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  • Alex KerrPHOTOGRAPHY: MASON FLORENCE
  • Alex KerrPHOTOGRAPHY: MASON FLORENCE
  • PHOTOGRAPHY: MASON FLORENCE

Alex Kerr: Getaway

, 2009/12/10

For those in search of the past, here is a mountain retreat from the pages of history. Step back in time and catch a glimpse of a life once lived all over Japan and while you’re there, lend a hand to construct it again. In “Lost Japan,” I wrote of discovering a thatched roof farmhouse in Iya valley, which I bought in 1973 and named Chiiori (Cottage of the Flute).  Over the years I rethatched the house and began to learn more about the village surrounding it. I discovered that the area preserved a way of life that not only predates “modernism” but much of what we associate with traditional Japan itself. Chiiori and Iya are set amidst a world of mossy rocks, waterfalls and thatched houses that seem to grow like mushrooms on the slopes – a place close to ancient Shinto’s “age of the gods.” Over time, however, Iya has suffered as the main work of its people shifted from agriculture to construction.  Across the nation the government props up rural economies by subsidizing massive civil engineering projects – damns, river embankments, and roads – and Iya, being poorer and rockier than most, shows signs of abundant cement pouring at every turn.

In 1997, friends joined me in founding The Chiiori Project which attracts volunteers from Japan and abroad with the goal of restoring the house and helping the depopulated village around it come back to life. Visitors also come for workshops and seminars, using Chiiori as an isolated venue for both traditional and modern ideas. But in the evening, it’s always off to the outdoor baths at the local onsen. Back at Chiiori, we sip sake, watch the smoke billow up into the rafters and talk into the late wee hours.

In the summer of 2007, I began to devote much more of my time to Iya. We changed the name of the non-profit to Chiiori Trust to emphasize a focus on membership and fund-raising and we’ve done a lot of work to improve the house and surrounding fields. There are two young staff living permanently at the house, Toru Muramatsu (handling Japanese language affairs), and Paul Cato (English-language manager). Since 2007 we’ve become very active with the township, managing community activities that aim to revitalize Iya.

Alex Kerr first came to Japan in 1964, is a co-founder of the Chiiori Project and the author of “Lost Japan” (Lonely Planet, 1996) and “Dogs and Demons: The Fall of Modern Japan” (Penguin, 2000).

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name
Alex Kerr
place
The Chiiori Project
link
website
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