In late-April 2016 the author of this blog, a longtime American expatriate and Kyoto-based Japanese cinema historian, thought to buy an old farmhouse located somewhere beyond the city, of the busiest, most bustling tourist destinations on earth. Initially, the plan was to fix it up a bit rent it out as a guesthouse for domestic and foreign travelers, while also using it for the occasional weekend getaway for my Japanese wife, Yukiyo, our eight-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Sadie, and me.

Kurama 2
Kurama, with the temple steps visible in the distance

Yukiyo, a native of the remote southern Japanese island of Amami Oshima, had lived in Kyoto since junior high school, but had never ventured beyond what most Kyotoites think of as the city’s northernmost border, Kurama, a small hamlet famous for its temple and onsen (hot springs). Look at any city map of Kyoto and Kurama will be at the top, just as Iwakura, the northern suburb where we live now, topped maps 40 years earlier.

Kurama’s onsen is, in fact, the last frontier of anything resembling Kyoto City, even though technically the city extends far beyond that, for miles and miles to the north. Once past the onsen, however, the already narrow road instantly becomes little more than a 1¼ lanes-wide service road and one is suddenly thrown headlong into a rich forest. Once past the Kyoto Bus Line’s turnaround substation, it’s up and over the mountain through a series of hairpin turns until one reaches Hanase.

To call Hanase a village would be overstating it. A village of perhaps fewer than 50 homes, I’d guess that a third of these were occupied by year-round residents, one-third as summer vacation homes, and one-third abandoned or otherwise unoccupied. There is no gas station, no convenience stores, and no nighttime restaurants. A one-time grocery store, A-Coop, was converted into a community center. There’s a city building, a fire station, a public school system but little else.

Hanase is really several clusters of homes, the largest weaving through the single winding road in and out of the area to the south, a smaller one in the “center” of town, and a third, less-defined occasional grouping of homes to the north. Beyond that lies Hirogawara and its ski resort and, further still, the village of Miyama, moderately famous and quite stunning for its community of restored thatch-straw roofed houses.

The minka that would be my great escape into the Hanase Mountains lay on the northern outskirts of already intensely rural Hanase.

We met the realtor, a typical Japanese businessman of 50, minutes after we arrived. And then he unlocked the enormous, 200-year-old nouka minka, a traditional country house, built by a wealthy lumber merchant when samurai still roamed the land.

Outside - Street view of house 2

It was dirty, dilapidated, mice-infested, teaming with mildew – and I fell in love with it at once: its 18-foot ceilings; its huge pine-log framework, assembled without the use of a single nail; its roof of intricately thatched straw; its centuries-old okudosan (wood-burning oven); its six bedrooms (two originally servants’ quarters), that later would accommodate up to 20-some guests; its kura, a fireproof vault-like standalone structure once used to lock away the family’s silver and gold; and its long and spacious engawa (deck) overlooking the Katsura River and the mountains beyond.

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Unoccupied for the past five years, the place was structurally sound but superficially a disaster. There were mice droppings on the worn tatami (straw floor mats), ash and mildew on the gigantic crossbeams, broken windows, ripped shoji screens. There were cracks in the wood where light from outside peeked through.

The price of the house included much adjacent land, primarily a large open space east of the house where a large storage building, also dating back to 1810, had once stood, and two big plots of farm land upstream northwest of the house.

Clearly, to make it livable the house required an enormous amount of work, but the asking price struck me as unbelievably cheap: USD $50,000. By the time we had returned home, I was, already, eager to call the realtor to tell him we wanted it.

