I first lived in Nakatsu, in Kyushu Japan, arriving in August 2001. It was a freezing day when I left New Zealand and a sweltering one when I touched down in Japan. On the train down from Osaka, sweat pooled in my boots, after I’d removed my woollen socks to supposedly help cool me down. I was met off the train and taken to my apartment, a short walk away. Everything was close in this old castle town. Some might have called it ‘sleepy’, but I found it a perfect place for finding friends and cycling around.
My apartment ‘Sunflower’ was close to a supermarket, and that is where I met and made friends with a Japanese woman just three days after my arrival. Little did I know, just how lucky I was to meet her. Mizuyo spoke little English, and I even less Japanese, but we somehow managed to find out that we both loved art.
Just a few weeks in, and I was invited to join her watercolour painting group, which was a few kilometres out in the country. The plan: I biked to her house (20mins approx) and then she drove me there. It was at two-storied wooden building in the middle of a field, with stairs up the outside to the second floor. Windows lined each side, of a spacious light classroom. I was made so welcome, by Masami Hokozono, and his pupils. We sketched, painted and had fun.
And, a few weeks later we all went on a sketch trip to the peninsular Kunisaki Hanto to have a picnic and sketch. At the end of a gorgeous wooded walk we came across Fukiji – an Amida Buddhist temple, the oldest wooden structure in Kyushu (8th century). The main hall is a national treasure, and the wooden Buddha ensconced therein, is one of Japan’s important cultural properties. We ate, sketched, took photos and left in time for me to start teaching that evening. Such a lovely day to have spent with a group of Japanese artists.
At the next art session, I sketched a front view of the temple in ink, and managed to finish some of the watercolour, when Mr Hokozono asked if he could take my sketch home, ‘so he could have a wee dabble’ or words to that effect. I loved the results. It has been framed and has hung on various walls of my home ever since. I shall always be reminded of Mizuyo, Mr Hokozono, and the art group in Nakatsu every time I look at it. I shall never forget them.
PS There is at least one more story and a group of sketches to come from Japan