Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Japan and Back

We've been 1/2 way around the world and back since I last blogged here.
We stayed high in the mountains in the middle of Japan with our dear friend Akane.
Here is Lilia on top of Teungu Ewa.
Akane lives in Uenomura, a small village with a population of 2000 that stretches out over 30 km along the Kana River. People live in little pockets where the valley widens. The mountains all around are steep and forested, filled with monkeys, deer, wild pig and bear. Akane has joined the local pack of hunters, and her small freezer was full of wild meat.
The mountain towns in Gunma Prefecture have steeply declining populations. Most people want to live in the cities; teachers and other workers have to be recruited from far away. The buildings are almost all former silk worm houses, the second story had been used to grow silken cacoons. In the 80s the last silk mill in the area closed, and the silk industry has moved to countries where labour is cheaper. The huge houses are left empty.
We met old people who have watched the mountain towns drain out and dry up. Stooped at the waist, they rake the leaves off of the streets and tend their gardens while the neighbourhoods turns to artifacts. Some were so kind to us, welcoming our interest in their lives and despite the language barrier they shared with us parts of their traditional culture. We are so grateful for their generosity.
We met some young folks, glowing exceptions to the trend of outward migration.
In Japanese they say you do a U-turn in life if you go leave your home and then return and build your life there.
Tsune made a U-turn, he and his wife Miho run a high class cafe, Yotacco (meaning naughty kids), in an old silk house. Out back they have a small farm where they grow everything on their menu, down to the soybeans for the tofu and and the wheat for the ramyan noodles.
They have a blog at: http://yotacco.exblog.jp/i21/ (Google can translate into English)
Here Berwyn and Selwyn help to plant the winter wheat while Tsune plows in the background.
If you move away from home and don't return you do an I-turn. (I think the interpretation of turn didn't quite come across right!)
Hokuto and Sachiko are a young couple who have moved from other parts of Japan to Uenomura because it's in the forest and is renowned for wooden crafts. Hokuto is a wood artisan and Sachiko is a calligrapher and together they run a business producing wooden chairs and bowls and utensils.
Here is coffee in Hokuto's mugs.
A father we met in Ueno has lived all his life there. He is a fourth generation mushroom farmer. His six year old daughter was the highlight of Selwyn's trip. His family taught us about farming and hunting and getting along in these mountains.

My imagination has been invigorated by the ways of living we experience there. I am so proud of the young people of Uenomura for sustaining the rural traditions and creating a sustainable community. Despite all our fauxpas, we felt a kindred spirit with our contemporaries in Japan and we will never forget.

Here are Selwyn and I in the first snow on the trail leading up to Tajikaro's Shrine. 400 year old Japanese Cedear tower over the trail that pilgrims have followed for thousands of years.