When did we start our research for ground ?
I think, it was around December 2004; or was it in the beginning of 2003 ? An impression I could not prevent writing....
Three areas where we wanted to live.
That was the first selection in a rather large Japan.
Ehime, Hiroshima and Kagawa.
We dropped the continent-side, because it is too cold over there! Mountain-area, Tohoku and Hokkaido also for the same reason. And Fumika added: Okinawa is too far away.
We drove a lot! Thousands and thousands of kilometers in roughly three months time.
It started actually in Shionoe.
A police-man in a Takamatsu-koban, Kagawa, where we bravely entered to ask for a charming location to spend the night, advised us an onzen there.
We slept in a large hotel with a mega, stone, hot Japanese bath. The next morning I proposed Fumika to take a stroll in the hamlet before leaving. Returning to our hotel we discovered an abandoned and somewhat ramshackle primary school and kindergarten, empty, obviously extended in good old times, situated on a spacious and quiet plot. Spontaneously I started making fantasies aloud:.... if we break that down and construct a new part over there, rebuilt the two small teacher's dwellings, which could then function as guest-accommodations.
Fumika however did not say anything. I failed to make her enthusiastic. Later I tried again, several times, but I drew a blank.
In the summer of 2003 we left Amsterdam for a Garden of Eden in the south of Groningen, in the east of the Netherlands.
My spouse did send me to the house-doctor, when we returned from Japan early 2004, because for many years I had a shortage of breath. After a first inspection it proved not to be my lungs, what I falsely took for granted -I was convinced to have lung-cancer but, God forbid, my heart was rather in trouble. More precise, after three months of waiting, the conclusion was, that 1½ vein were blocked and had to be re-placed: double bypass.
fright for the severe and highly urgent operation made me say farewell
to my wife. Much later it became evident that Fumika was double shocked
by the incompetence of the organization of the Dutch health care and
the serious message about my operation. In my case with the highest
rate of urgency, it proved not possible to give me an adequate and fast
treatment. I was forced to wait another 6 weeks. During that time I had
physical complaints. The local hospital did not respond! The
cardiologist just was not present [may be fishing somewhere...]. The
Groningen Academic Hospital, where I was supposed to be operated, took
distance, me not yet fully incorporated in their system at that time. I
did send a harsh fax-letter to the responsible professor, making clear,
that I still existed, but in the end the only substantial result was a
reprimand for my 'impatience'. Remedy was and remained: wait.
Fumika said almost nothing, which surprised me secretly.
The operation, a shock therapy, was successful.
time after, my intensive-crying-mood and strong physical burden
becoming less dominant, Fumika stated totally quiet, that it would be
irresponsible to stay any longer in the Netherlands with such a
patient-unfriendly, euphemistically called 'health-care'-system.
'System': yes [, but 'health-care'...]. I caught her ball without any
more words. I took the ball, realizing that she took a heavy plea.
Shortly after, without much discussion about the matter itself, we decided to make the only possible decision: leaving the Netherlands forever.
We just completed our garden- and interior ideas.
After our decision, Fumika confessed, that she did think about the Shionoe-schools
on a regular basis, making fantasies. Those daydreams she tried to
suppress. After all, our splendor was in the south of Groningen!
The organizational incompetence of the Dutch 'health-care' proved to give a surprising, unplanned turn to our lives.
have been back to Shionoe, various times. It proved to be even more
interesting than we assumed. A little further were we walked the first
time, two small streams joined next to the plot. The municipality-staff
gave us a pontifical reception and organized satellite-photographs of
this specific site. Fumika bought A-3 maps to keep them properly. We
were out of our minds and had fantasies beyond limitation. A local
barkeeper assured us, that he was the perfect mediator between us and
As it happened
with many more situations later on, the party was canceled, so-to-say.
