Friday, April 06, 2007

Heaven and Hell Lane

The topmost photo shows the narrow street known locally as "Heaven and Hell Lane" in Niigata City. Whence this curious appellation? Let us begin with the culinary paradise that is Ikinaritei, one of whose exterior walls is visible at left. The restaurant dates to the Edo era, and the lovely wooden structures housing its several dining rooms, as well as their sylvan setting, have been designated a National Treasure by the central government. Though first-time patrons no longer must present letters of introduction from prominent citizens before being allowed through the gates of Ikinaritei's holy precincts, they must still take fistfuls of yen with them, for with lunch a relative bargain at ¥7,000, a full-course Japanese dinner starts at ¥33,000- $350 at the current exchange. This, then, is the "Heaven" to which only the "elect" were formerly admitted. On the opposite, or "Hell", side of the street, was the City Prison. All that remains of the former house of incarceration, which was moved to a new location on the outskirts of town about 20 years ago, are a commemorative plaque or two and a section of the original brick wall, the latter visible in the middle ground of the topmost photo. The vicinity is sometimes referred to as the "Beverly Hills" of Niigata-consider therefore the curious juxtaposition of a detention facility and the homes of local worthies. The grounds of the former prison are now the lovely Nishi Ohata Park.

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