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Tour de Nippon

Kumamoto Kosa / Uki

If one were to draw a belly button onto a map of Kyushu the approximate spot would be somewhere between the two small towns of Kosa and Uki. Kosa is filled with farm lands, fresh streams, and many small makers while Uki is a gateway to the sea and a heaven for fruit lovers as everything from grapes to tangerines grow ripe. In both towns we are fortunate to encounter connected communities that are surely the envy of rural towns throughout Japan. Both towns are working hard to create new histories while carrying on their heritage.


【Part 1 Kosa】

Transforming town, with a little help from some friends

Kosa is located 40 minutes from both the airport and downtown Kumamoto. At the center of town one finds a nostalgic shopping street with waterways running here and there and bridges crossing over the many small streams. With the sound of water in the background, we reach “NIPPONIA Kosa Sosui no Sato”, an inn built in a 130-year-old traditional house. The external corridor, which juts out over a small river, is a lovely place to relax for guests of the hotel as well as for customers of the bakery located at the entrance of inn.

“Our vision was to create a space where guests and local residents could interact naturally,” says Yusuke Otaki and Kenichi Yonehara of Palette, a small company founded to bring color and life back to the old town. Born and raised in Kosa, they are committed to “making the town more fun,” while carrying on their day jobs. Mr.Otaki has organized the annual Kosa flea market in the shopping district for the last 10 years and has found that his efforts to please the local populace have been well-received. Mr.Yonehara quit his job in a Tokyo ad agency and pulled a U-turn back to Kosa in 2017. “He’s very good at getting people involved,” he says of Mr.Otaki’s steady efforts which brought them to where they are today. In addition to the old-style inn, Palette’s businesses include the operation of a restaurant and the design and management of the “Common Idoe” campground as well as the production and operation of the online “magazine BO.” In the course of all these feats, he has drawn in collaborators from various places.

“COMMON IDOE” along the Midorikawa River is a pleasant place to pitch your tent.

When they can’t accomplish something by themselves, they bring others onboard. The inn is operated in cooperation with “Tsugito,” a community development project using old Japanese-style houses. In addition, six organizations, including the town of Kosa, a local hospital and a bank, have established a community development council, and are teaming up with various people to keep up the forward momentum. “We want to reconsider the value of this town by doing what we believe to be fun.” What is good for the town is good for them. It is a breath of fresh air to see this spirit of taking the initiative to have fun.

At the engawa corridor of NIPPONIA Kosa Sosui No Sato. Interacting casually with visitors is a new daily event for the town.

We walk down the Midorikawa River, the source of the waterway that runs through the town. Mr. Naoki Sato, who lives in the beautiful Miyauchi area in the mountains, is one person practicing and passing on the mountain village lifestyle. He has named his farm “Boshi-dora” after a local rain-making dance. “It would be a shame if all the wisdom handed down from generation to generation is simply confined to the past.” With this sense of purpose, he works with local people making charcoal and learning how to make tools for catching eels. A hunter and a farmer by trade, at the age of 41 he decided to focus on forestry while still able-bodied and because it is useful in times of disaster. “It’s not enough to do the same as the old guard, and we need fresh approaches from a younger generation.” Sato takes photos of beautiful landscapes and tools and adds a few words of wisdom to them on the Boshi-Dora Farm website. “Our town is precious. We aim to inspire with our approaches, both old and new.”

Mr. Sato of Boshidora Farm
Mr. Sato enshrines the mountain beasts that he has felled.
Confiture from “melanger” served with ice cream.
Mr. and Mrs. Shimoda of “melanger”.
The coffee made by Akiko Yonehara is popular at “NEWOLD” , a vessel and general store.
The Interior “NEWOLD”.

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How do you build a noble-minded town? A voyage of resonance and discovery.
“PAPERSKY Tour de Nippon in Kumamoto Kosa / Uki”
To be held on the weekend of March 25-26, 2022

On the first day, we will take a walk around the town of Kosa, meet its people , spend the evening at a social gathering with people from Uki, and spend the night at the “Common Idoe” campground. The next day, we will have some fun at ‘Play Farm’ on our way to the sea in Uki by bicycle, to see the dekopon fruits that are carefully grown by the people trying to revitalize the town.

Papersky’s Tour de Nippon project is about finding the magic of Japan’s rural districts, their inhabitants, nature, culture and food. We travel to various prefectures and ride bicycles. Traveling via bicycle allows us a clean and healthy way to explore Japan’s rural areas.
text | KaO photography | Yoshiko Otsuka special thanks | Yuki Ono (Tsugito), Masato Miyawaki