All posts tagged: shikoku

The Shikoku Files – Candles from Uchiko – the Best in The World???

Further up the coast of Ehime, there is an old town with a wonderful set of meandering old roads and historic buildings called Uchiko. Uchiko by itself is one of those little country Japanese towns that is insanely Instagrammable – it’s charming, old and clean, dotted with trendy shops, cafes and hostels – just right for a stroll in a kimono. The highlight of the town however, is the old candle industry here that is originally what put Uchiko on the map in the first place. In the olden days, candles were made out of beeswax or paraffin; materials which when burnt produced a lot of smoke and unpleasant odor. The people of Uchiko however, discovered a way to make candle wax out of the haze tree, which is a very labor intensive process however the result is a pristine white candle that when burnt produces a pure bright flame with no smoke or odor. These candles were exhibited at the Paris expo in 1900 (or thereabouts, I actually can’t remember) and instantly became a smash …

The Shikoku Files – Mutemuka Sake and Shochu Distillery

In the previous post I detailed how we stayed in a lovely guest house called Kuro Usagi in Kochi prefecture, and also how they brew their own potent form of bathtub rice wine called doburoku. Well, during dinner we managed to sample a few pitchers of the stuff and things got somewhat blurry after all that, although I do remember yelling at Rod from Shikoku Tours about how Dragonball Z is to Japanese pop culture like Shakespeare was to the English language. I don’t think he understood or accepted my position. I do remember waking up the next morning at 6am feeling awful, and upon staggering to the car we then proceeded to drive two hours through an interminable stretch of mountain roads whose twists and turns threatened to make me hurl on more than one occasion. I’m not sure how Rod managed to keep us on the road, as he had had quite as much as I had the previous night, but thanks to him we arrived at our next location largely unscathed, albeit much grayer …

The Shikoku Files – Experience Crafts in Mima, Tokushima

That afternoon we drove down from the mountains of Tokushima back into civilization – where we visited the old traditional streets of Mima, which I found to be absolutely lovely. In addition to beautifully preserved old Japanese buildings with cafes and shops built into them, there were several spots in which you could try your hand at some traditional crafts, one of them being making Wagasa, Japanese umbrellas. Having photographed a few wagasa workshops around Japan, I was surprised to find that Tokushima prefecture also had a history of making them, as the main centers of production are typically said to be Gifu, Kyoto, Kanazawa and Yodoe. There is a small workshop in Mima that is keeping the tradition alive by a thread though, and it’s only here that you can get hands on with making paper umbrellas. A short way down the street is a small indigo dyeing workshop where you can make your very own scarf or handkerchief dyed with all-natural indigo dye – said to be the most resilient color in nature …

The Shikoku Files – Mountain Blacksmith and Steep Incline Farmers

What I love about Japan is that there are all types of craftsmen – some of whom are national treasures who create priceless works of art or architecture, and others who are little known but are essential to the society around them. Case in point is Omori-san, the village blacksmith of the remote settlements in the wide area of Tsurugi township. The term village blacksmith doesn’t really gain much traction in modern society but here in the mountains of Shikoku the settlements can be so remote that driving to a shop is actually a whole-day endeavor. If you’re a local farmer and you need a new pitchfork, you’d rather go to Omori-san’s shack up in the mountains where he’ll have a selection of special implements for the special type of farming they do up there, or he’ll make you a new one to order out of scavenged scrap metal. Need a filleting knife? He’ll make that, and just about anything you need. Omori-san’s little forge is located just off an unnamed mountain road with a …

The Shikoku Files – Scarecrow Village, Kazurabashi and Tsurugi Shrine

After an amazing breakfast at Kouya, it was time to bid farewell to that wonderful place and head out on the road again. Amongst the twisting mountain paths we came across the small town of Nagoro, a town famous for being populated by more scarecrows than people. There is kind of a sad story behind it – a resident of Nagoro, having lived somewhere else for a number of years, returned to her hometown to find that most of her friends had passed away or moved somewhere else. Beset by loneliness, she began to make the scarecrows to ‘replace’ the people who once populated the small town. It’s a sad story that shows the struggle of isolated Japanese towns to maintain their population, although Nagoro is now very well known across the world as one of those unique oddities that one can only find in Japan.  If you’re an outdoors type then it certainly would be a good idea for you to visit the Kazura bridges in the Iya Valley. The kazura bridges are essentially …

The Shikoku Files – Kominka Koya and Making Soba in Iya Valley

Despite having been a photographer in Japan for almost 10 years, until this year I never had a chance to visit Shikoku, which is one of the 4 main islands that make up the country. Last month, thanks to Japan Rail Shikoku and Rod Walters of Shikoku Tours, I finally had the opportunity to go, and I couldn’t be happier. Shikoku is the smallest of 4 main islands but is packed with rich history and tradition. We started out on a trip to explore some of the traditional crafts of Shikoku as well as to discover less often visited gems in the countryside. The first port of call was Iya valley, an area in the mountainous interior of Tokushima with some beautiful rivers and hiking trails. We stopped in at a small restaurant where a wonderful lady called Tsuzuki-san will teach you how to weave baskets from local vine, as well as teach you how to make buckwheat soba.   The next place we visited was our accommodation for the night; a place called Kominka …