about Japan

27 June 2018


Our time in Japan started on the island of Kyushu, on a small tea farm on top of the hills. We were couchsurfing at Jiro’s beautiful house. At first there was a big overwhelming feeling of luscious nature all around. All the million shades of green inspired the little photo collection in my last post. So much life! 




Then there was the house. An old house, simply restored, maintaining the traditional layout and materials, surrounded by nature with the sound of flowing water present everywhere. Tranquil and serene. I loved walking on the tatami floors, warm and slightly bouncy beneath my feet.

It was here our Japanese culinary journey begun. We were lucky to have some visitors that cooked for us traditional meals and here we also encountered for the first time the famous rice cooker, ever present in all of Asia. Will we be able to live without one again?! 

We got to know Jiro, an intrepid traveler that had returned to his village and was given this space by the community to revive. We had many conversations about Japan’s culture & society, confirming to me a little bit of what I already heard and read about, a very conservative and at times constrictive society. 



We explored on foot the surrounding area and one day we took Jiro’s car for a day trip. Mountains and mountains covered in green, water streams everywhere. I could recognise it. From where? Anime!! 
But mostly it was raining so I had a lot of time to work on my craft. I finished another talisman hand and made a necklace. 


After 7 days with Jiro we hitchhiked to Okayama, the province where we would stay for most of our stay. Hitchhiking was another confirmation of all I heard about this country before. People were so nice!!! Driving far out of their way to help us, giving us food when they couldn’t take us. And bowing, always bowing feeling sorry when they couldn’t help.

550 km later and one overnight stay in a love motel (yes, it happened!) we reached Arts and Crafts centre in Mimasaka. This center owned by Toyomi and her husband Yasu is nestled between the mountains in an old school. Toyomi is a master weaver, dyer, spinner and the best of cooks. Yasu is a carpenter making furniture combining Japanese and English style in a beautiful way.


The centre runs workshops, a little cafe (mostly supporting the workshops) and also a guesthouse. It also has a big garden and a plot for growing vegetables across the road.
As you can imagine I was just thrilled to be here! All these fibers, looms, indigo vats, plants, old wooden floors, ah!!! 

We started by helping in the garden. Pruning and cutting all the overgrown plants from the Summer. It was hard work but I was happy to finally be working and feeling useful. After work Toyomi cooked for us, introducing us to so many wonderful dishes. Me and Luana were happy there was an oven (kind of rare in Asia), it was time to make bread, cake and roast some veggies! 



Soon enough Toyomi taught us weaving, spinning and indigo dying. I loved weaving on a loom, so much quicker then my other experiences of weaving on a frame allowing for more improvisation. I learned about Saori weaving and its philosophy of expression and creativity. ‘’In SAORI, we do not weave only a cloth. We weave our true self’.’ 




Experimenting with colour and texture was fun and I wished I could continue. Spinning didn’t feel natural for me but Indigo dying, oh yes! What a wonderful afternoon playing among the vats, learning the ins and outs of this ancient technique that produces this vibrant colour. It really has a hold on me, indigo - like magic of some kind..


On my own craft side I didn’t do much. After working 5 hours a day I would go to the loom and play a bit, after that go to our room make a fire to keep us warm and watch it burn, soon after the day was over and my body ached for a bed. I showed Toyomi my own embroidery and she asked me if I could embroider some weaving scraps that would become coasters. It was fun, embroidering with wool and playing with a multiple coloured background. I loved the result!


Slowly 3 weeks passed by.. in between all of this we still had time to have a wonderful autumn day at the local onsen (hot springs), help the village make traditional mochi (rice cake), go to a yearly kimono sale and get a little bit tipsy at local Izakaya.

To our surprise our next hosts (also living in Okayama prefecture) were friends with Toyomi. During the coming weeks we would be staying in Toyomi’s mother’s weekend house just a couple of kilometres away from the Moorey’s farm. 


Crib, Kazumi and little Emma live on a small off grid farm in the beautiful landscape of rural Japan, surrounded by forests and rice fields. 
By then the seasons started to change and the colours of Autumn were already arriving in Japan, working their way into every bit of foliage around us. Our days started early, we worked hard clearing fields, planting garlic and onions, harvesting soy beans and preparing them to dry. We washed and packed sweet potatoes, harvested kiwis, collected and cut wood and I was lucky enough to escape some days to play with 5 year old Emma - a really special treat!


It was kind of a magic time. The little house we were living in was set in the most beautiful place, surrounded by mountains with no neighbours. Our life was simple and rewarding, working the land by day and at night making sure the fire was burning to keep us warm. 


We learned a lot. Crib and Kazumi became friends and were open about all their knowledge of permaculture, living off grid and also their values, dreams and concerns. It made me think about our future plans. Would I want to be off grid, what kind of house would/can I build (Kazumi and Crib live in a huge yurt), how much time would I want to devote to growing food, etc etc.. 
It was impressive and inspiring to see and understand all the work they had put (and still put) into this land. 


Three weeks quickly went by and we left wanting to stay longer. We now had a bit more then a week to be tourists. We visited Kyoto and then Osaka. 



Two cities worlds apart. Kyoto, traditional and beautiful. So much is preserved - old wooden houses, little narrow streets and temples and shrines everywhere. Osaka was huge and vibrant but revealed what to me was an over-consumerist society with shopping malls towering in every corner.

Being in Japan for 2 months was a great experience but one that took me a while to digest, and for a while when people asked me ‘how was Japan?’ I had some difficulty answering. I couldn’t really get to terms with this society and what for me were its extremes. Extremes in formality in everyday encounters, extreme in packaging (yes, it’s was kind of disturbing), extremes in consumerism (never seen so many malls!) and of course all the stories we heard about not just the workplace, but also schools and their oppressive environment. 

Of course no country is perfect. And I think it was somehow easier for me to ‘’judge’’ this culture because it’s a fully developed country and somehow comparison happened all the time at a subconscious level. And there is so much I loved about Japan. The honesty and friendliness of all the people that crossed our path was overwhelming. The simple, natural and delicate aesthetics present in all aspects of life. Nature was plentiful and the way it was connected to religion and culture was graceful and ever present. But it was the volunteering times I will treasure forever, we met amazing people that opened their lives and work to us, a true inspiration for my path forward. 

restart!

I’ve been trying to restart the blog. It becomes more difficult the more I wait. So much has happened since the last time I posted here..
2 months in Japan, 2 months in Vietnam, 3 months in Cambodia 1 month in Laos and now Thailand.
So many thoughts have run through my mind. People we have met, places we have lived in. Thoughts about my craft, about travelling together as 4 friends. Ups and downs. And reflections.. so many of them. About being tourist, being westerner, on inequality, globalisation, poverty, war, pollution, bla, bla, bla… My mind never stops and being constantly faced with new realities makes me think a lot.

Because the subjects are so complex (or personal) it’s difficult to put them down. But I’ll try!





green green green

28 December 2017







after barren mongolia japan's shades of green were like a big slap on the face. seeing so much life impressed me so much. everywhere there was green - plants, trees, moss.. so beautiful and overwhelming..