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If there’s one thing you are likely to come across almost ad nauseam in Japan, it is Alex Kerr-esque laments over the withering away of traditional Japanese communities — of festivals with centuries-old traditions on the brink of extinction, emptied-out rural villages, traditional houses turned to rack and ruin.

Yet if I want to make myself all misty-eyed with nostalgia about a vanished world of “community,” then I would be writing not about that, but of things that arose and vanished in the bat of a historical eye and are never even mentioned today. It was those things that provided me with a greater vista of diverse, authentic human life in Japan than anything else I have ever encountered.

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