Watercolor Painting of a Traditional Japanese Building in Yufuin Town

So I painted this traditional Japanese building in Yufuin which is a small touristy town in my prefecture.

It is for an exhibition that I will do in this town.

You may be surprised by that as, if you read my blogs, you know that I am also doing an exhibition in Usuki.

You may be thinking that I am being a little too hasty in my art career; but this exhibition will be in June so it won’t be for a while yet.

And also it is for a joint exhibition with a sculptor in which I will only be showing two paintings. So it shouldn’t be too demanding.

So Yufuin, where I will do the exhibition, is a popular tourist town in Japan. The distinctive feature of this area is the twin peaked mountain next to the town. 

To be honest, it used to be a beautiful, even idyllic, place. But then the tourist industry came and I’m sure you can figure out the rest. But it still has a few nice features left.

I drove to Yufuin and one of  the biggest stresses was navigating through the very tight and narrow streets that were crowded with tourists. 

It didn’t help that I chose the wrong road and so was driving down numerous narrow streets almost brushing against people who were giving me very pissed off looks which kind of reminded me of myself.

I was also desperate for the toilet.

And my first painting, which is the one above, was done about ten meters from a toilet. 

I’ve painted this building before but I couldn’t resist painting it again and I’m sure this won’t be the last time. I really love traditional Japanese buildings and especially ones with thatched roofs.

So after painting the traditional Japanese building, I started looking for another subject. I have learnt not to waste time just looking around – at least at the beginning of an outdoor painting trip. After I have two paintings under my belt then I will go walkabout as happened on this day.

So my second painting, which was of a lake, was only about a hundred meters from the first one. 

This lake is called Kinrinko which means “golden fish scales” and it is still beautiful in spite of some modern changes such as a big white concrete restaurant that sits on the very edge of the lake.

I had to walk around a little to avoid such eye sores and also to find a spot where there were few people and thus no fear of being accidentally pushed into the lake by over-enthusiastic tourists – who were out in force despite it being just a weekday.

Having found just such a spot I set up and was about to make my first pencil mark when a fisherman, or should I say an angler, appeared out of the blue and stepped in front of me and threw his line behind him, in other words right at me, and started to fish. After a few minutes he would move over to the left of me and then return.

Perhaps I should have moved but I thought I was here first and so I just continued to paint; if I had moved It would have taken away the anxiety about having an eyeball plucked out by a fishing hook; an artist with an eye-patch certainly would be memorable, in fact, there is just such an artist and he has been incredibly successful, but I’d still prefer to have a pair.

Luckily, I finished the painting with both eyeballs intact. The angler unfortunately had a mishap; he cast his line when he was actually to the side of me and I heard a sharp crack; I don’t know if he snapped a branch or his fishing rod but I realised, somewhat later, why he was casting his line in front of me; he wasn’t a territorial angler, antagonistic person or psychopath, he was trying to cast his line without getting it caught on any trees.

However, I just kept looking at my painting and the scene in front of me just in case he had broken his fishing rod and wanted to let out some of his frustration on me.

However, nothing happened except a few tourists coming and standing in front of me to take photos – they didn’t even ask, but then again I guess it’s not my land.

I did though really enjoy painting this scene in spite of these distractions. 

I tried to get a really beautiful angle. The buildings in the painting were actually hidden somewhat behind the trees but I thought it was better  not to have them hidden so I clearly show them in the painting. So I don’t paint exactly what I see and I am quite happy to change a scene in order to create a better painting. In fact, I think part of the creative element behind painting is to change the scene and not simply paint what you see.

I paint the essence of what is there or at least what I like that is there but I will definitely leave out anything I don’t like. This distillation of the scene is essential and I perhaps should distill more than I presently do.

Here is the finished painting.

I was especially happy with the shimmering water effect which probably attracted me to the scene in the first place; it can often be very difficult to catch such magical qualities.

With two paintings under my belt I felt that I could now relax a little and do some exploring. Also, I wanted to visit a gallery that my friend had recommended.

So, I returned to the car and got my portfolio and went looking. After a 10 to 15 minute walk I found it and it was closed. This was surprising because it was Monday and the gallery leaflet said closed on Wednesdays.

I left this place in a despondent mood (I’m understating here) and went on a long walkabout that lasted over two hours and made me feel even more despondent because of how ugly they have made this once beautiful town.

During my walkabout I was also looking for something to paint but it was actually quite difficult to find a beautiful scene; the new houses have nothing of traditional Japanese architecture, everywhere there are greenhouses and I also found a brand new and huge car park with not even one car in it!

At least, they don’t have fields full of solar panels. But I expect that is coming. 

Recently, they wanted to cover an outstandingly beautiful green mountain area near here with solar panels; that is to say, cover it all with concrete and then stick as many solar panels on it as possible and probably they would add some big bright white concrete walls around the thing. It was only some protests by the ordinary people that stopped this.

In fact, upon my walkabout I got lost in my despondency and also literally – the latter I quite enjoy. Time though was passing. The sun was beginning its slow downward journey that became moment by moment more and more beautiful and would end in a spectacular sunset. 

Luckily, after having walked across a few rice fields, jumped over a concrete ditch and gone down one long dead end I found the river that I knew would take me back to where I had started and began to follow it; and it was along this river that I found my final painting of the day.

I took the liberty of removing a big hotel that was by the side of the river, I hope you don’t mind!

This river was actually quite dazzling in the evening light and I really loved it. I walked up and down this river quite a few times before I found the right spot. As I said before you really have to get a good composition and that means finding the best viewpoint; it is the most essential thing.

It was a delight to paint this scene. There was a wonderful mellow evening mood and it felt very peaceful to paint in such conditions. 

Here is the on spot painting.

Although I am happy with the result it needs improving and I will paint it again at home and lower the height of the near bank. I might also try to make the water more dazzling and lastly add some ducks.

This is because there was a group of ducks in the water and it was so cheering to my heart to hear these lovely creatures quacking merrily – or so I imagined it; they were probably asking who is this weirdo in the floppy hat and the huge sunglasses.

Certainly some passersby had slightly stunned expressions on  their faces when they saw me.

I finished this painting off in a hurry because I suddenly had the panicky thought that they might close the car park and I might be stuck here. Luckily, no such thing happened.

As I left Yufuin, in a relieved mood because the car park was still open, I drove slowly up a hill and as I did so I saw the beautiful evening light of the sun streaming through the trees. 

It was really breathtaking, magical, and I had to stop and take a few photos. If I was more of a free man and less of a family man I would have painted a picture.

So, at home, I finally painted this wonderful scene; it was quite a challenge and I had to do some experiments. I still intend to do an even bigger version at some point in the near future.

Soon, I will be going back to Yufuin to paint some more pictures for the exhibition; even though only two of my paintings will be shown in the exhibition; I have this habit of overdoing things. 

There is only one hiccup in this plan, I now have a craze for tulips – I am calling it tulipomania but more about this in another story.

Bye for now,



This story was originally written in March of 2014. I am editing it in March of 2021, so 7 years later. How time flies.

There are some things I’d like to add here. So I wasn’t proud of my second painting, which is of lake Kinrinko, and I believe I have actually thrown this painting away, but I’m showing the image of it here for the sake of this story which I think is quite interesting.

And although I did further paintings of the river none of them have been an improvement on the original one that I did on the spot! Perhaps the wonderful atmosphere helped create a painting that I just can’t improve upon at home.

Gareth Naylor, March 2021.

Gareth Naylor

I am an Englishman living and painting in Japan. I have now been here for over 17 years and have been painting for all that time. I love to travel around the Japanese countryside and find beautiful places to paint.

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