In a weird construction the municipality continued paying rent for not
using the school-site. Furthermore JA , the Japanese Agricultural
association, had some broken greenhouses on that ground for which they
also paid. So the owner did not see any motivation to sell her property.
for a house or a plot in the Japanese countryside, teaches, that a
safe, flat ground is just the crucial matter, mountainous as it is.
In the Netherlands by the way, there is no proper word for 'country-side', only having "platte land" available, which means "flat land"; such a thing happens to be a kind of rarity in Japan. The French use the more appropriate la campagne.
What a number of municipalities and spots we visited!
What a number of individuals were helpful with information, giving us their energy and time!
What magnificent spots we discovered.... vista's which made my love, as she told me, shiver.
One day we found a yellow clay-field by ourselves, perfectly ploughed already, in Uchiko- heaven, the beauty of the location made me quiver....
Later we returned with a high city-official and a colleague of his, who already enjoyed his pension, who on his turn took his neighbor for a change. A curious, neighboring farmer completed the party. All of them let themselves submerge in the full splendor of the view and the ambiance of the location itself, with a limit to talking. The men walked until the edge and shaped a fascinating tableau of persons who got time or anyhow made time. A single sentence was dropped, which then was tasted and poised, marinated in time. We were accompanied rather extensively and patiently.
Uchiko: we had pretty liked to live there.
We traveled to Futami, Ehime-ken, a glorious community at the Seto
Sea, were we sat around a table in the town office with the five most
important persons, just several minutes after our arrival, not having
The mayor promised a maximum of cooperation and support. He kept his promise. On three different days we were driven around through the mountains by one of his staff-members. Again: splendid perspectives, scary, small mountain roads with traffic-protection, though obvious sometimes perpendicular inclines.
We gave our comments and marks.
Each time, being back, we turned detailed maps over in one's mind, often with three civil servants at a time. Destinations were turned up, owners were discussed about their willingness to sell or not, formal and informal information was exchanged, dangers judged, quietly, committed and careful.
They are real darlings in Futami.
But watch out if beauty comes into play.
The disenchantment came indeed. Somewhat late, merciless and quiet.
....But this is a tobacco-field...! It realizes much more than selling the ground eventually. Furthermore, there will never be given a permission to build up a house....
We almost felt ill.
No...this is a rice-field!
But people don't use it anymore for years!
It's a rice-field. You will never obtain permission to build.
We almost got sick.
Another darling in Futami:
the owner of a recommendable fish-restaurant. We told his daughter, who
served us, that we were researching. Mother was brought in, who decided
straight away, that this was otosan's subject, not being the most
handsome 'boy-of-the-classroom', but helpful the better. Pretty
spontaneously he told us about having two dreams, which were refused by
his spouse. He would show them to us the next day. It proved to be
hidden pieces of land. On the one he would have liked to build
holiday-houses, on the other -after flattening the very top of the
hill- he would have liked to live himself with his family.
«««We are standing on a small, steep road, in a winding, one side the Seto Sea, on the other side his unreachable, still un-topped hill.
Vague we hear the light staccato cadence of a little motor. It blows, the air is clear and it's pretty cold, because in the early month of February.
The sound comes closer.
Our conversation just continues.
After some time, we already became accustomed to the sound of the small motor, voilà: a light moped with a total packed postman. The spouse lifts her arm and shows an almost professional stop-signal; no contradiction possible.
The postman probably is stiff cold. Thick cap covering half of his eyes, plastic rain trousers, heavy gloves, shitty helmet, scarf. He stops indeed. Little motor continues simmering. Madame explains what we want.
Silence! no not really, because the motor ticks over.
One is silent. A bit long. This will be assimilated.
Slowly the mouth is set fee from the full scarf. Slowly he takes his gloves, one by one.
Then the motor comes in for its turn to be switched off. Cap somewhat higher. Eyes are shining. Moped with red post-backs behind is pulled on it's standard. Man mumbles: "the post-office just has to wait for a while."
I feel everybody agrees.
