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Collecting souvenirs in Japan: a diary
31 January: Imabari and Marugame
There are two bridges that link Shikoku with the main island of Honshū. Bridges are important historic monuments in Japan, marking boundaries between communities and thus bridging two worlds, both literally and metaphorically. This continues to be part of the attraction of the modern bridges, Seto ōhashi and Shimanami Kaidō, which have made Shikoku more accessible, although the island retains an image of remoteness. Opening in 1999, the Shimanami Kaidō has become a destination in itself. It represents a feat of engineering and displays different styles of suspension bridge technology as it skips between various islands in the Inland Sea. On ōmishima, an island midway between Honshū and Shikoku, is a visitor centre providing for a leisurely experience of the bridge as a tourist destination. There is also, of course, a souvenir shop and stalls selling a variety of sea products. Some are local specialities but with the increasing centralisation and monopoly of some maritime and coastal industries, more generic products carry a sticker verifying its purchase at a particular location and establishing it as a souvenir.
My other stop today was Marugame. Known as 'Fan Town', it is like many other villages and towns throughout Japan that have reinforced one element of traditional life and developed it into a marker of local identity. The particular association of locality with one product has been reinforced by the boom in domestic tourism since the 1960s and persists despite increasing affordability of international tourism and recent economic decline. Particular villages or towns became the place for a craft or product, thus reinforcing reasons why people might chose that place as a destination. Marugame has done this through the active production of a particular kind of fan (uchiwa) used in the summer season to combat the heat and humidity. According to some statistics, 80 to 90% of all such fans are now made in Marugame. The whole town is a reflection of its commitment to the craft with road signs in the shape of fans, man holes, bridges and shops decorated with a fan motif. The Uchiwa Museum has an exhibition on the history of fan-making and demonstrations of the traditional craft, but also sells a whole range of fans from the highly crafted to plastic ones and trinkets such as key rings in the shape of fans.