Visiting Sioned

Three Nights at Yamazaki House, Sumita-cho
David Kirkpatrick – 1st September 2017


My first impression of Sumita-cho was of a mountain road flanked by seemingly-abandoned houses and a bear warning sign.
Yamazaki house, where we were invited to stay, was hand-built by a local carpenter many years ago. Old wood construction and tatami floors meet a scatter of surprise 60s/70s contemporary highlights. The local insects look a little unusual but most keep to themselves, happy to do their thing while you do yours. When it rains tree frogs come to visit.


Under this quiet surface there is activity everywhere. Walking down the main street to the local café we were stopped and invited into the seniors’ recreation space, full of the happiest grandmas I have ever met. They offered us an endless supply of iced coffee, home-made pickles, fruit and sweets, followed by an impromptu origami lesson. This is a town where community is important. The award-winning town hall reflects this.


Nearby we visited a historic house, a wood-working studio, and sat in on a Shishi-Odori (deer dance) rehearsal. Sumita-cho has a strong focus on sustainably, of its local environment, traditional dance and unique carpentry techniques prized throughout Japan.


Further down the mountains is Rikuzentakata, a city wiped out by the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami. Seeing the reality behind the news stories was a heavy moment. Dump trucks are everywhere, raising the level of the land in preparation to re-build. A flooded supermarket, apartment building and a lone pine tree have been left standing as monuments. An information centre, small shopping areas and restaurants have now begun popping up.


On the last day of our stay we visited Joufukuji shrine, built around the same time as the origins of Shishi-Odori. A 400 year old tree outside was hit by lightning recently, slowly rotting from the inside. Rather than removing the tree the locals decided to carve the lower part into a Buddha that will watch over the city for many years to come.


The atmosphere of Sumita-cho is special. There is a strong feel of the old world, but here it continues and evolves. The connection between the land and humanity, the individual and community, hasn’t been lost here as it has in much of the rest of the world. I’m thankful to have experienced Sumita-cho, even if only for a few days.


Thanks to Sioned Huws and Jun Matsuyama for inviting Murasaki Penguin (Anna Kuroda and I) to Sumita-cho from the 27th to the 30th August 2017.

2017年8月27日から30日までの間私たちMurasaki Penguinを住田町に呼んで下さったショーネッド・ヒューズ、松山隼さんに感謝いたします。