Old Japanese country gate with curtains (Gunma prefecture, May, 2005)

I was walking in a small town called Sarugakyo in Gunma Prefecture on a very sunny, very windy afternoon when I came across this scene which struck me as mysterious and inviting. There was a tall wooden fence surrounding an old building which was further hidden from view by trees. The entrance was a traditional old style Japanese gate with a roof for protection against the elements. This gate also had Japanese entrance curtains, called "noren" which prevent passers by from peering inside, while allowing visitors to enter freely. Next to the entrance was a huge clay pot (more of a barrel in size). There was another much larger gate to the right that led to an area behind the compound.

I stood across the street with my back to a general store (the only general store in the town) and sketched this oblivious to the fact that the shop clerk was watching from the window, following the progress of the sketch very closely. As I finished and began to put my sketchbook away, one of the clerks ran out and asked to see the sketch. A few more clerks, and the delivery man came out, and we had a long chat about the town and its inhabitants.

Old Japanese country house

This is another sketch I did in Sarugakyo on a very sunny afternoon. It is a pretty quiet place, and suffers from the typical problem of young people leaving home to work in the cities. Many households here have farms, and live off the land in addition to some family business.

This house sat in a low area just off the road. It was very run down and looked deserted, but I suspect there was still someone living there. There is a small object hanging outside a window which resembles a ghost hanging by the neck, but which is intended to bring good weather. It was apparently working fine that day.

A tree with pink blossoms can be seen in the back, behind the storage building, and behind it two mountains which are actually separated by a huge lake and a dam.

Japanese mountain road and rice paddy

I was walking down a winding mountain road (still in Gunma Prefecture) when I came across this old house shaded by bamboo trees, with a rice paddy off the road to the right. It was a sunny day in May when there were no plants to be seen in the water yet, but plenty of frogs who break into a very noisy chorus when they are sure there are no visitors around.

The house was the old style Japanese type with distinctive roof. Down the road a bit was an elevated rice paddy which would escape your notice if you were coming uphill. Across the road and was a wood pile covered by a corrugated iron roof. It would be at least another hour's walk to the bottom of the mountain, so this sketch break came at a good time.

Old Japanese Water Mill

After I had finally walked to the foot of the mountain, I walked for about 45 minutes more and came across this old Japanese water mill at the foot of a small mountain. It has a basic resemblance to water mills all over the world except this one has a traditional architecture and thick thatched roof which was common in the Edo era and can still be found on old structures in the country.

The wheel was not moving, and I suspect it hadn't been operational for many years. The doors were locked, and the water trough was broken and dry. Last year I happened to come across a similar water mill which was working. The water wheel turns various wooden gears inside the building which then turn a huge mill stone for grinding grain.

All the sketches above were done with brush and ink plus watercolor

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