It is autumn of 2020. Everyone is wearing masks. Covid is not going to go away anytime soon.
But it is a Sunday. I’ve just taught English to some toddlers and am free for the rest of the day.
So my wife is taking me and my daughter on a trip. I don’t know the destination but I like such surprises.
The weather is glorious. The sky is blue. It is warm. Autumn is the best season in Japan.
It’s a 2 hour trip so we stop on the way at a highway restaurant. I eat tempura-style fried chicken with sticky Japanese rice. The meal is only about $5 or $6 but it’s delicious. The outside of the chicken is crispy and the inside is juicy.
About an hour later we arrive in a small town called Akitsuki.
I know we have come somewhere quite special when I see an arched stone bridge going over a river. Such things are not so common in Japan.
I later find out that Akitsuki, which is in the southern part of Fukuoka prefecture, is a traditional Japanese village with many Samurai houses.
We park the car and then take a walk along a street called the Cherry Blossom street. It is autumn though and the cherry trees are totally bare; there aren’t even any leaves on them. In Spring this street must look glorious.
Although the street is interesting I don’t see anything that will make for an interesting painting.
I do see a nice cafe interior and am very tempted to enter and take a photo but I think such an act might be considered rude and possibly upset the people sitting at the tables. I consider pretending to be the ignorant and somewhat uncouth foreigner but I’m with my family and don’t want any trouble so I give up – but I feel some regret as I think it would have made for a great painting.
I take a walk down one narrow side street because I see some fields in the distance and I hope that some idyllic pastoral scene is waiting somewhere down this path – but it turns out to be, as is so often the case, a disappointment. It’s not an ugly sight but it’s not inspiring either.
We continue along the Cherry Blossom street and come to the old castle ruins. There is no castle there now, just a wall and beyond that a Junior High School. But it is a wooden building which is a rare thing in Japan nowadays.
And then we walk up a hill to a shrine. The shrine is beautiful but I can’t find an angle from which it would look good in a painting.
I descend the many steps from the shrine and come to a black gate. This is a very interesting structure but once again I just can’t seem to find anything about it that would make for a good painting. I look at it from different angles but I don’t see anything paintworthy.
Then we stroll around some houses and then back down the Cherry Blossom street. On the way down this street we take one of the smaller side streets and walk into an area full of fields and farmhouses with large gardens.
We see an empty lot of land with a sale sign and I say to my wife that I would love to live here. She then tells me that this place is subject to flooding and in recent years experienced bad floods.
One of my big dreams is to leave the noisy and polluted city and to get back to the peace and fresh air of the countryside and be in nature. But finding a place that is actually safe from flooding is not so easy.
We also go past some old farm house buildings. I take a picture of them and this leads to the painting below.
We eventually come to a Samurai house. It has a beautiful thatched roof. We pay to go inside and have a closer look. The main house is surrounded by a large garden with a pool and has a wooden bridge that leads to a tea ceremony room.
Although it is interesting and beautiful there is nothing I see that I can turn into a good painting.
After leaving this place I walk ahead of my family. As I walk down the road I come to a junction. I turn left and aimlessly walk down this road. It is down this road that I find my first really inspiring scene.
I see intense sunlight shining down onto a tree lined path and creating a beautiful dappled light effect on the path. The intensity of the light is amazing and I see two figures walking through the scene – they will be useful as the focal point of the painting.
Although it was a beautiful scene I never realized how difficult it would be to paint. Below is perhaps the 10th attempt at painting this scene.
After this, we walk through the village towards the other end where there is that amazing arched stone bridge.
However when we get there I don’t see a good angle from which to paint it.
I separate from my family and continue further down the river and past the bridge looking for possible subjects and taking photos where I think there is a scene that might make for a good painting.
I only find about one or two possible good scenes. One of the photos I take is of a more modern bridge. Although it is not very beautiful it just looked visually interesting at that time of the day with the dramatic shadows. Also, the dramatic angles of the bridge and the buildings made it a good subject to paint and I’m really happy with the painting I did below of this bridge.
When I come back I take a few photos of the stone bridge that might lead to a good painting. And I did eventually paint a picture of the bridge. It works because of the beautiful evening light and silhouette effect.
Then, I meet my family and we all have an ice cream.
We slowly walk back up the street. I lag behind my family, though, looking for subjects to paint and become separated from them once again. I come across interesting looking side streets with glimpses of evening sunlit drenched rice fields and decide to explore one of them.
As I go up the side street I soon find myself in amongst the rice fields. And now with the sun setting, these fields look beautiful and the atmosphere is wonderful. Below is one of the paintings I did of these fields.
I walk back towards the car. As I go up the main street I take a few pictures and this leads to the painting below. The streets are very quiet now as most of the tourists have gone home and the sky is a warm orange and there are long cool blue shadows creeping along the ground.
When I get to the car nobody is there. There is only one other car in the parking lot. I wait a short while then have a look around for my wife and daughter. There is almost nobody around.
I decide to make use of the time and walk up a side street just to see if there is one more interesting scene that could make a good painting. This is when I come across the scene below.
Although I see quite a few interesting scenes I don’t see anything else that is paintworthy and slowly make my way back to the car.
I check my cell phone and find out that my wife has taken our daughter to a park where she is blowing bubbles.
Eventually they come back and we drive home.
The sun is now getting close to the horizon and the sky is beautiful.
I take some photos and these later lead to the paintings below.
I am particularly happy with this last one because although it is just a car park the contrast of warm and cold and the interesting shapes make what is really a mundane scene into something rather beautiful.
In writing about Akitsuki I feel some retreat that I didn’t painting a picture of the Samurai house but it just wasn’t a subject that I could turn into a good painting, perhaps the fault is with me. The building was beautiful but I just couldn’t turn it into a painting – or the shrine for that matter.
Maybe another time.
I strongly recommend you go to this village and enjoy the experience of old Japan.