139°17’0.693″E

Admittedly, I have no numbers to back this up, but I would still put forth (with confidence) that Japan is the world leader in disused fountains. The local park where I spend so much time has two. And yesterday, I sat on a bench next to a fountain that the map still shows as being something with water, when in fact it has clearly been out of use for a very, very long time.

In decades past, they usually built public parks with fountains and other water features, some of them quite ambitious. Perhaps because the bubble economy burst long ago, and perhaps because public sentiment shifted away from the value of moving water in urban park settings, now they nearly all sit derelict, dry and clogged with leaves.

Rare is the fountain that still works. Common is the fountain that, rather than bubbling and shooting wet jets skyward, is instead festooned with cautionary signs warning children and others not to play on them.

But why shouldn’t they play? If they’re not going to be brought back into use, and it seems clear enough that they mostly aren’t, then why not at least convert them into something fun?

The one I sat next to yesterday, for example, was broad and flat like a fifteen-meter dinner plate with an upturned edge. Fill it with sand, perhaps, or carpet it with sod. Let local artists make a mural of it.

One way or another, why not do something, anything, to change these concrete structures littering the country from sad reminders of a lost belief in joy-focused infrastructure into something that’s at least a little fun again?

The bureaucrats would, I’m sure, trot out a variety of reasons why nothing can be done about the sad state of Japan’s public fountains. But I don’t care. I believe in public spaces, and I’d like to think that at least some of these fountains will one day be filled again, and the rest can still be somehow enjoyed.

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David R Munson

David R Munson

Photographer, essayist, wanderer, weirdo. Everything is interesting if you give it an honest chance to be.

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