Why Bologna? The City of Covered Walkways seen through the eyes of a Japanese

Author and mangaka Keiko Ichiguchi tells us what she likes about Bologna, her relationship with its covered walkways and why decided to move here.

Do you remember the first time you visited Bologna, and your impressions of it?

Until then I had only visited tourist cities and Bologna seemed quieter... how can I say... it felt more real. There was lots of red, the color of bricks. And the covered walkways. Me and my friends were reminded of Gangi.

Tell us more about these Gangi, what are they? Where?

You can find them in snowy areas, like Niigata prefecture, a seaside zone in North-eastern Japan. Gangi are wooden structures, built in order to protect pedestrians from the snow; kind of like Bologna's archways protecting people from the rain. In those areas, where there can be as much as 3m of snow, Gangi end up resembling snow tunnels! They're often shown on TV.

They must be quite a sight! You mention they're made out of wood, so, traditional materials.

Gangi date back to Edo period (17th -19th century) and they are usually built with wood, though they must be very difficult to take care of, they require lots of maintenance. There are also modern versions, made of other kinds of materials, in some shopping areas. People like to walk under them, because they protect you but also you're not locked indoor. Just like in Bologna.

You've been living in Bologna for many years, and you also wrote a book for a Japanese publisher. Can you tell us more about it?

I have written a book on Bologna's Fiera del Libro per Ragazzi. It's in three parts: one tells of the city and its story, another is dedicated to the Fair, and another one is about children's books in general. This fair has become a crucial event for Japanese authors too, although there isn't much to read on Bologna in the Japanese language – only a few, like famous author Hisashi Inoue's.

Tell us more about this author, was the book published long ago?

It came out in 2010, it's a travel essay and there was also a TV show. It made Bologna familiar to many Japanese viewers. I imagine many tourists coming from Japan visit Bologna because of that book.

Did you know the covered archways are on the UNESCO's Tentative List since 2006, and the many initiatives the City Council carries so that they can make the official list?

Well, I have seen the many colored frogs around the city, those produced by Un Passo Per San Luca to advertise the archways. When I take Japanese people around Bologna, they always ask me what San Luca is, as it kind of looks like a pagoda from far away, and it also has a very long covered walkway. Japanese tourists have a passion for World Heritage sites, and often take long detours to see places like Matera's Sassi or Alberobello's Trulli. Should the walkways become World Heritage Sites, the tourism draw would be huge.

Do you think there are other places around the city that would deserve candidacy? Like the towers?

I don't know, when they hear 'towers' most Japanese think of Pisa's, while the walkways are something that you can find only in Bologna. Not to mention San Luca is the world's longest covered walkway.

You've been living in Bologna for many years and you're pretty much a citizen here. What are your hopes for the city's future?

I wish more Japanese people could be familiar with it, but I also would like it not to become too much of a tourist attraction, it would lose a lot of charm in the locals' eyes.

For more information:

For those who know Japanese, a detailed description of Gangi can be found on Nagaoka's tourism association Tochio's page:

http://tochiokankou.jp/bunka/gangi.html

Those who wish to know more on the walkways' candidacy for the UNESCO World Heritage list:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5010/

www.facebook.com/candidaturaporticiunesco

www.unpassopersanluca.it

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