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Culture fostered in a land of creativity and passion

Ogawa and Tokigawa, Saitama

The towns of Ogawa and Tokigawa sit in the lush green basin at the foot of the Outer Chichibu Mountains in Saitama Prefecture. As the name suggests, a crystal clear river flows through the towns, and a single-track diesel train runs through the expansive rice paddies. The townscape retains the ambience of a former commercial outpost. I was pleasantly surprised to find such a scenic wilderness only an hour or so from central Tokyo. Recently, folk with both a nature orientation and an urban sensibility have been gravitating to this area, attracted by its charms. We are off to discover the budding seeds of a new culture born from the organic connection between the people and the land.


The flexible pioneers of this era

As the adage goes, “Culture comes from the frontiers.” Culture is the mark of a frontier land, guided by a pioneering spirit and away from the matured concepts of the mainstream, in pursuit of new values. Ogawa-machi is now renowned as an organic town, but the late Yoshinori Kaneko paved the way for organic farming more than 50 years ago, when it was nothing but heresy.

“People who gather in Ogawa have a strong DIY spirit, and they will turn their hand to anything; this town accepts them as they are” explains Takehiko Yanase, our guide for this trip. We certainly felt that this area has the soil for a new culture to sprout. After commuting from Tokyo for four years and then dividing his time between the two locations for three years, Yanase moved permanently to Ogawa-machi last year. While working on planning and community development drawing on skills he developed while working for an advertising firm, he and his wife Natsumi also run the bookstore “Botabooks”, which is attached to the coffee shop “People”, housed in a renovated stone warehouse. Yanase’s new challenges continue, including the formation of “Une Studio”, a creative boutique with fellow freelancers.

“PEOPLE”, a venue for various people and cultures to cross-pollinate through artist-in-residence and culinary events.

As if in concert with such activities, interesting places have sprung up in the neighboring town of Tokigawa.

Tatsuya and Eriko Aoki, who run “Camping Noniwa” and the outdoor store “Grid,” upped sticks from Tokyo, hoping to “live as if we were playing in nature.” “Camping lodging” is an idea that allows beginners to enjoy camping without worry, as all equipment can be rented and lectures on how to use and maintain it are included.

“Tokigawa is not too touristy or too rural, so we can try out all kinds of things. We want to make Tokigawa an outdoor town.”

I was struck by the way they are shaping the future while living comfortably and having fun.

Tatsuya and Eriko expand their activities to include hammock events and campfire training for kids.

Connecting strong personalities to make the whole town attractive

Returning to Ogawa Town, we went to a knoll overlooking the town. I recall Yanase’s words: “It’s like an RPG town where you know exactly where everything is: the inn, the tool store, the bar, and so on.”

“Ogawa Machiyado” is a hotel created to capitalize on this compactness.

“Restaurants, stores, bathhouses, and other functions normally housed within a hotel are dispersed among familiar local restaurants and hot springs, creating a new lodging system that provides hospitality to guests throughout the entire town.  I want people to experience the daily life unique to Ogawa and stay as if they were living here,” notes Kano Takahashi, proprietress of the “Ogawa Machiyado”.

Interior of “Ogawa Machi Yado Tsuki” using the town’s traditional Japanese paper

For dinner, we head to “CURRY&NOBLE Tsuyoi Onna,” a curry shop recommended by Takahashi-san. While The name is certainly unforgettable, the curry also has a taste that is deeply etched in one’s memory. Using mainly ingredients from the town, the dishes are seasoned with only salt and spices, and the multi-layered umami flavor is deeply satisfying. The menu is said to be constantly changing, making this a restaurant one would like to frequent daily.

Waterless chicken curry from CURRY&NOBLE Tsuyoi Onna, draws fans from far and wide.

Ogawamachi, with its easy access from Tokyo, would be an ideal location for a workcation. In 2021, a 100-year-old stone warehouse was reborn as “Coworking Lobby NESTo” to meet the growing demand for relocation and telework.

