Watercolor Painting Trip to a Small Japanese Coastal Town called Kamae.


So at last I went to Kamae. I should have gone a while ago but the distance and the lack of time had deterred me.

I still had a lesson on that day and had to be back by 6.

But that day was amazingly good for a big trip. It was warm and sunny. I think the highest temperature was around 22. This is strangely warm weather for February in Japan.

And the next day was a national holiday which also made me feel less under pressure.

I also thought that it would take about 2 hours to get there but I found out on the maps app that it would take just 1 hour.

And the car was three quarters full of gasoline.

So the night before I charged up my drone and got my watercolor kit ready.

I needed two bags and an easel.

Although sadly I did no actual painting there. I expected this but I took my gear just in case.

The trip there was fairly uneventful.

I left early in the morning and I was surprised by how incredibly beautiful many scenes looked in the early morning light.

It made me decide that from now on I should on Monday mornings travel around the outskirts of the city and get some photos with my drone. I think that might be my new ambitious series for this year. Let’s see if I can do 100 of them!

Maybe I was tired but on the highway I kept going over the line. When I do that my car beeps at me and so my car was beeping at me most of the way to Kamae. 

I must confess that I was having a heated talk with myself. I sometimes have some “issue” in my head. On this occasion, it was the Christian idea that people should not think too highly of themselves. For some reason this idea bugs me and I just talk (outloud when I can) why I disagree with that. So I was really caught up in this monologue and that might explain why I kept driving over the line. I should perhaps add that the lanes are extremely narrow in Japan.

I also went through the wrong toll gate. I should go through the one that you don’t have to stop at and pay. But I accidentally went through the one where you should stop and pay. I just zoomed through it. In my rear mirror I saw a man jump out of the toll booth, waving his arms and shouting.

Luckily, it all got sorted out. I was worried though that they might fine me or something but no such thing happened. Phew.

On the way to Kamae, via the highway, you go past several sea towns. Sometimes the view was amazing. The highway is very high up so you are looking down on the town and the panoramic perspective is dangerously mesmerizing. At times, I really wanted to stop and take a photo but of course you can’t. The urge though was so strong!

I realized later on that in the future I can go into the town and then drive near the highway and then use my drone to get an aerial view like those from the highway. Because I can take my drone higher than the highway, I might even be able to get a better view.

The scene I saw from the highway that I most loved was of a river, with a cluster of interesting buildings along it, flowing into the sea. So Perhaps in 2022, I will visit these towns and try to get some aerial images. It is important to go early in the morning though as it really looks magical at that time of the day.

I arrived in Kamae and parked near the sea. It was still early morning and I could see a beautiful scene of a hazy mountain side, mudflats and birds flying. And the weather had that fresh feeling of morning but was also balmy.

I later did a painting of this scene. I couldn’t quite capture the glorious feeling of that moment but I’m still quite happy with it.

Then I had a choice of going left or right along the coastline. I knew the right side quite well so I chose the left side hoping to discover some new scenes.

As I started to drive along the road it suddenly split into two. One road went straight and towards a tunnel. The other road turned off to the right and was a narrow winding road. 

I later learnt that the straight road is the new road and the winding road the old one. The new road just cuts through the landscape via tunnels and is a more direct route between the coastal towns. Whereas, the old road follows the edge of the coastline. 

But the old road continually keeps coming back to the new road. 

I took the old road when I could. But if it looked very narrow or like it would soon come to a dead end then I didn’t take it.

In this way, I slowly made my way through Kamae. I would, when I found an interesting scene, stop and get out and take some photos.

And it was in this way that I found my next scene. I came across a very narrow road by the coast that led towards a small peninsula. That peninsula looked very picturesque so I followed the old road.

But the narrowness of the road concerned me. If a car came the other way I’d have to reverse and it was quite a long stretch of road. Luckily no cars came. The road though suddenly came to an abrupt end at a small, rundown wooden house that was surrounded by dense and rugged foliage.