The postman takes slowly his mobile phone from his pocket and lies to his boss, that luck was against him and that it takes more time before he will be back. Palpably satisfied the postman takes his time for the for him interesting, new situation. Cap goes off.
feels our surprise and explains, that the postman actually is a priest
from the local temple and thus earns something extra.
'Our man', not yet being a real priest to us -we also need some time- and not being a real postman either, sniggers somewhat about us.
Lengthy he has himself informed about our backgrounds.... "ah, so ka...."
re-dresses nimbly, reverse order of just before, starts his moped and
orders us with an invisible nod to follow him. We hasten to both our
cars. He is already out of sight, direction were he came from. Anyhow,
there is only one road. My wife tears through the area on the winding,
small roads with almost a contempt for death. At length we can hear him
again! opening the window we sit in a kind of freezing-cold. The road
climbs mercilessness. My overwrought wife follows. After '42' curves we
are almost at the top. Our 'guide' is obviously already waiting for us
some time, without cap: shining bald head and eyes sparkling as small
Look....the owner of this property lives below and started a ramen shop....
Five of us look at the house: large building, fallen into decay also. Enthralling.
Fumika's and my walking around, showing each other some details, I also
observe a deeply happy, blissful man standing on the road next to the
property: intensely satisfied and contemplating the house, us and the
landscape, as if he were the creator and owner of all this.
He experiences his first safari, without any doubt.
I see his heart thumping and that he is fulfilled with only one notion: ................this is what I call real live:
The list with obstacles to make a housing is all but endless.
It is a fact, that Japan has a tremendous lot of space, but the landscape is mainly characterized by mountains.
I became heavy-hearted, though we experienced numerous lovely encounters and everyday gave us always specific details to enrich our conversation during dinner. Apart from getting tired through our researches, our scouting brought us interesting anecdotes and teachable moments. Often we were fulfilled with overwhelming emotions, which later proved to be air-bubbles.
In dialog with
myself I finally started to make a search for fallacies in order to
make myself accept, that a plot in Japan was not granted to us.
One day Fumika looked in the Kochi shimbun,
what she already did on a regular basis. Some advertisements made us
sometimes visit locations together with a broker. Such a thing happened
the umpteenth time, perfunctory. We went out for a search in Sakawa,
to be honest indifferent, may be even blasé, knowing the 'tricks
of the trade', being hardened by reality. Our attitude can be described
as "we jolly well have to do this". Totally unprepared and unexpected
we found our spot" a cute, more or less flat plot, several large rocks,
terraced, hills around in stead of mountains, spacious, wide view,
water coming from the hills, kind and quiet atmosphere. If I remember
well we did not exchange more than three whispered sentences. We
agreed: this we'll do.
Later at his office in Kochi city, the land-broker offered us a connected 80 meters high woody hill slope, which we bought without any inspection, may be having exchanged one sentence and a nod. It was all in the day's work.
Every time we believed to have found a spot, I wildly started 'designing', a map full. This time I was quiet.
Some weeks before we incidentally visited had visited a presentation of Shikoku-architects. One of them, a nice man, we invited to cast a glance at the site, after our briefing. His office is in Tokushima and therefore he arrived the evening before at our apartments, so that we shared dinner and accommodated him.
Next morning the three of us visited Sakawa, the sun already being warm in the morning of a day in March . Fumika just strolled around and sat some time on a remote rock. Exceptionally it was not really possible to have a conversation with her at that time. I then tried to show the architect what he evidently could see by his own eyes, without my help; after my second failure, I wisely dropped out.
He made photographs and walked with a wide bow around the fields. Far away, as was it a Dinky-toy, a small train, just one carriage, was slowly moving from right to left.
I strolled around, aimless, again approaching Fumika. She just said: look.
Our architect in the meantime sat on top of a rock in the middle of the neglected rice-fields, breathing everything, an hour or so.
His colleagues in the Netherlands should try once.
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