According to project members Yujiro Minomo and Kazuki Kasahara: “We hope it will be more than just a place to work; we hope it will be like a hotel lobby that connects people with various elements of the town.” My heart fluttered at the thought of being there at the moment when this area was becoming more and more interesting.

“NESTo,” the largest renovated Ōya stone warehouse in Kanto

Soil enriched by the toils and travails of local residents 

Brewers are adding new value to the sake culture by taking advantage of the high quality water from the Mt. Chichibu water source that has supported the sake brewing industry in Ogawa-machi, and by being meticulous in the production of raw materials.

Zakkoku Koubou MicroBrewery is committed to organically growing its own wheat with the goal of creating a self-sufficient beer. Yumiko Suzuki’s father, whom we interviewed, started this self-taught business about 20 years ago.

Now, if it’s wine you are after, head to “Musashi Winery.” The grapes are grown completely organically, without even using the fungicide Bordeaux, which is permitted under Japanese organic standards. 

“Musashi Winery” also hosts events to experience grape harvesting and preparation.
Wine brimming with the fresh flavors and intensity of mountain grapes.

When picked and placed in the mouth, the grapes have a wild intensity and refreshing fruitiness. ‘Beer and wine are ways of expressing this land, but in my case it’s vegetables`’ says Daichi Yanagida of SOU FARM. He has an unusual background, having moved from the garment industry in Tokyo to becoming a farmer. Although his fields are no-tilled, they are not untouched. 

“I don’t want to farm for the sake of growing vegetables, I want to enrich this place through my involvement. As proof of my engagement, I leave the traces of the creatures’ activities as they are,” he attests while showing us a Japanese honeybee hive. The bees come to the fields to pollinate them, making the land more sustainable. People, plants and living organisms interact with each other and are connected in a circle.

Yanagida-san’s gaze overflows with love as he gazes at the plants, saying, “living things are my teacher.”

A journey from person to person, tracing the bonds of intention. What struck me there was the dynamism of the region with its nascent culture nurtured by the activities and approaches of the people who reside there. This frontier land so close to Tokyo is sure to become more complex, stronger and more exciting with each passing moment. One should visit frequently to sense its ‘terroir’.

A sweeping view of Ogawa Town from the hilltop. This scale creates a sense of unity, and each individual’s activities have a noticeable impact.
Unmanned farmers’ market groaning with fresh organic produce.

Tour de Nippon Guide
Ogawa & Tokigawa, Saitama

Gyokuseisha, Saitama, Hiki District, Ogawa 197 

Camp Lodging NONIWA
44-4 Bessho, Tokigawa, Hiki District, Saitama 

275-1, Bessho, Tokigawa-cho, Hiki-gun, Saitama

Ogawa Machiyado-tsuki
176-1 Otsuka, Ogawa, Hiki District, Saitama 

CURRY & NOBLE Tsuyoi Onna 
171-7 Otsuka, Ogawa, Hiki District, Saitama
TEL: 0493-81-5681

Co-working Lobby NESTo
Saitama, Hiki District, Ogawa, Ōtsuka, 7−4

Zakkoku Koubou Microbrewery 
88-6 Otsuka, Ogawa-cho, Hiki-gun, Saitama

Musashi Winery
104-1 Koya, Ogawa, Hiki District, Saitama

A journey into a culture nurtured in an organic village
“Tour de Nippon in Saitama” Sign up Now!
on April 13th and 14th, 2024

Enjoy a fun and finger-licking sojourn in a land rich in nature, conveniently located one hour from the city center. Day 1 takes you to the organic town of Ogawa, where you will climb a knoll overlooking the town, before visiting organic farms and other spots that are generating a new fascination for the town. The second day includes a workshop on outdoor tool making in Tokigawa Town, with a stopover at a shop where you can sample the region’s produce. Ride your bicycle all the way to the idyllic foothills of the Okumusashi mountains. Feel the scent of spring and revel in the new encounters and discoveries of this land.

Tour de Nippon in Saitama: