I’ve been in Nakajo for almost 1 month now. Slowly the complexity of this little piece of the world has been revealing itself.

Nakajo is a beautiful town. Until 2010, it was designated as a village and I think at it’s heart, it still is. What is now the ‘main street’ through Nakajo is not exactly ‘happening’, there’s a post office, a pharmacy, a middle school, high school, the City Office branch, a community hall, a couple of tiny supermarkets and one or two other shops. The rest of the street is very quiet. There are some shops that look like they were in business up until a few years ago but are now deserted and here and there the greenery is creeping in.

The Butchers signage – the shop itself is as is but without any sign of life.

Everywhere the greenery is busting out and over things.

BUT! The true appeal of Nakajo is the nature! There are all these steeeeep windy roads heading north up into the hills north of Nakajo’s main street and the river. They all converge at about 700metres above sea level on this parallel road that links Shrines, stacked rice fields, an old water-powered Rice mill, gigantic cedar trees, a totally retro Japanese Inn, two fantastic old wooden Schools now disused – one is a time capsule of debris and broken floorboards, the other has a glistening hall used for musical performances….The list goes on. For us artists, this is the most fantastic part.


An old water-powered Mill, which used to be used for pounding the outer husks off rice.

Looking back out through the entrance gate to Gau-in Temple
The time capsule of Miyamasa Elementary School was incredible
11 metre girth of 800 year old + ‘Kusaga Cedar’ designated a natural treasure of Nagano Prefecture

Down here in the river edge part of Nakajo there’s some pretty great things too. There is an amazing Shrine with a super long name, just next door to our little houses. So much atmosphere (and in this weather, mozzies too). There was finally a sunny day to take some photos. The priest for this shrine and a couple of others in the area lives just down a couple of houses. He has a busy life taking care of these amazing buildings and ceremonies at the same time as farming and fishing.

The Grounds of Sumetaruhomikoto Jinja Suwasha Go-oden  – Say that ten times fast
Sumetaruhomikoto Jinja Suwasha Go-oden

There’s also a virtually unmarked park that has these reconstructed thatch houses which were uncovered in a survey and dig in the 1960s. Complete with reproductions of bones that were found buried in the same area and Jomon-era pottery – which looks nothing like the ceramics we commonly associate with Japan. That all came from Korea much later on – simple and refined. This stuff is hefty and symbolic.

Reconstructions of unearthed village near my house

best part was the reconstructed ceramic skull. There were burial sites here too.
It’s almost ‘not Japanese’ if you know what I mean.

But more to the point, we’ve discovered that there is a lot going on here despite appearances. There is a true sense of community – festivals and sports days, people harvesting rice together, Taiko drumming practice on Wednesday nights. There’s a mountaineering club, a historical association, a Magicians club (!!!)
Even though I wouldn’t call myself a total city person, this kind of lifestyle is definitely far removed from life in the outer burbs. Buses are infrequent, people drive everywhere, the day starts with the sun and people seem to eat meals by the clock at 6, 12 and 6….
There are a bunch of good humans here too – those who were born here and those who chose to make this home. Attempting cool things too like encouraging agricultural experiences for young people, building a new artists’ studios and gathering place, and turning abandoned old houses into cafes.

We are nearly halfway through the residency period and I’ve been busy making too. Gearing up for an open studio this weekend. When everythings up on the wall and looking pretty I’ll share some images with you of what I’ve been up to 🙂

For now, enjoy some Northern Alps!