The place seemed abandoned but I could hear a hammering noise coming from the house. Yes, it did seem a bit like a creepy movie.

There was a tiny yard next to the house where I could luckily turn the car around. But I had to be careful. The ground was not very flat and there was all kinds of stuff like big rocks and rusting coffee cans to watch out for.

After safely turning around I got out of the car just to have a look. And that’s when I saw a stony beach that continued up to the end of the peninsula. I decided to follow this. 

I’m really glad I did because I came to a beautiful scene of a signal tower at the very end of the stony beach.

I climbed up the rocks around the signal tower and saw a beautiful view of the sea. It was an intense blue and sparkling. And there were a few fishing boats out there.

This became my next painting and perhaps my favorite.

Then I returned to the car and carried on my merry way.

I came across a few interesting little harbors and stopped to take some photos of them. Here are some of the harbor paintings I did. I think most of my paintings were of these harbor scenes.

In this first one, I just liked the arrangement of the shapes.

In the second one, I liked the way the boats appear chopped off.

And in the third one, I liked the floating wooden jetty that led to the boat. I think this scene could become a great painting. That jetty is an interesting object and I like the way it leads the eye to the boat which is the focal point of the painting.

And here is another painting I did of a boat at the end of a concrete wharf. It was quite an interesting composition. I’ve actually painted this scene before on a previous trip and didn’t realize that it was this place Kamae. 

On this occasion, I got my drone out to try and get, if possible, a better angle. I’m not sure if I did but this painting is from the photo I took with my drone. I think if I had put my drone higher and even more to the side then the composition would have looked even better.

And here are two more paintings I did but I’m not sure when.

Then I continued upon my travels. I came to what I think is the main harbor and the town of Kamae. It was surprisingly small but pleasant looking.

This is where I came across a beautiful fishing boat. I didn’t really want to paint the scene around the boat to be honest so instead I did a painting of the boat at sea. 

Although this town was nice, everything felt very clustered and so I didn’t see anything that I thought would make a good painting. 

It might have been interesting to explore the side streets but they were so narrow that I didn’t feel confident enough to drive the car through them. Or rather I might be able to get in but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get out again without adding a few deep scratches to my wife’s car.

So I just carried on.

Next I came to a beach with a high concrete wall and a massive sliding steel gate – which reminds you of the ever present danger of a tsunami!

Although it was a lovely sandy beach it wasn’t very picturesque so I moved on.

And next was the cultural marine center. Sadly closed now and rusting. Nature is also coming back in to reclaim the tarmac around the building with grass starting to shoot up. Plants grow like wildfire in Japan.

Only a few years ago, this marine center had still been open. One of my students told me that they had a shallow pool which children could enter and in which they had fish that if the children caught them they could take home and eat. It sounds pretty fun to me. I would have liked to have taken my daughter to do that.

Anyways, I carried on past this place and came to a very big and very strange harbor. It was strange because it was built into the side of a mountain and there were many construction vehicles such as cranes in this harbor as well as huge piles of fish nets and other fishing gear. At the beginning of the harbor, there were some fishermen outside at a long table gutting fish. And in the sky above them were many buzzards wheeling around, no doubt hoping to get some scraps of fish.

I stopped to take a video of these birds.

I continued along this harbor which ended in a huge concrete wall. I climbed to the top and had a look around. But I can’t remember now what I saw. Nothing worth painting though. In fact, there was nothing picturesque here at all but it was interesting. Among a huge pile of trash, for instance, I saw a tyre half-covered in barnacles. And I had never seen so many rusting cans of coffee.

And there was a pungent smell of salt, rotting fish and urine.

Then I drove back to the new road, as there was no more old road. This is when I came to the fish farms. This area is quite interesting as you have long wooden platforms going out into the sea. Some of them are really long. I stopped often to take photos but none of the images inspired a painting.

It was here, though, that I met a Japanese man who showed me his fish farm. He breeds Hirame. It is called Japanese turbot English. It is a flat fish. He showed me each stage of their growth and told me it took about one year for them to fully grow. 

