Janine and I are currently on the indigo trail. We have visited two indigo workshops in Kyoto and one in the north in Mashiko. Today we are making the trip to the Miyama Valley and the little village of Kita. This is rumoured to be a very pretty village of thatched roofed houses a few hours north of Kyoto in a mountainous region. although this sounds gorgeous, it is not the real reason to search it out.
The valley isn’t on any main road or train line, so the trip can be quite a long one, even though the distance isn’t particularly great. The isolation of the village has been its saving grace in terms of architecture, as not much has changed there in a long time.
We are advised to allow 3 to 4 hours for the trip. We can’t know the exact time, as we don’t know all the service times and connections. The journey will involve 2 train journeys and two bus trips. As it turns out, we seem to end up catching the wrong train, even with advice from the tourist information bureau. Our train stops a few stations short of the station that we need to get to in order to connect with the next train. We are a bit lost and bewildered by this, so by the time we get to ask the station master which platform we need to be on to get the next train north, he tells us that it has just left on the other side of the station.
This is a bit of a bummer, as the next train isn’t for another hour, then we need to connect with a local bus, that connects with a much smaller local bus to get us up the mountain to where we need to be. Our incompetence with the language and life in general puts a bit of a limit on our travels sometimes, but our optimism and luck is a good counter-balance on many an occasion, so we make the best of our situation. We decide to sit in the sun outside the station, but on the way out we see this sign.
Luckily for us we have time to burn, so I decide to try and decipher it. Luckier still, it has some English on it. We march back in and ask the station master. He nods, Yes, the bus departs from outside in half an hour and goes direct. It has nothing to do with the railways. We will have to work it out for our selves. We sit and wait in the sun and as 10.30 arrives, a big coach pulls into the parking area. I wander over and ask in my clumsey, half-baked, abreviated Japanese. “Miyama desuKa”. The driver nods, “Hi desunae”.
It’s all good. We’re off again.
As it turns out, it just happens to be the first day of the summer tourist coach service company’s new offering to run a coach from this station to Kita village direct. It turns out to be a very comfortable one hour luxury coach service. As I remember, it cost us just $12 each. Excellent!
We arrive in the village cool and relaxed. As we desend from the bus, the driver is there at the foot of the steps holding a sign in Japanese that i can see has the time 15:30 written on it. I understand from this that we had better be back here a few minutes earlier than that time. I look at the driver and point at the ground at our feet. He nods. Here!
The village looks beautiful. I love Japanese thatched roofed houses at any time. The loverly and I made the pilgrimage to Shirakawago village up in the snow country a few years ago. That was a great experience. Staying overnight in an ancient thatched roofed minka house was a real cultural experience. The ancient lady who owned the ancient house cooked us a lovely multi-course dinner from an ancient recipe. I wrote about it at the time, it will be here on this blog back in the ancient past-posts somewhere, so I won’t bore you with it again here. Only to say that there are some similarities with Kita.
The big difference between them is that where as Shirakawago is all a ‘level 2 national trust preservation environment’, so nothing can be changed, up dated or altered, only maintained as-is. The up-side there is that you have to pay a fee to enter the ‘National Park’ status environment and all the money goes to the village to pay for it’s up-keep and re-thatching. Here in Kita Village, everything is privately owned and all the buildings are just peoples ordinary houses. The residents are farmers and some are commuters, so there are signs everywhere to remind us that we are on private property and not to disturb the residents or try to enter gardens or houses.
Kita is beautiful, but the main reason to come all this way is to visit the ‘Little Indigo Museum’. Hiroyuki Shindo came to live here many years ago to site his indigo dyeing workshop here. He has been working here ever since. His museum is situated at the top of the village and was once the village Headman’s house. It’s a large house with room for him to raise his family in one half, while his workshop is in the other side of the ground floor. His private museum is located in the roof, and what a beautiful roof it is. All bamboo poles lashed together with rice straw rope. A traditional thatched roof is a truely exquisite piece of craftsmanship.
Shindo san is an internationally recognised indigo dye artist and luckily for us, he is a really nice guy who speaks quite good English. We get a tour of his workshop and some work in progress. He shows us how he winds the cotton fabric to get a striped effect in the dye bath and also shows us a finished piece of the work.
We buy a small piece of his work, We have to think small as we are in the first week of a 5 week journey and we have to watch our weight limits. Interestingly, Shingo san’s daughter is a potter and has her own show room on site. However, unfortunately, she is away at the time and the show room is closed.
Most of the houses have vegetable gardens in their back yards, it’s a nice place for me to wander, being a bit of a back yard gardener myself. The village has a restaurant – which you have to make advance booking for. That counts us out. Luckily for us it has a small cafe as well, right at the top of the hill. They use ‘illy’ coffee too, so the coffee is the best that we have had in Japan. The owners have spent time in Italy and the cafe is called the ‘Milan’ cafe.
We make our way back down the village and walk along the river to the bus stop, it’s quite idyllic. one of the beauties of living in a small village is the trust that the locals have for each other and everyone else here. The bus stop has a bunch of cushions provided by the residents for everybody to use while waiting. It’s a beautiful gesture.