Summer of 2017, I was planning to visit Onta 小鹿田 as I wanted to see the water mills and a special ceramics technique call "tobi-kanna". The week after, news broke that Kyushu area was hit by a big typhoon resulting in heavy mudslides and tons of driftwoods. I remember thinking, oh well, travel plan postponed, back to work.
Few months later (November 2017), I finally made it to Kyushu. When I drove up the mountain of Onta (皿山), I saw crews still cleaning up the area, and most of the houses by the river bank was collapsed, sunken or covered with mud. I then realized that was the hard-hit area. Up in Onta was quiet, the small museum was closed due to rebuilding, there were no visitor, and ceramists were working as usual, most of the water mills was up and running. Little did I know what they'd went through during the storm.
Long story short, by coincident I was back in the same area couple days later to visit the neighboring town Koishiwara. I drove up the hill of Asakura and saw even bigger scale damages, that's when I recognized the name Asakura from the news in July 2017.
It was an accidental half-day visit in Koishiwara. I was telling a porcelain artisan in Arita about wanting to learn "tobi-kana" and he pointed me back to Fukuoka area to visit Koishiwara. Never expect to find so much inspirations: The craft work, the warmth and kindness of local people, the willingness to share knowledge, the generosity... all left me with a very very special impression. When I asked about the 2017 summer typhoon, Narumi san from Yamamaru Kiln told me it was really horrible as the road to leave the mountain was blocked, the rescue response was slow, so the villagers all come together to solve their problem and help each other out. In the end it brought everyone even closer together as neighbors and families. (this is a village of about 1000+ population).
I still remember that day in Koishiwara, whom ever I met, had a big friendly smile on their face. I fell in love with the place immediately, where people are dedicated to protect their heritage despite all the hardship, they stick together and tough out some very difficult situation with a powerful positive attitude. When I drove down the mountain during sunset, again passing through the flood-damaged area, seeing inspirational banners and spray-paint along the way (people spray-painted "ganbatte" on road-side barriers and construction materials). I was stricken with grief and yet felt the amazing power of perseverance. In the following year, I met various people and organizations that are all devoting themselves in rebuilding the town. I am hoping TKTB's tiny effort in building English-captioned artisan stories will bring some contribution in putting this amazing town on the world map.
Two days ago, typhoon hit again, history repeats itself. I got worried and LINED Narumi san. She sent me photos where their road once again got washed away. But I sensed that same powerful positivity in her that they will rebuild and come back strong. I know it is not easy, but I have faith that these people will manage.
I am super blessed to have found Koishiwara and be so inspired by wonderful people. This 400-year-old mountain village will remain a special gem in my heart.