The one thing that I really liked was how nice this fish farm smelt – it smelt of new wood. Only the brown pellet food that they gave the fish gave me cause for concern. I wondered how wholesome it really was and what kind of chemical they might put in it to “preserve” it. If you know anything about the fish pellets they feed Salmon in Norway then you will know what I am talking about. 

After that I continued on. But soon I saw a sign for Saiki, the next town, and I realized that I was now leaving Kamae. I continued though because there are a pair of beautiful rocks in Saiki that I wanted to see. The only problem was I didn’t know where they were and also I didn’t want to travel too far away from Kamae. After all, I had to go to the other side of Kamae. 

So I travelled along this road for a while but when I saw that I was travelling along a largish bay and that there was no sign of that pair of rocks and that it would take a long time to go around the whole bay I decided to call it quits and turned around.

This time I took the new road. On the way, I stopped at a small shopping center. Here I bought hiogikai which is a very colorful kind of shellfish. This was a request from my wife. I got it packed in ice and it was fresh from the fish tank. I also stopped here for some lunch. I chose a lunchbox with sushi. It was very nice.

It was fun to see a shop there that besides selling ice cream also sold potatoes and fish which meant fish and chips.

Then, I stopped at a convenience store to get a cup of coffee and some cookies. All of which was surprisingly good. I always thought 7-Eleven was the best convenience store in Japan, but at the Lawson convenience store I got more coffee and the cookies were better – real butter not margarine. You have to be careful in Japan, even the stuff that looks like quality and is expensive often has margarine in it and not butter!

Now, I went to the other side of Kamae. This time the area felt a little bit more rural. I stopped at a harbor but saw nothing to paint and so got back in the car and continued.

After this harbor the road went up a steep hill and became very narrow. It was another harrowing stretch of road where you hope not to meet any cars coming in the opposite direction. Occasionally the road did widen which was a big relief.

At the top of the mountain road there was a beautiful view of the coast line and I stopped to enjoy this view and to take some video footage. I did think about using my drone to get some even better views but the rugged surroundings with lots of trees above me made me think twice. 

I would have had to make the drone go above the trees, then over them, and then down. I would have lost sight of it and would have had to rely on the screen and I’m still too much of a novice I think to fly a drone just using the screen.

After that, I came down the mountain road and arrived at Hatozu beach. I know this beach very well. I’ve been here several times and it is very beautiful. At the end of the beach I got my drone out and took some photos of the coastline.

With not a little trepidation, I flew the drone far out to sea. About 300 meters I think. And I took it up to 120 meters. 

Sadly, I didn’t think the view from the drone camera was so great. So I brought the drone down to about 2 meters above the sea and then I had it fly towards me. But the images were still disappointing.

In some ways, though, I was wasting my time because when I later got home and checked the memory card I found that I had no video footage! But it was not a complete loss for luckily I did have some photos. 

Perhaps the reason for not getting such good images is that I need more practice using my drone. This is about the fifth time I’ve used it so I’m still very much a novice. On the plus side, it was fun to fly it. 

There was now just one final thing I wanted to see before I went home. On the way to the beach, the coastal road cuts through a huge rock and I wanted to get some photos of this rock with my drone.

So one more time I got the drone out and used my last battery and took some photos of this rock. I’m not sure if the photos I got are really that good but it did inspire a painting. 

I think what makes this painting interesting is that it looks strange and I quite like to paint a strange painting as it always feels like I’m doing something new and original.

Then I got in my car and gave a long rambling speech that I videoed.

At this point, the adventure was over and I felt very mellow. I could hear the soft, lullaby lapping sound of the waves, it was warm and I’d fulfilled my mission. It was a nice moment – which is probably why I rambled a bit too much on the video. I ended up cutting out 90% of it when I edited that video clip.

After the ramble, I started the car and drove back home at a leisurely speed.

It had been a good day.

And the Video of me in Kamae – RAW footage!

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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