Friday, December 19, 2014

Foreigners Working in Kochi ②

Rogier Uitenboogaart
(Yusuhara, from The Netherlands)

   Next is Rogier Uitenboogaart, a washi (traditional Japanese paper) maker who has lived in Kochi for over 30 years. We traveled northwest two hours by car to the town of Yusuhara to hear his story.
   The workshop where Rogier makes washi and the attached bed & breakfast are settled in a quiet agricultural village at the base of a mountain, perfectly blending in to its surroundings. Travelling there felt like we were visiting our grandparents in the countryside.

   When asked why he chose to make washi in Kochi after visiting places of washi production all across Japan, Rogier said that the warmth he felt from Kochi’s people, and Kochi’s wonderful nature and warm climate were the deciding factors. He added that Kochi being a large producer of the plants kōzo mulberry and oriental paper bush, which are used in washi making, heavily influenced his decision because here he could make washi from scratch.
A view from the 2nd floor of
the B&B
  Rogier moved to what is now the town of Niyodogawa, re-visited craftsmen in Ino Town and Tosa City to learn their techniques, and then started self-studying how to create paper from raw materials. After that, he set out to find a workshop location. The ideal place would have a source of spring water for papermaking, and be a good fit for his growing children. He visited several potential places in Kochi Prefecture, but the reason he chose Yasuhara was because he saw the town’s traditional Kagura dance and felt the elegance of the local culture.
   Interestingly, although Yusuhara was a nationally renowned producer of oriental paper bush (one of the reasons Rogier moved there), the town was hardly producing any washi raw materials 20 years ago when he moved there. He brought some kōzo mulberry and oriental paper bush seedlings that he had cultivated in Niyodogawa to his new home, performed root division on the wild kōzo around his house, cultivated those plants, took their seeds, and planted them again. By repeating this process many times, the area around his workshop has become absolutely full of these plants.
   When asked if he had any hardships while living in Yusuhara, Rogier laughed and responded, “Although I have been through a lot, I wouldn’t call any of it ‘hardship’.” He says that the reason is that the local community is like one big family. From grasscutting to funerals, the locals do everything together and they help each other no matter what.
The dining room with impressive
shades made of washi

   On the other hand, one of his biggest joys in Yusuhara has been spreading the word about the wonderful world of washi and getting more people to be interested in traditional paper. Of course, visitors to the workshop can try out making their own washi. However, they also have the option to stay at the bed & breakfast. Here, you can experience timeless Japanese culture and eat food made from local river fish and mountain vegetables.
   Finally, when asked for advice for other foreigners looking to work in Kochi, he offered that “when you’re feeling stuck (or even if you’re not), you should go to the mountains and/or the ocean. Kochi Prefecture faces the Pacific Ocean and has 84% mountain coverage, the most in the nation. Having so little flatland may seem like a drawback, but if you turn this into a positive, then soon you will find your way.”
Contact info for Rogier Uitenboogaart’s workshop Kamikoya ———————
   Address: Yusuhara-cho, Otado 1678
   TEL: 0889-68-0355
   HP: (English Available)

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