The town I'm currently visiting is nestled in a valley on Shikoku island. It's name, Kamiyama, translates to God mountain. I have just one day to explore it and I'm already heartsick that I don't have more time and that I may never have the words to honor what my eyes are taking in around each corner.
A special kind of person makes Kamiyama home -- the corporate executive who believes we can be more connected to the world around us (which was what our AirBnB host did), the man who wants to change Japan's way of thinking about water conservation, and the architect who has had a good career and now wants to bake bread. It's a friendly place where people take care of their neighbors by sharing items from their overabundant gardens with each other, where restaurants host the community one day a month for communal dining; where the passion people have for their interests sparks a passion in you.
For example, I had seen the video below when it was making its way around the Internet, years before planning my trip to Japan. I was shocked to learn it was made from the forests around where I stayed, produced in the town I was visiting, and the director had a home down the street from my host.
My accommodations were in the back of an organic French restaurant run by three Japanese women (monther, daughter, daughter's friend). Wild boar is sometimes on the menu, hunted in the woods around the restaurant by one of the owners and brought back to serve to patrons. The two mornings we were there we had a "Happy Breakfast", which was our hosts moniker for the ingredients used to prepare the food: everything was organic and locally sourced. The bread was baked in Kamiyama, from grain that grew in organic fields, and the coffee was brewed from organic beans using the natural water from the streams running through the valley, with yogurt that came from happy cows (from free-range cattle who ate from pesticide free land).
The residents of Kamiyama are genuinely conscious about their impact on the land they call home. There's a big effort in town to be more sustainable and live off of the resources around them. Residents here barter with each other and use wood or vegetables to pay for services. Juxtapose this with other features of the town: high speed fiber optic cable delivering TV and Internet to people's homes and businesses (the fastest in Japan), a 3D printer workshop opened on one of the streets, and there's a production studio with a Kamiyama address that creates national commercials in 4k.
Across the street from the home is a community theater that anyone in the town can visit and use at any time of the day. We arrived in Kamiyama at 9pm and shortly after unpacking our host guided us by flashlight to the theater to show us inside. Exploring the theater at night was one of the moments in which Kamiyama stood to represent something new in the way we build neighborhoods and communities. Along with environmental responsibility is an inspiring amount of self-governed social responsibility and trust. People care for the whole town, not just the building they call home.
The next day we returned to take photos of the theater square and the town dog stood watch at the entrance (the steel grated door). Inside, a kimono exhibit from a local artist was on display. On the ceiling of the theater were patchwork advertisements for local businesses.
On the drive out of Kamiyama, more art projects stood watch at street posts, bidding us goodbye and reminding us to drive carefully.
However, the cherry blossoms of Kamiyama were not to be out done by amazing street art and sustainable restaurants. There were rows of trees, in full bloom, their petals dancing in the air with each wind gust -- possibly one of the most spectacular vistas in Kamiyama. They were nestled on a road, inviting travelers to pull off to the side and walk around before continuing to their destination.