Fukiya -The beautiful village of red iron oxide
The first thing that comes to mind when I arrived this remote village is Roussillon in Southern France. The natural reddish hue of the townscape sets the ambience. It is quaint because of its remoteness, I would say out of all the rural villages I visited in Japan, the drive to reach this hill village is one of the more tricky to handle. But it is all worth it.
Fukiya is known for ベンガラ (bengara, meaning red iron oxide) production. Beginning in 1707 (late Edo to Meiji and early Taisho), this town was the biggest copper mining town. A little later, Fukiya started producing iron oxide when iron sulfide was discovered in the mine.
As I barely passed my highschool chemistry class, I will not explain the process of converting iron sulfide to iron oxide.
In the well-preserved iron oxide museum, you can see the process of removing sulfur from the excavated minerals involving heating, diluting, melting, grinding and drying... (that's the only vocabularies I have about chemistry :-D It was a 30-50 day-process done by hand, with the use of waterwheel (hydro power again! like Baba incense!)
Chemistry aside, I can tell you the beautiful red underglaze and overglaze paintings on all the infamous Japanese ceramics (Kutani, Imari, Arita, Kyo, Karatsu) once received blessings from Fukiya bengara red iron oxide!
This red mineral is also used in producing red roof tiles and as natural dye for a range of products. Up until the 1950s, the iron oxide industry declined when people replaced it with other chemical products. Fukiya has since been preserved beautifully, showcasing the once prosperous mining town neatly lined with machiya merchant houses (more like mansions) with signature red tile roofs. Back in the days, rich villagers invited top carpenters from Shimane (Old Sekishu Region) to build their houses in uniform style, utilizing Sekishu red roof tiles.
As a slow-traveler, this town gave me the time to relax in the small cafe to absorb the quietness, serenity, the beautiful hilly landscape and architecture. (He plays Frank Sinatra, too!)
The red hue from the architecture and the red noren curtains gives you a cosy feeling. There is not much people-watching, but
you would see the local shop-owners, potal-workers, farmers and construction people (renovating some of the old houses) interacting and greeting each other. Fukiya is a village with great pride and township. A town that I look forward to visit again.