Here is some footage that I will not end up using in my documentary (or not all of it, anyway). I won’t be using it mainly because of its length, but also because I’m not using a tripod. This shot is an almost 14-minute long stroll through Canadian World, a theme park in Ashibetsu, on the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan. If you can’t visit, consider this a virtual visit.
We start at the front gate, which is a replica of the Kensington railway station on Prince Edward Island.
What you might notice, first of all, is the gentle piano music piped in by speakers all through the park. At certain points, if you’re between speakers, the music has an echo on it and almost a disjointed quality as you travel closer to the next speaker and the sound comes into focus. The next thing you might notice is that we are alone in the park. There is a groundskeeper, and I did speak with him, but it’s actually quite a big park and he was probably down by the lake while I was shooting this. You’ll notice, as well, that he keeps the place in immaculate shape, even though there are essentially no visitors. I spent three days here, and saw a total of two lone visitors and one family.
So, now we walk down the central path, towards a clock tower that’s identified as being from Saint John. This is “Canadian World”, so there has to be some representation of something other than Prince Edward Island in it. I’m guessing this is the clock tower in front of the Market Square mall complex. I don’t recognise it. And yet it looks familiar.
In any case, this is an unedited shot. I thought, “I’ll just walk through and let the camera run and see what happens.” If you get bored and want to skip to the end, go ahead. But it’s here, just in case you wanted to see what it’s like to walk through the place.
After the clock tower, we walk for a few minutes down to the Green Gables house, which is a scale reproduction of the Green Gables house in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. I cannot communicate how strange an experience it is to walk up to this house, because it’s a place I’m extremely familiar with. Again, it’s empty. The music is still being piped through, in case someone should visit.
Seeing this house, in Japan on the other side of the world, gave me an impression of something like vertigo or feeling like I’m in a dream that resembles my own life, but some dream version of my life. Imagine one day waking up and starting your day, to discover that everything is almost the same but kind of different at the same time. Or that you’ve become a giant insect. You walk down streets that are familiar, but people are speaking a different language. You feel at home, but everything is just a little off. For me, experiencing this park felt a lot like waking up in The Village, the fictional town in the TV show The Prisoner. The thing is, I often feel like I’m in that show. But it is pretty rare to actually walk through a park that’s a fairly good replica of your own experience, with nice, calming music playing through discreetly placed speakers, and not another living person in sight. It wasn’t as extreme as, say, a scene out of Inception, in which the earth folds in on itself leaving you standing in front of this house on the other side of the world. But it’s a little like that.
Both this house and the original that it’s based on are symbols. On Prince Edward Island, it’s a house in which no people live, but has been staged as an example of the type of house that Matthew and Marilla would have lived in if they had not been fictional characters. It’s the type of house that Lucy Maud might have been inspired by, and therefore close enough to use for display purposes.
Anyway, symbol or not, imagine walking into and through a house that you’re very familiar with (your childhood home, let’s say), in a landscape that is sort of similar to something that you already know, but in Japan. Or if you’re already in Japan, try it in reverse. That is what it’s like walking up to and through the Green Gables house in Ashibetsu.
Places can mean a great deal to our identities. Something that feels significant to you can be replicated in another part of the world and experienced almost as if it were the original. Which feels strange to say, because the original is already a replica. Yes, this is confusing.
In any case, have fun taking this walking tour of Canadian World. Only small parts of this footage will make it in to the final work. But it’s here for you to take a stroll through any time you feel like visiting.