Gareth Naylor

Atmospheric paintings of Japan

Watercolor painting of car headlights on a wet road by Gareth Naylor.

Getting lost in the Japanese countryside at night

Sometimes when I paint outdoors remarkable things happen and I don’t even know that they are happening but they later come back and influence my life.

For instance, last year, a man who I can’t remember spoke to me while I was outside painting. It turns out that he is a sculptor and quite famous here.

He knows another man who has a cafe with an exhibition space and told him about me which in turn led to a meeting with the cafe owner and having a talk about doing an exhibition.

The next step was a visit to the cafe which is in a remote area of my prefecture. It is called Kuju and it is a beautiful national park. The owner gave me a map to help me find the place. But even with the map I thought on several occasions that I’d made a wrong turn. Luckily, I hadn’t but it took almost three and a half hours to get there when it should have taken about an hour and a half.

I did though stop at one point to do a painting. I have learned to always be an opportunist when painting outdoors!

The cafe is very new and still smells of fresh wood. It’s beautifully designed and the tables and chairs are handmade. There is even a wood-fire stove of American design.

It’s situated very dramatically at the bottom of a mountain. The site had originally been a small pine wood but the owner and his brother had spent five years chopping all the trees down to make a clearing for the cafe.

The owner, Mr. Akizuki, (whose name means autumn moon in English), had been a ladies fashion designer and worked in France for a while as well as Tokyo. And he is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. And I don’t say that just because I received two cups of good coffee and cheesecake for free – although that is a first. I say it because he really wanted to befriend me.

We had a wonderful talk about art, his cafe and everything else. It was a nice day. He showed me the gallery space and we arranged a time for my exhibition.

Then I went home and did very little. Well, I already had the paintings and the frames. By slow degrees I did though prepare for the exhibition. But to my regret I have always been someone who leaves things to the last minute. Well last week in this case.

So when the day of setting up the exhibition came I wasn’t really fully prepared. Although in my defense, I would say that I’m getting better.

When I went to the cafe to set up my exhibition it took about 5 hours. I had assumed that it would only take about 1 or 2 hours. And I had also assumed that I would be going home in the daylight but by the time I finished it was getting dark outside.

It wasn’t all work though. There was another free cup of coffee and a piece of cheesecake. And then it was time to go home. Mr Akizuki asked me if I’d be okay traveling back. I replied nonchalantly that I’d be fine.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

On the way home, I saw a sign for Oita, the city where I live, and it was the main route, but much longer than the small road I’d come by. I chose the small road and what should have been the shortcut. I wish that I’d heeded the saying that shortcuts make for long delays which I read in The Lord of the Rings.

Well, my choice was a mistake.

At some point I came to a crossroads which I wasn’t expecting. I had come this way in the morning but it was now pitch dark and I had no sense of direction.

I took the road on my right. After 20 minutes on this road I knew that I had taken a wrong turn.

To add to my disconcerted feeling it was starting to rain heavily and become very misty. Sometimes it was so misty I had to slow the car down to a crawl.

I reversed into a side track and looked at my map but I couldn’t understand where the crossing was and where I was now.

I knew this road went to Shonai, which is a small town, and that from Shonai I would find a road that would lead me to the city where I lived so I decided to continue along it. After all, how much further could it be?

A lot as it turned out.

I continued along this road for about another 30 minutes until eventually reaching Shonai and finding a sign with the name of the city where I lived.

In all that time, I saw only two cars and no people. There were no houses and no signs of civilization. It was just an endless line of trees.

It felt spooky.

Although I felt relief to finally reach Shonai and get my bearings, I knew that I had taken a very long detour and that from Shonai it would also take a long time before reaching home.

I arrived home after 9. Everybody had finished dinner. The welcome I expected from my incredibly cute daughter (two years old) wasn’t there, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

But it was nice to be home. Dinner was delicious and the red wine was relaxing.

I’ll be going back to the cafe on Sunday to deliver my promotional cards. The weather will again be bad and I may come home late. I want to say that I’ll take the long main route but I may take that short cut again. Who knows where I’ll end up this time.

That’s all,



I originally wrote this story in April of 2015.

There was no painting to go with this story so I added one. Although this painting was possibly done as late as 2019, it is of a wet and dark road just like I wrote about in the story and this painting might even have been inspired by this adventure – or should I say misadventure.