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Cradled by the Clear-Running Kiso
Western Owari

10_local_voice_02.jpg Aspiring to become a fashion capital

Two local artists of great stature

The abundance of the Kiso

10_exploring_map.gif If you drive northeast from Nagoya on Route 22 for about 40 minutes, you will see, on your right, a sleek tower nestled inside two soaring arches. The arches, one slightly taller than the other, intersect perpendicularly, carving a strikingly beautiful geometric silhouette against the deep blue autumn sky. Known as Twin Arch 138, the structure is Ichinomiya's newest landmark. Rising 138 meters from the ground, it is the tallest arch in Asia. The view from the 100-meter-high observation deck is one of the most dynamic riverside landscapes in Japan.

The western Owari region comprises three cities and three towns, including the city of Ichinomiya. This region developed amid a mild climate, with the clear-running Kiso River and other natural blessings as a backdrop.

Aspiring to become a fashion capital

Ichinomiya--the region's hub--and the adjacent city of Bisai comprise an area long famed as a textile production center. This area is still among the world's largest producers of cloth, particularly woolen goods; it accounts for over 25% of the total value of wool shipments within Japan. This figure is surprising for an area with a population of just over 270,000. Aichi Prefecture as a whole, by the way, accounts for some 54% of the total value of woolen-goods shipments within Japan.

Inazawa has a long history as a center of tree farms and nurseries.
Many of the region's spinning mills--both large and small--can be found scattered in a neighborhood one street over from the main thoroughfare. Despite the high concentration of factories, the street is surprisingly quiet. As I walked along, I came upon the remains of a factory whose old reddish-brown walls conveyed the full weight of the history and tradition behind them. It was built by one of Ichinomiya's oldest textile makers"the Mitsuboshi Worsted Mills Co., Ltd., founded in 1887--which has been reincarnated as a museum. The centerpiece of the permanent collection is the "spinning corner," a row of over 10 spinning machines, both old and new. "If you come here, you'll learn about how spinning machines have changed over the years," says Masao Hosono of Mitsuboshi Worsted Mills, who guided me through the museum. "But machines aren't the only thing that changes with the times. People's needs with regard to textile design also change. It'll be increasingly important for our industry to maintain an ability to accurately grasp those changes. In that sense, I'd like to take Ichinomiya a step beyond its heritage as a textile production region, and transform it into a fashion center."

Currently, Ichinomiya has several efforts in progress to take the local fashion industry into the twenty-first century. The Ichinomiya Local Industry Fashion Design Center has served as the venue for a variety of globally oriented events, such as the Japan Textile Convention, aimed at discovering and fostering the textile designers of the next century; and Paris Fashion Fantasy, an international fashion show. These efforts are broadening the region's role from a historic center for the production of woolen fabrics to a modern-day fountainhead of fashion trends. Hosono's comments, while brief, were imbued with Ichinomiya's enthusiasm about the coming century.

Two local artists of great stature

There are two very special art museums in western Owari that are definitely worth visiting. Their permanent collections are devoted respectively to the works of two leading Japanese oil painters: Takanori Ogisu (1901-86) and Setsuko Migishi (1905- ).

Ogisu was born in what is now the city of Inazawa. After graduating from an art university in Tokyo, he moved to Paris when he was 26. Although he was forced to repatriate temporarily after the outbreak of World War II, he returned to his beloved adopted home--the first Japanese permitted to reside in Paris following the war--and lived there until his death at the age of 84. His poetic portraits of the streets and buildings of the French capital won him wide acclaim in Europe, and a medal with Ogisu's relief was issued by France's mint bureau in 1982 to honor his accomplishments.

Bisai-born Migishi, meanwhile, blazed a trail for other women artists to follow with her use of warm colors in depicting still lifes. Migishi, too, spent many years in Europe, moving to Paris in 1968 and subsequently Venice and other cities in France and Italy. She began to focus on landscapes, and is widely known around the world as a landscape painter.

This path in the city of Bisai is cloaked in greenery throughout the year.
That two artists of such stature should emerge from the same region during the same era seems a remarkable coincidence. Perhaps the unique, rich landscape of this region does more than just promote the emergence of certain industries; it may also foster superior artistic sensibilities.

The abundance of the Kiso

The western Owari region may not be one of Aichi's most endowed in terms of sightseeing assets. However, there is plenty to see--not only the lush natural environment sustained by the Kiso River but also the many Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples that have incorporated this natural beauty into their landscaping.

Sobue has its stately rows of ginkgo trees--more than 1,000 giant trees that are over 200 years old. The grounds of the temple Myokoji in Ichinomiya shows a different face with each season. There is the quiet rural beauty of the town of Heiwa, where farms occupy nearly nine-tenths of the land area, and the flowers and greenery of Inazawa's tree farms and nurseries. While the scenery may not be spectacular, at every turn I encountered the kind of rustic beauty that envelops the human heart in a gentle embrace.

But the most beautiful feature of this region is undoubtedly what nurtures all of this abundance: the Kiso itself. At the end of my trip, I visited the park along its banks in the town of Kisogawa, where I found crowds of picnickers. The surface of the gently flowing river sparkled in the autumn sun. It was a scene lifted from a landscape painting.

A housewife accompanied by a young child took time out to talk with me. "I come here just about every day," she said. "The Kiso? Now that you mention it, the river is pretty. But when you live here, you take it for granted and don't give it much thought."

Thus, in a positive sense, the Kiso merges imperceptibly into the lives of the local people. This life-giving river not only nurtures the region's industry and its natural environment but also forms a living, breathing part of people's daily existence.

(Photos by Tomohiro Muda, Text by Masaki Yamada)