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Except for the occasional buzzing of cars passing by and the gentle chirping of birds, route 172 — the main road that runs through Tokigawa — was quiet on a recent Wednesday morning.

The alleys were mostly empty and the mom-and-pop stores still closed. An older lady pushed a stroller across the street. From behind the steering wheel, the small town in Tokyo’s neighboring Saitama Prefecture appeared like any other sleepy community dotting Japan’s rural landscape.

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