Friday, September 2, 2011

Buzen City Secrets

For the last two days Fukuoka Prefecture has been under a typhoon warning. Beyond the Kozuchi storefront, out the windows the shopkeeper and I could see the winds blowing debris down the road. Before leaving I told the shopkeeper her Japanese was very pretty, and I understood her very well. We thanked each other, and I promised to return.

This evening, riding the rust-tarnished mama cruiser bike down a road in Buzen’s city-center I caught a glimpse of a storefront revealing beautiful wares. I stood and stared for a moment. I saw a woman come out from behind a curtain to the back counter. When she saw me I remounted and peddled on a little further down the road. I parked the bike and returned to the shop. Inside I found this shop sells pottery, specializing in cups to drink tea from. In Japanese these cups are called Chawan. I asked the owner if I could look around. She told me -Yes, please do, and afterwards she would like to prepare tea for me.

After a minute or so of looking, the owner returned from the back and told me she would like to tell me a about the pottery.

-This is Arita pottery with its beautiful floral patterns painted in the thinnest of paints. In the front there is an area for pottery painted red. This section is intended for people turning 60 years old. Traditionally this age marks the beginning of a second life for people in Japan. The red color is thought to encourage renewed energy and happiness.

Coincidentally, I know of another person who is turning 90 years old tomorrow. I wonder about the significance of that age. There were many different types of pottery, from many different parts of the country. The piece I remember best is a cup with a glittering surface and an earthen color complimented by lilac and crimson highlights. Absolutely beautiful.

While sitting at the back counter I asked for the owner's name, but instead she gave me the business card for the shop. The store is called Kozuchi, named after the magic hammer from the Japanese tale of Issun-boshi, the one-inch boy. I didn’t understand at the time the significance of the name. When she showed me a hammer she had in the shop, I told her it seems like a child’s toy. Now I’m somewhat embarrasses by the way I responded, but she is kind and smart and smoothed it over.

At the back counter, I was given a tray holding a cup of Kombucha with Pickled Plum, a short block of thick Grape jelly, and a traditional Japanese snack filled with granulated sugar. Drinking this tea and eating these snacks was the perfect thing for me after work. The music playing was Music Box meets the Japanese song. Nothing about the tea, the snacks or the shop itself seemed exotic to me. While at the same time, I know this shop contains some kind of magic.

Kozuchi is open from 12:00~ 7:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays. It is located between the Buzen Fukuoka Bank and The Marushoku Sunlive Grocery Store.

Friday, August 26, 2011


The watercolor illustration you see at the top of the National Highway page was made by the Japanese illustrator Mistumasa Anno. Throughout his artistic career he accomplished a truly awe-inspiring number of children's picture books, the most famous of which is perhaps Anno's Journey. Most often, the books detail a traveler's journey through a foreign land.

Anno was born and spent his childhood in the small, geographically isolated village of Tsuwano in Yamaguchi Prefecture. By very good luck I stumbled upon a photograph of Tsuwano showing roughly the same perspective we see in Anno's watercolor. In Tsuwano there is a museum dedicated to the life and work of Anno. Additionally, Tsuwano was the home of the notable Japanese novelist Mori Ogai. I hope to make a trip to Tsuwano sometime this year.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I noticed earlier today the library materials I checked out from school last month were to be returned tomorrow. I had already long-decided they were too difficult for me so I thought today I would return them in exchange for something just a little bit easier.

Kawaguchi-san is the school librarian. I found out today her daughter lives a few hours west of Buzen in Nagasaki City. She and I spoke in formal Japanese these last two meetings, and I have a feeling our relationship will continue this way. I'm very happy speaking formally with certain people. Formal language has the power to elevate ordinary experiences from the mundane to what feels like ceremonial rites. I decided after today the two of us speak formally because we have a certain mutual appreciation for one another. Without the reader what is the librarian? A good librarian is the best asset for the reader, much better than a database or search engine. Kawaguchi-san is very good at what she does.

I checked out two books today. One is a collection of songs and poetry by Kitahara Hakushu, the other is a book of poetic explorations in wordplay by Tanikawa Shuntaro. Thank you Kawaguchi-san!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hakushū Kitahara (25 January 1885–2 November 1942)

1906 Joins Shinshisha (New Poetry Association) at invitation of Yosano Tekkan. Publishes poems in Myōjō (Bright Star). 1909 Becomes one of the founding members of the literary magazine, Subaru (The Pleiades), where first collection of verses Jashumon (Heretics) is published. 1912 Omoide (Memories) evokes memories of the world from a child’s perspective. 1907 publishes 5 Pairs of Shoes together with Yosano Tekkan, Mokutaro Kinoshita, Hirano Banri and Yoshii Isamu. 1918 Joins Akai Tori (Red Bird) literary magazine at request of founder Suzuki Miekichi. 1919 Tonbo no medama (Dragonfly’s Eyes), Collection of lyrics for children. 1921 Maza gusu (Mother Goose) collection of his translations & Usagi no denpo (Rabbit Telegrams), collection of his nursery rhymes. 1922 Kodomo no kuni (Children’s Land), journal invites readers to submit children’s songs, Kitahara screens and comments. 1929 Midori no shokkaku (The Feel of Green), a collection of essays on children’s songs. 1929 Continues to experiment with style, and is inspired by classical Japanese literature (Kojiki), as seen in his Kaihyo no kumo (Sea and Clouds), inspired by a trip from Oita to Osaka by airplane sponsored by the Asahi Shimbun as a publicity stunt. 1935 Kitahara founds Tama, a tanka magazine, and becomes known as the spearhead of the fourth stage of the symbolist movement. 1940 Becomes a member of the japan Art Academy. 1942 Dies due to complications related to diabetes Today Every November in his hometown of Yanagawa a festival is held in his honor.


The heading for this writing refers to the national highway Route 10 in Kyushu, Japan which stretches along the coast from Northern Fukuoka Prefecture to Southern Kagoshima Prefecture.

Two days ago my colleague Asano and I took this route to attend the Dutch kinetic sculptor Theo Jansen’s Exhibit at the Oita City Art Museum. In the autumn my girlfriend Zoe Brown will be visiting for 2 months and during that time I anticipate coming to know Route 10 quite well.

The illustration here is from a collection of works by the novelist and poet Miyazawa Kenji. I first found this image years ago and can no longer remember the artist's name. It's about time for me to look at her works again, and when I do I'll write a feature for her.