The Promise of Rebirth

The bare soil in the rectangular plots of rice fields is a sign that autumn is underway, and these pockets of open space make two contrasting predications of the future.

One is about the bleakness of the winter ahead. The stooping, gold rice, for so long a major part of the landscape, disappears like a light turned off. The vibrant plant life is reduced, and the mud that remains turns the town a darker color.

Leaves fall from trees and mix with the straw remains of rice. This is the second predication, for as the soil is overturned and nutrients return to the earth, there is a promise of rebirth. The structure of the fields is almost unchanging, the soil is consistently fertile, and the townspeople prepare for the bleak days ahead with practiced motions. They know how to survive Shiwa’s winter. Watching it all, you can believe the spring will come again.






Close Enough, Far Enough

Shiwa is geographically big, and it has nine districts, each with subdivisions. Some are flung far from the center of town, and people there live in relative isolation. Yamaya is one example. It’s a small community in the Kitakami Mountain Range, where the nature around the houses and shrines seems untouched.

The roads often seem built on cliffs with views of tall cypress trees standing over blue tin roofs. These roads can be convoluted as if  old village roads grew together and were eventually paved. Maps are provided on the road to help, but the one I saw had two places marked as “You are here.” The roads, terrain, and distance create a labyrinth that’s best overcome by familiarity.

Perhaps that’s why the people in Yamaya seem proud of their community. They work hard to keep old traditions and festivals alive. Every spring they invite people from neighboring communities to visit their “Mizubasho Festival,” and in fall to their “Yamaya Furusato Festival.” Certainly, they often hear, “What a beautiful place,” and “I had tough time finding you.”

Plus their isolation isn’t complete. The people work in Morioka, the nearest big city, or in the central part of town. Their children go to school there. Families shop there. The distance isn’t unassailable. The people are as much a part of town as others. They just happen to be located close enough to town to enjoy its comforts and far enough to enjoy nature.






This is Shiwa

Imagine a valley between two mountain ranges that don’t rise above the alpine line. They don’t even aspire towards it. Instead they are covered from head to toe with forests of many kinds of trees.

Now imagine generations pass like seconds and the valley, equally lush with vegetation, is remade by the industry of farmers. The trees disappear except for those around shrines and those used by farm houses to hold back the wind and snow. The earth is flattened and partitioned into square rice fields. The valley is now wide open.

Beneath a big sky, the rice fields change. In winter they’re rolling plains of snow. In spring they are pools that reflect the sky and mountains. In summer they are all the same shade of green. In autumn they turn gold, and then suddenly the soil reappears.

Imagine a river flows through the valley. Farm roads lead towards it, and a highway runs alongside it. On some banks trees remain, and in spaces tight compared to the openness of the fields, buildings spring up and a commercial district develops.

This is Shiwa.