Breakfast satoyama - half rice, half toast

Heidi Axelsen


This is now our third day waking up to the sounds of cicadas and many other buzzing bugs here at Australia House. Through the night there is a beautiful soft breeze that give sweet relief to the hotness of the days, it reached 36 degrees yesterday!

It has been rich and a bit of a bumpy start to our residency here. Coming from Sydney's winter Hugo carried with him an Australian flu that he is now riding through in a humid Japanese summer – poor thing!

We have been requested not to leave the house and to wear white Japanese masks until Hugo fully recovers in fear for passing on the flu to the locals! So we are now all in house arrest here at the beautiful Australia House in the hills of Urada, near Matsudai which is actually a marvellous place to be stuck! It is actually a relief that we have been forced to slow down and simplify our days as there is so much to absorb already. We were moving at quite a rapid pace in Tokyo and then to Tokamachi meeting so many wonderful and important people and taking in a whirlwind of newness.

We are blessed with the generosity of our hosts and local volunteers who tirelessly assist us with any need. Daisuke has also been a wonderful help translating for us and accompanying us to both the City Mayors office and the hospital! Yoko San is a local school art teacher from Niigata City who has volunteers her weekends to generously show us where we can buy this or that, how to navigate hardware stores and find other local treasures. She also has leant us a whole lot of interesting books about Japanese art and supplied us with art materials.

We are starting to grasp the scope of the word 'satoyama'. Coming from the characters for ‘cultivated field’ and 'mountain', it not only describes this place where human settlement meets the woods, it talks about how nature and humanity connect and co-exist across time and place.

Some of the local delights we have already been fortunate to sample is the delicious carrot juice which is more like a sweet nectar. The carrots become sweet and dense in the winter months while buried under snow. I have also been enjoying the local grown mild filter coffee infused with local chrysanthemum and the calm & steady energy it gives to work through the heat.

The attention to detail and precision in everything is astounding, from the traffic man in his LED flashing high-vis vest, elegantly waving red and white flags to the mosaic pattern of rice paddies terraced on the hills. We are also very excited by the local industries we are finding, there appears to be stone masons working with granite, paper making, specialist tool manufactures near by in Joetsu and large concreting companies and we are yet to find the wood workers.

This is beginning of a large and long-term project and we feel really very lucky to be having this experience and now we can't wait to really get started.

Heidi's breakfast: half rice and half toast. Photo by Nathan Hawkes. 

Heidi's breakfast: half rice and half toast. Photo by Nathan Hawkes. 

View from upstairs window of Australia House with all the business cards hanging in the window. Photo by Heidi Axelsen.

View from upstairs window of Australia House with all the business cards hanging in the window. Photo by Heidi Axelsen.

Rice growing. Photo by Heidi Axelsen

Rice growing. Photo by Heidi Axelsen

Cedar trees bent by the weight of the snow. Photo by Heidi Axelsen

Cedar trees bent by the weight of the snow. Photo by Heidi Axelsen