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Be Here Asia

Postcards from the Road — 025 — September 2019
Hi friends! 

This month’s ‘Postcard from the Road’ is coming to you from Shodoshima, the second-largest of the islands in the Seto Inland Sea, located between Himeji and Takamatsu. The trip was initiated by my mother, who visited Japan for her second time this summer. She experienced Naoshima and Teshima on her last trip, loved them and wanted to try one of the other 10 islands within the Setouchi Triennale. We decided on Shodoshima. It exceeded all expectations.

Shodoshima has 126 kilometers of coastline (about 78 miles), which is large in comparison to Naoshima’s 16 kilometers. Communities are concentrated around the ports and so there were lots of opportunities for serendipitous interactions, and these run-ins are what made the island so memorable.  

Our first lucky encounter happened when we were looking for a parking lot close to one of the art sites, we heard music coming from a courtyard and decided to pull the car over to check it out. We found a celebration complete with BBQ grills, a live band, and prize giveaways. We didn’t know what they were celebrating but didn’t need to, the music and liveliness were enough to make us want to stay.  When the musicians took a break, a lovely young man came up to us and asked if we wanted a tour. It turned out we were at a soy sauce brewery, and not just any shuzo (brewery) but at one of the few remaining breweries that use just four ingredients: salt, water, soybean, and wheat. 

The yeast that causes the mixture to ferment is naturally occurring in the air and on the wooden barrels used for brewing. Less than 1% of soy sauce is produced in this way, which makes Yamaroku so special. They believe the naturally-occurring yeast is what gives the soy sauce it’s special flavor and they are trying to promote this dying art, as competition from steel casks threatens it. Our guide asked us how we heard about them. We said we were lucky, just happenstance. But, maybe it was more than that, once my mom returned home she realized that this brewery was featured on the Netflix series, ‘Salt Fat Acid Heat’  and I had given her that cookbook for Christmas!! Subliminally we may have known what we were looking for!

During our tour, the festivities outside the brewery had continued. Every hour on the hour,  they threw prizes from the roof, and the prizes got more expensive over the course of the day, starting with candy, then vegetables, then fish, etc. Unfortunately we had to leave before the finest catch of the day was going to be thrown, the meat!

As we said goodbye we asked our guide—who had been an IT Consultant in Boston before moving back to Shodoshima—where we should go next. He encouraged us to visit a local sake producer that was reviving the industry after a 35-year hiatus. On our way there we had our second serendipitous interaction. As we were driving, my mom noticed a sleek building with a sign on the wall saying George's Gallery and a small crowd gathering in the front, she asked me to pull over so we could go inside.
After taking off our shoes, and stepping into the gallery, we were greeted by an enthusiastic man, Jun Ishii, he introduced himself as the owner of the gallery and told us about his grandmother who was the original owner of the home. The gallery features work by the French photographer, George Rousse, a man who made his name by producing pieces in buildings that were slated to be demolished. Our host, made us sit down in front of one of the artworks to have our portrait taken. He assured us he knew the best angle from which to take the photo so that the circle appeared. 
We dutifully sat for our photo and then I asked how the pieces ended up in his grandmother’s home. He explained that he had befriended Mr. Rousse in Kobe in 1995. Mr. Ishii, as the Director of Panasonic, had invited Rousse to produce pieces after the Hanshin earthquake that devastated much of the city. They remained friends and Mr. Ishii invited him to produce projects on Shodoshima in 2018. These projects were accepted into the Setouchi Triennale in 2019 and will be on permanent display going forward.

We did eventually make it to the sake brewery, Morikuni, which is only a short walk from George's Gallery—it’s lovely. A wooden building with antique furniture and a low-lit bar. If we hadn’t needed to rush to our ryokan to make it in time to have a bath before dinner, I would have enjoyed having a few glasses of sake there. 
The ryokan, Shimayado Mari, was worth rushing to, definitely one of my top five ryokans in Japan. With only seven rooms the property feels very intimate, and the service is wonderfully kind without being overbearing. They feature all local products during their dinner and breakfast services and educate you about the soy sauces you use throughout the meal.  
The baths at Mari are heavenly, both in your room and outdoors. This was my first experience with a ‘sake bath.’ The ryokan staff instructed me how to prepare—you just pour sake into hot water at a ratio of 99% water to 1% sake. It was so hydrating for my skin, leaving it feeling silky smooth. A super simple luxury, that anyone can recreate at home.
What makes Shodoshima different than other islands in the art island group is the diversity of industries. As a visitor, you have more opportunities to interact with residents outside of a museum or gallery and get a real taste of the region. And don’t let my emphasis on the other industries detract from the art, it was also very strong. Some highlights for me were: If you are coming to the Seto Inland Sea for the art, I recommend using Shodoshima as your base. The ferry system is well established and you can easily visit Teshima, Inujima, and Naoshima as day-trips. 

Here is a handy map with some of my favorite destinations around Shodoshima.

In October 2019 and May 2020, they’ll be performing Kabuki outdoors, in Nakayama near the terraced rice fields.  Try and time your visit to see one of those!!!
Such a joy to share the journey with you.

All my best,

Elizabeth Mueller
Be Here Asia
A note about this month’s GIF:

When I told my friend in Tokyo, that I was going to Shodoshima, she said, “I picked olives there once!” Because of that casual remark, I added Olive Park Michi no Eki to our list of places to visit. I didn’t do much research beforehand, and so when I found a giant gift shop in place of the bucolic road-side stand I had been imagining I was a bit disappointed. I was also surprised to find a long queue for broom rentals. Why broom rentals? It turns out, the live-action version of Hayao Miyazaki’s animation, ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ was filmed on Shodoshima, and people come to the Olive Farm to reproduce the scene in front of the windmill. It was charming, all the people on the hillside with their brooms, jumping up to try and time their photo. This month’s GIF is dedicated to them. If you haven’t seen 'Kiki’s Delivery Service', watch it, it’s a delight! Whether you watch it or not, I don’t think you need to visit the Michi no Eki, you can find great olive products elsewhere on the island.

Thank you to Lina and Vlad for all your hard work on the GIF as well! 
Email sent lovingly from Tokyo, Japan.

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