Author: stuartgalbraithiv

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian, writer, and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. He is the author of seven books, including The Emperor and the Wolf (Faber & Faber, 2002), the joint-biography of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune hailed by Martin Scorsese as "a must read." Peter Biskind, in The New York Times Book Review, called it "a rare feast for lovers of Japanese cinema [and] a monumental job of research . . . infused throughout with an affection for its subjects that is contagious. Best of all, it does what all good film books should do: returns us, with an enriched appreciation, to the movies themselves." "One of the best industrial histories of Japanese cinema available in English," adds Catherine Russell of Cineaste. And Bill Kelley, in The Sarasota Herald Tribune, had this to say: "Not many film books deserve to have the adjective 'extraordinary' applied to them, but Stuart Galbraith's The Emperor and the Wolf is nothing less than that. In fact, it's more . . . this 823-page achievement wants to be all things to all admirers of its twin subjects, and, incredibly, it succeeds. Reference work, scrupulously thorough filmography, exhaustive biography - all are here . . . A graceful, economical writer, [Galbraith] is also a first-rate critic and film historian. [The Emperor and the Wolf] is a wonder of clarity and organization, and an enormous pleasure to read . . . [a] magnificent book." Galbraith's other books include Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo: The Incredible World of Japanese Fantasy Films (Feral House, 1998), The Japanese Filmography (McFarland & Co., 1996), Motor City Marquees (McFarland, 1994), and Japanese Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films (McFarland, 1994). In 2007, Galbraith's The Toho Studios Story, was published by Scarecrow, while his latest, Japanese Cinema, was published by Taschen in 2009. From 2004-2009, Galbraith wrote a monthly column for Japan's Daily Yomiuri on Region 2/Japanese DVDs. Within the home video field, Galbraith has written essays for Criterion's three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and Blu-ray, Optimum's Rashomon, BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel and Subkultur's The Long Good Friday. He provided audio commentaries for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto - The Ultimate Samurai and Tora-san, editing the accompanying booklet for the latter. A commentary recorded (with Steve Ryfle) for Godzilla vs. Megalon but suppressed and aborted due to legal problems became an instant collector's item. In 2011, he co-produced Message from Earth, a short documentary on the making of Kinji Fukasaku's Message from Space. In 2015, Galbraith recorded an audio commentary and wrote and produced a new short documentary, Rashomon at 65, for the British Film Institute's Blu-ray of Kurosawa's 1950 classic. Concurrently, he served as an consultant on Oscar-winning director Steven Okazaki's documentary feature, Mifune - Last Samurai (2015). Also in 2015 Galbraith wrote an essay for Arrow Video's The Happiness of the Katakuris, shot interview material and provided an audio commentary for their Battles without Honor and Humanity boxed set. He was an associate producer for the DVDs of the classic poolroom drama The Hustler and Sidney Lumet's The Verdict. He provided audio commentary (with director Richard Fleischer) for the Special Edition DVD of Tora! Tora! Tora! (all for 20th Century-Fox), and interviewed Oscar-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond for his audio commentary track for The Sadist. Galbraith also contributed commentary tracks to The Horror of Hammer and Tales of Frankenstein, all for All Day Entertainment. Galbraith's audio commentary for Classic Media's Invasion of Astro-Monster was released in 2007 and nomiated for a Rondo Hatton Award. Holding a Master's Degree from the University of Southern California's prestigious School of Cinema-Television, Galbraith worked as an archivist and researcher at both Warner Bros. and M-G-M. At Warner Bros., Galbraith implemented preservation projects and procedures at both its USC-Warner Bros. Archives and the Warner Bros. Corporate Image Archives. At M-G-M, Galbraith worked as a "film detective," tracking down the original camera negatives to more than three dozen "lost" films. Born in 1965 in Detroit, Michigan, Galbraith was a film critic for the Ann Arbor News, a daily newspaper. In addition to writing film reviews and feature stories, Galbraith also wrote a weekly column, "Video View," which ran from 1990-1993. Between books, Galbraith wrote for such film magazines as Filmfax, Outre, and the French film magazine HK Orient Extreme Cinema. Since 2003 he has lived in Kyoto, Japan with his wife, Yukiyo, and their daughter, Sadie.

One thought on “Preface”

  1. Thank you for sharing all of this – the story, the photos. Best of luck with everything, and I look forward to continuing to read about it, as it develops!


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