Yesterday I got back from the quickest and longest trip I think I’ve ever taken in Japan. I took a 7 am bus from Shinjuku station, arriving in historic Takayama at 12:30 on the button. Waiting behind the bus was a local Hida area bus which I boarded for a scenic 50 minute ride to Hida Furukawa station. There I was met by my Satoyama Experience host, Mr. Takekawa, who drove me another 14 kilometers to the Genshichi Kominka, our destination. By the time I had arrived at the house it was just about 2 pm. Seven hours door to door, which isn’t really that far when I come to think of the time travel to another era that I had accomplished within a day.
Genshichi was built about 150 years ago, and like many of the grand old houses in the area, are so undervalued that Mr. Takekawa told me that they’re given away for free for anyone who will have them!
Look at these pictures? Who lives this way anymore? Look at the size of those beams. The height of the ceilings. The architectural details showing how much the farmers of Takayama valued beauty and refinement even when their livelihood wasn’t much more than growing rice in the summer and fashioning the stalks into snow shoes in the winter.
Next door to me in Tokyo there’s a development of new homes going up. The only real wood being used is in the two by fours. In ten years, almost everything inside these new homes, being manmade and of limited duration, will disintegrate. The owners of these homes will be working 60, 70 or 80 hour workweeks to afford living here. And in ten years they will be hit by repair bills beyond their dreams. A new roof. Refitting the kitchen appliances.
How could it be that 150 years ago simple, humble farmers could live in such splendor and today we are content to live so tightly in Tokyo in narrow synthetic houses that bloc out light from each other? And why are these beautiful historic homes considered so impractical they can’t even be given away? But it’s more than just the splendor. These houses are living, breathing partners to a good life. You can’t feel anxious in a setting like this. The desire to take out the ipad or a smart phone disappears. Sitting, appreciating the good life, nature’s bounty, the mind stops thinking its nonstop flow of thoughts.
As I walked from room to room, I started to visualize the space filled with people, with fragrances coming from the kitchen and the living room irori fire place. I could hear the padding of feet on the beautiful polished floors. I could visualize us spread out sitting on stones in the garden with our art supplies and easels. In a house such as this, what will stir from the imagination? What kind of internal shifts are possible when the clock turns back 150 years.
We still have a two places available at this Genesis art women’s retreat 8/11-8/15. If you are ready to travel to the end of the world to tap nature and intuition, I’m sure you will be amazed by what you find here. I know that in the short time I was there, I felt a return to balance. The only thing missing was my paint brush!