By David Stones
The unending sequence of the vivid, the soft, and often the unnoticed. A colored procession of flowers and plants that foot the dark greens of the forest...Here is Mikawa, an area of Aichi still locked into countryside ways by its hills and narrow lanes. The view from the veranda of an old farmhouse brings the sight of mist below enveloping the 170-meter path that provides close-up views of the passing seasons at ground level. So many different flowers, some dominant and some easily missed-all with their place and time. Mikawa is somewhere that allows the mind and eyes to rest, to restore themselves, and to create.
The grasses and plants vie with each other for the warming sun and the sky, which after the early-summer rainy season changes to a vivid blue-so intense and so clear-only interrupted by the undulating lines of the tree-covered hills. Above these, the tobi (kite) hovers on the wind currents until it spots its prey far below amid the greenery. Colors here always seem sharper, the light brighter and clearer, even when the mist swirls around the mitsumata-a type of daphne that is still much used for papermaking.
As the year progresses, and summer gives way to autumn, the terraced rice fields slowly turn to their ripening yellow-green. In no time at all, they become surrounded by a color that creates a most contrasting combination. The vivid higanbana (cluster amaryllis) blooms all along the edges of the rice-field banks, beside the grey, hand-built stone walls and along the path-sides. For this yearly spectacle, few farmers cut the bank-side grass while the higanbana bloom; the cutting is done well before the flowers bud. It's second nature to think of what will follow in managing the land. The colors, rivaling the tsutsuji (azaleas) of earlier in the year, fall within that narrow spectrum that seems to dominate Mikawa: magenta going through numberless combinations to light purple.
The underground stems of the katakuri (dogtooth violet) are used to
make high-quality starch.
As the passing weeks bring more ground-filling color, the forest also changes day by day, particularly the large leaves of the honoki (magnolia) and those of the yamazakura (wild cherry). The word evergreen is too simplistic to describe the tones of the fresh new leaves sported by the hinoki (cypress) and sugi (cedar) in their regimented rows, all challenged by the bamboo, which sometimes can reclaim much of a replanted forest if the owners are lax in maintenance. The many varieties of bamboo create huge swaths of moving greens as they waft in the breezes that traverse the valleys. At no time does the countryside seem still or the same, whether it be the banks of shakunage (rhododendron) with their heavy blooms or the forest surrounding them.
At stream level, the shady banks overhang with sumomo (plum) and kaki (persimmon) trees, the latter also adding color with their bright orange fruit. A regular visitor on the wing is the aosagi (grey heron), which often returns to the same spot to feed-taking the slower-moving of the small fish that live along the dark edges of the stream. With its catch, the aosagi will sweep upwards, in an unhurried arc to head for its nest site a few kilometers down the valley, passing as it does the blended mixture of fields, bamboo groves, streams, and forest that give the colors, the timelessness, and the quiet that are some of the pleasures for the earth-bound who pass their lives within Mikawa.
David Stones is a woodblock artist living in Mikawa.