Gentle hills in the back, forests on three sides, and the emerald green sea out front—this fabulous location is home to the small kingdom of Amami Oshima-based stained glass artist Hiroshi Kumazaki.
On arrival, we were greeted by a herd of friendly goats. A rooster’s high-pitched crow echoed from the chicken coop standing in the sloping garden teeming with tropical fruits and a variety of vegetables. Every building here, from the studio and the gallery to the house and the annex with the children’s rooms, was self-built. Kumazaki is a self-taught carpenter in the traditional Japanese Itakura wood construction method. He also cleared the land and tilled the soil himself, and to the extent possible, continues to meet his own needs for food, shelter, and clothing. He has been living a self-sufficient life in Amami for the past 20 years or so.
Kumazaki is originally from Shizuoka Prefecture. He has been a devoted surfer since his teens, and at one point lived in the coastal region of Shonan, in Kanagawa Prefecture. In his late twenties, he left his steady salaried job and flew to Australia. He had begun working with stained glass in Japan with the hope of learning a craft and apprenticed at an established stained glass studio in Australia to put his skills to use and further hone his technique. Initially, he planned to settle in Australia for good. But as the growing economy brought a wave of redevelopment, the landscape changed and Kumazaki grew uncomfortable. The birth of his child convinced him to move back to Japan. Kumazaki had always dreamed of living in the country, practicing self-sufficient living, and distancing himself from capitalism. His intuition told him that his next destination was Amami Oshima.
“Ever since I left my hometown, I had always kept up my pioneering spirit, but in the beginning, I tended to look only outside Japan. Now that I was ready to move back to Japan, Amami just naturally came to mind. Long ago, I was out eating, and the kids at the next table happened to be from Amami. Their charming naivete was amazing, and fragments of their conversation stuck with me, like how the local grannies brought them tons and tons of vegetables. I was curious to see for myself if people today were really so giving, and when I finally came to Amami, I found out, yes, they were!”
During the five years it took to self-build his home, Kumazaki and his family practically lived outdoors. They learned how to care for fruit trees and started their own field. Since Kumazaki had also just opened his studio and started out as a stained-glass artist, the DIY lifestyle was a great help in reducing living costs at the time. But even now, though orders for his glass come in from up and down Japan, he continues that lifestyle. The life he leads is incredibly busy and rewarding.
“Maintaining the buildings, growing the crops, caring for the animals—there’s so much to do other than glasswork. I’m a farmer, basically. At one point I felt frustrated at having to spend so much time on community events and local government activities like firefighting. But then someone told me a story that made a lot of sense. The early fire brigades were made up of volunteers from all walks of life. For them, firefighting was a ‘job,’ and their craft was a ‘vocation.’ For me, glasswork is my vocation, and carpentry and community events are jobs. And if I was doing a job, surely, I wasn’t goofing off from work. This way of thinking made me feel better. Living in the country takes a lot of effort, and my life is a far cry from the elegant expression ‘slow living.’ But this is my way of living, and I feel lucky that I can go against the tide and live the life I love.”
A 15-minute drive from Kumazaki’s house is his home point, Villa Beach. The beach break creates wonderfully big waves thanks to the unique coastline. It’s one of Japan’s best big-wave locations, and it invites Kumazaki to go surfing before and after work, and even during work—whenever he likes. Kumazaki is forever grateful for the gift of freedom on Amami Oshima.
Sea Shore Stained Glass
Ashitoku, Tatsugo-cho, Oshima-gun, Kagoshima