I‘ve been living in Fukuoka for five years, and I’ve noticed lately how few benches there are in the city. In Belgium, we can take a break in many places – on the side of the street, in the park, at a bus stop, on the beach, at the station etc… But I rarely see such places in Fukuoka.
Isn’t there anyone out there who wants to sit down and take a break? For a breather, you can go to a cafe but isn’t there anybody who wants to just sit for five minutes? Is there nobody wanting to sit in the pale winter sunlight and soak up the sun to get a little warmth? And in the summer, don’t you want to escape from the air-conditioning and find some place to relax in the fresh breeze? I think such people must exist. Perhaps it’s because “people sitting on a bench look like they have nothing to do”, and it seems that idleness is looked down on. Not the ones who are in cafe, that’s different – “at least they are spending money,” right?
I like benches. I think they carry many stories. They are like a kind of friend; it’s not how long you spend with them that’s important, but the quality of the time. For instance, I’d prefer to sit on a bench to enjoy the cherry blossoms rather than looking at them while walking under the trees. It feels more comfortable to eat your bento sitting on a bench too. And when you feel like you can’t breathe anymore because of an overdose of stress, just sit on a bench, watch the birds and take a deep breath. Now that’s an effective way to relax! Have you ever watched the people passing by? It’s such an interesting thing to do.
You may ask “who would pay to install such benches? Surely not Fukuoka City with its huge deficit!” I’ve already seen at some bus stops and in big shopping malls in the suburbs a few benches with advertisements on them. After the Fukuoka Hawks yellow buses, how about nice, colorful Hawks benches? Surely there are sponsors who would be more than happy to pay for benches in Tenjin, like at the north entrance of Nishitetsu Station where so many people stand waiting for friends. We could also add a few more in the streets of Daimyo, Nishijin, or Nakasu, to cite just a few. How about having the benches decorated by primary school children or Fukuoka’s Arts School students?
“Who would clean those benches?” In my opinion, benches don’t need to be in covered places, and so could be washed naturally by the rain. Ideally the users themselves would be well-mannered enough not to leave garbage lying around.
I often feel like taking a break after a long afternoon of shopping, but since I can’t find any place to sit, I just go home. Maybe I would have bought a few more items had I found a bench at that moment! Shop vendors, a bench with the name of your shop on it might have helped.
I hear people complain that the young sit on the ground anywhere and “have no manners”. However, if they had a few benches at hand, they would probably use them, don’t you think? Dads would be happy to see their daughters properly seated without showing their underwear to passers-by! Moreover, it is time to adapt our urban landscape to the needs of our elderly community.
There are many reasons to love benches. A chair is usually for one person. A bench is more open to fantasy! Nobody around? I can lay on it for my siesta. Too many people? We can squeeze up to welcome one more. Lovers are happy to sit a little closer to each other! That is romance! Benches also invoke the image of the old lady feeding the pigeons every day, enjoying the conversation of anyone who’d sit on “her” bench – isn’t this cute?
As objects, benches can be very original too. There is one made with broken dishes by Gaudi in the “Parque Guell” in Barcelona: a piece of art and practical at the same time. I like wooden benches that get a nice sheen over time, and the ones made of iron with different patterns, like flowers or leaves, on their armrests.
I am not a “bench maniac” or some such thing, it’s just that benches do not only serve as seats. In my view they reflect a sense of aesthetic and a way of life. I find it hard to acknowledge a society in which you can’t even get five minutes to just sit on a bench and relax. Fukuoka is known as a city that is “easy to live in”. Well, if everybody took the time to stop and smell the roses and savor these small things in life, life itself would be much more enjoyable.
By Christine Kinoshita
Belgian, Translator & Mother-to-be