‘Stories from Kameoka’ is an art project that was started during an artist in residence program in Kameoka at Artists’ Retreat No-Mu (January-February 2019).
By painting the portraits of residents of Kameoka and telling their stories, ‘Stories from Kameoka’ tries to capture the spirit of this beautiful rural city, just a mere 30 minute drive from well-known neighbouring city Kyoto. Challenges that Kameoka and its residents are facing - such as the issue of akiya (abandoned houses) - paint a more comprehensive view of life in rural Japan.
Combined with landscape paintings and my own impressions, ‘Stories from Kameoka’ is also an ode to the normal everyday life in a small Japanese city. The paintings and stories are in this sense also a reflection on the beauty of the (extra)ordinary.
You can view the paintings below, the text accompanying this art project is currently being written and will be added on this page later. For a feeling of Kameoka and the artist in residency, click here to read the blogs I wrote while living in Kameoka.
Portrait of Anna Namikawa, 2019, from the series 'Stories from Kameoka' (Kameoka Monogatari). 18 x 24 cm, aquarel on Fabriano 200 gram cold press watercolour paper.
Portrait of Yasuhito Shimizu, 2019, from the series 'Stories from Kameoka' (Kameoka Monogatari). 18 x 24 cm, aquarel on Fabriano 200 gram cold press watercolour paper.
Portrait of Go Naito, 2019, from the series 'Stories from Kameoka' (Kameoka Monogatari). 18 x 24 cm, aquarel on Fabriano 200 gram cold press watercolour paper.
Go Naito 内藤豪 (b. 1995)
‘’Kameoka is like a white paper. You can draw what you want to do. Kameoka is not yet ‘done’. What I am doing now is drawing something into that white paper.’’
COFFEE LOVER “At first, - until about eighteen years old-, I did not really love Kameoka. I wanted to go to another place. One that fit me better. To do something that I want to do.
At a young age I became interested in plants. That is why I decided to go to agriculture high school. But learning how to mix soil and using math, this was not really fun and also hard. I thought ‘maybe this is my hobby?’. I found out what I wanted to do professionally when I was fifteen years old. I passed by coffee roaster ‘Café Time’ in Kameoka. Outside there was a logo of a coffee bean. I thought ‘What the hell is this store? The logo is a seed?’. I went inside filled with curiosity. I was not a coffee lover but it looked so cool: they were selling seeds to people and getting money? I could not believe that this is actually a job.
What really caught my interest was that all the coffee beans looked the same but tasted completely different. Because it looks the same you have to be really professional. From a young age I had been searching for something that I could do professionally. Also there was this connection with my botanical interest. The espresso machine to me is like a motorcycle. I was always interested in design and the machine is like art. So I thought this is perfect, ‘let’s do this’. I bought a home espresso machine when I was fifteen and started to do latte art. The first time was so terrible, it did not taste good. ”
LEAVING KAMEOKA “Now I had a goal: learning all about coffee. The owner at coffee roaster ‘Café Time’ told me that I should learn English if I wanted to work in the coffee industry: ‘The way to coffee – the gate- will open for you’. I was not really interested in English at the time. But now I wanted to go to Vancouver, to learn English and experience the latest coffee culture. I worked 10 months straight after finishing high school to save money. My plan was to work in Canada and not return to Japan.
I went to English school for three months in Canada. I graduated from the lowest class. My English level was almost the same as junior high school student. Thankfully I got a job at a coffee shop. But I was fired two days later. I was not confident enough to talk to the customers. The reason was actually not my English level, but my own confidence. After that, I got a job as a dishwasher at another coffee shop. But there I was also fired, after three months. I lost my self-confidence.
But then, -it was not my plan-, I applied to a Japanese food truck company. I met a lot of Japanese people whose English level was much worse than mine. I could not believe it. ‘Is it ok to talk to a customer, with that level of English?!’. I got self-confidence again and could enjoy the last half year of my working holiday in Canada.”
RETURNING TO KAMEOKA “The fact that I left Kameoka, my birthplace, and now lived in some really fashionable city, it was not a good feeling. I think that young people are not confident to live in Kameoka because people are really passive. They are just waiting for things to change for the better. I felt like I had escaped.
In this period I also travelled to see some coffee shops in Canada. There’s a lot of coffee shops and the quality and design is so much higher than in Japan. I really liked the city of Portland: not too urban, not too countryside. People there are very creative and have their own stores. I felt that I can change Kameoka City to be more like Portland. I wanted to something for Kameoka before I die. I want to be a person that changes things and makes them better. Finally I realized that I don't need to move. Everything I need is already in Kameoka City.”
CHANGING KAMEOKA “Looking at cities like Kyoto, Seattle and Vancouver: these cities are already ‘done’. You can just watch. But Kameoka is like a white paper. You can draw what you want to do. What I am doing now is drawing something into that white paper.
Kameoka to me is essential. It is where I live. Thinking of Kameoka, I think Kameoka is a bit of an outsider. It is close to Kyoto city and part of Kyoto prefecture. But ‘Kyoto’ is like a big brand right? We do not feel like Kyoto people.
I think Kameoka is a very rich city. There are mountains, it is affordable, there are beautiful rice paddies and also very tasty water. Which is also good for coffee. I also like the emptiness of Kameoka. Living in an urban city, you cannot really enjoy a simple walk. There is noise, there are dirty smells. I do not want to use my time outside for only ‘door to door’ transportation. In Kameoka I can enjoy the nature and the seasons.
I want to change some things, but not everything. Kameoka has a lot of good points. I became involved with Kamejin project (*a film about Kameoka, in which Go Naito plays one of the leading roles) because I was writing about the bad points of Kameoka on my Twitter account. Anna (*Anna Namikawa, see other portrait in this series) saw my tweets and sent me a message. She worked for Kameoka H-shopping street. Café Time where I worked was also part of H-Shopping Street. Through Anna I became involved in the Kamejin filmproject. It was a really nice experience, an experience not many people can have.”
OVERCOMING OBSTACLES “People think I am a quiet person, but my brain is so noisy. Since two years I work in a kitchen. Working in the kitchen is actually more difficult than living in a foreign country. It is very difficult for me to do multiple tasks at the same time. I cannot understand how people do this. I chose this place, but this workplace does not fit me. However, I feel like I should not escape this problem.
I have ADHD. I think that I can never do the same quality of work as the people that have a quiet brain. It is probably impossible, I think. It was really a shock for me when a young person started at my workplace and grew to my level in just four months. I am doing the work so seriously, it is really difficult. However, I found a pattern to control my brain: perfect preparation . Not only in the workplace, but also in my private life. I prepare everything. There are so many rules in my day to do a good job. I think most people would give up. I am proud that I am continuing.”
Portrait of Fumiko Nabika, 2019, from the series 'Stories from Kameoka' (Kameoka Monogatari). 14 x 16 cm, aquarel on Fabriano 200 gram cold press watercolour paper.
Vastness, 2019, from the series 'Stories from Kameoka' (Kameoka Monogatari). 30 x 40 cm, gouache on Fabriano 200 gram cold press watercolour paper.
Abandoned building, 2019, from the series 'Stories from Kameoka' (Kameoka Monogatari). 21 x 31 cm, gouache on Fabriano 200 gram cold press watercolour paper.
Tranquillity, 2019, from the series 'Stories from Kameoka' (Kameoka Monogatari). 30 x 40 cm, gouache on Fabriano 200 gram cold press watercolour paper.