on the walls in shinjuku pt. 2: fossils

ammonite on wall shinjuku

Yasunari Shigeta is a very lucky man. While most paleontologists have to lug shovels and spades around the world in their search for old bones, Shigeta never has to leave Tokyo–nor get his fingernails dirty.
His favorite hunting ground is just a stroll from his office, through the red-light district of Kabukicho to the department stores and office towers that make up Shinjuku.

“We don’t even have to go that far,” he says. “We can probably find one in any neighborhood.”

The senior curator of the department of Geology and Paleontology of the National Museum of Nature and Science, Shigeta has been hunting fossils professionally for more than 20 years, although his interest stems from childhood. His field of specialty is ammonites: snail-like tentacled creatures (similar to the modern-day nautilus) that once thrived in all the world’s oceans.

They died off some 65 million years ago, but their remains, as well as those of belemnites (they look like shelled cuttlefish) and ancient coral among other things, live on in what Shigeta calls “limestone strata that has been subjected to extreme heat and pressure.”

It’s what most of us call marble. And it’s everywhere in this city.

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a train to the not-so-distant countryside

There’s a weird disconnect when get on a train out to the countyside: You feel you’ve traveled farther in time than you have in distance. Sunday it took  three transfers and an hour and a half before I finally reached the Kominato Tutsudo Line in Chiba, on the other side of the bay from Tokyo. The carriage sooty orange and beige, it smells of diesel oil and there’s no one at the ticket wicket except an old woman selling pickles. Like me this old couple didn’t look like they had any place in particular to go — they just wanted to watch the 菜の花 (rape) flowers spray past the windows.