After finishing lunch, my boss left us as she had other important business to attend to. Alex and I made our way back to the car, ready to depart for the final leg of the trip. I distinctly recall shutting the car door, realizing I was merely an hour drive away from seeing my new home, the gravity of the moment almost getting to me. A range of ‘what ifs’ began fluttering through my brain. What if my town isn’t all that nice? What if the people don’t accept me? Sensing a rise of negative thoughts, I distract myself by firing all sorts of idiotic questions at my chauffeur. Alex being a patient person that he is, answered each question with care and in detail. We talked away the hour that proceeded.
The scenery around us changed rapidly from gentle townscapes of Susaki to what I can only sum up as a sea of green. We were now heading deep into the mountains. Quaint hamlets and towns flew by. Jaw-dropping gorges, valleys and tiered rice paddy fields soothed my tired eyes as we passed through numerous tunnels and navigated turns of the steep windy mountain road. Trees dominating the vista at every turn. It was now early afternoon and we were approaching the end of our trip as the climb gradually turned into a descent. Shortly after, we had arrived.
Exiting the last tunnel, we came to an intersection which served as gateway to the main town center. As Alex signaled to turn into the town, we waited no more than 10 seconds. For me however, time stopped. Captivated by my first encounter with this new environment. To the left of us, the same road that brought us to the town, carried on towards yet another short tunnel and beyond what seemed like another residential area. Ahead of us, nestled on the banks of the river, was the Board of Education building where my boss works. Directly across the river, nestled on the high bank and a short distance away was a castle, an old forgotten sentinel proudly guarding the townscape. To the right of us, the direction we were now turning, the main street stretched inwards and into the town’s very heart. Almost entire length of the main artery was lined by immaculate shrubbery, small trees, charming lamp posts and sculptures of deities. Managing to tear my gaze away and direct it upwards from the immaculate display that was before me. I began to scan the surrounding mountains, they were covered in thick blankets of alpine forests, like ancient protectors enclosing and towering over the town.
So this was it, I had finally arrived and before me was my new home. Finally, this was Yusuhara, “a town above the clouds”.
My only audible response to what I was witnessing being something to the effect of “s%#t, this is unreal”. We wound down our car windows and turned off the air conditioning, mountain air noticeably fresh and easy to breathe in spite of the sweltering midsummer heat. Driving slowly, we made our way down through the very street I admired from afar just seconds ago. So this was it, I had finally arrived and before me was my new home. Finally, this was Yusuhara, “a town above the clouds”.
Yusuhara is a mountain town in the Kochi prefecture, located on the island of Shikoku in southern Japan. With a population size of roughly 3,500, it is a small and close-knit community. Main industries are forestry, agriculture and tourism. Yusuhara is recognized as one of the most progressive small towns in Japan. With a good portion of town’s power supply currently maintained through wind turbines, solar panels and energy efficiency techniques which are utilized in newly built buildings. Yusuhara town’s administration has set a target to achieve above 100% energy self-sufficiency in the near future. The town is also host to a number of landmarks and structures designed by a certain world-renowned architect hailing from Japan. Landmarks such as the Bridge Museum, the Kumono-no-ue-no-Hotel and the Town Hall are all products of the genius that is Kengo Kuma. The structures, with their distinctly pleasing aesthetics are constructed using locally sourced materials and are purpose build to conserve energy. Some of the buildings reducing their own co2 emission by up to 70%! Perhaps I will cover some of these landmarks in more detail as I learn more about them, for now this will do 😊
This particular part of Shikoku experiences all four seasons. Due its mountainous terrain, winters are brutally cold. I have been told to prepare for up to 3 months of snow. Spring gives birth to blossoming flowers, cherry blossoms as well as to the vibrant green goodness I have already been lucky enough to witness. Summer is exceptionally hot and humid, a fact I know only too well. Autumn is said to turn the greens of summer into rich shades of bronze, something I am counting down the days to as summer closes to an end. There is a comfort to be had from changing of the seasons. Each season brings with it a change in lifestyle, festivals as well as the food we eat. I very much look forward to experiencing this. There are numerous local festivals, some of which I have already had the pleasure of being a part of in my short time living here. For example, Yosakoi, a summer festival made unique by colorful dance teams performing choreographed routines, teams parade down the main streets of towns and cities across the prefecture. Groups meet and practice their routines months in advance, anyone is free to join. Yusuhara being no exception, has its own version of the festival. Just a couple of weeks ago I had the delight of watching Yosakoi. The proceedings were then followed by more live music, food and drink stalls at the town centre.
In only a very short time, my understanding of Japan has expanded well beyond my previous notions limited to the major centres of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. Experiencing Kochi prefecture and Yusuhara has reiterated just how varied and deep Japan and Japanese culture is. No doubt, there will be challenges which will need to be dealt with, language barrier for starters being the obvious one. I am slowly chipping away though. Each day I am adding little rocks to the pile by learning new words, phrases and kanji characters, in hope of building a metaphorical mountain of linguistic knowledge further down the track.
Then there is also the slight issue of being isolated in the country side. The closest major city is over an hour and half drive away. At a first glance, this makes the trip seem almost daunting. However, the call of adventure, Kochi City’s nightlife and the prospect of spending time with some great new friends make the hour and half trip well worthwhile.
On the topic of getting out and about, I have been warned about the onset of winter months, which are said to be brutally cold and often result in closures of roads leading in and out of Yusuhara. I keep hearing stories of townspeople being stranded as roads become too dangerous to drive through due to falling snow and icy conditions. Not to worry though, I am already forming my plan of attack. Thanks to Amazon Japan, there is a brand-new pizza oven on its way, and to top it off, the nearby supermarket has a seemingly endless supply of sake. If I can’t go anywhere I will make sure I can at least eat and drink myself into a blissfully warm oblivion.
Seeing a pattern here? I’ve got silver for days and I sit ready to line any little grey clouds that come my way. All the while lounging on a comfy tatami mat and sipping on a hot cup of sake!
Next up I will be sharing with you the majestic scenery from my cycling trip up Shikoku Karst, the secrets of Kochi city’s nightlife and intricacies of Yusuhara town’s rubbish system!
Thank you for reading 😊 Onward to new adventures!