Stucco plasterers of the world – watch out!
I have promised you proof that the Tottori prefecture (鳥取県 / とっとりけん) is worth more than just a visit. And here is another piece of it:
Everyone who has been to villages and towns in southern Bavaria (Germany) has seen quite something of stucco and the so called “Lueftelmalerei” (can someone translate that for me?) – and, yes, I know there is stucco and “Lueftelmalerei” outside Bavaria as well. But who would have expected something gorgeous like that in Japan, apart from the rather baroque temples and shrines of Nikkō (日光 / にっこう)?
Click the miniatures to open a slide show.
Nevertheless, during the course of the centuries a very particular form of Japanese stucco has been developed. It is called “kote-e” (鏝絵 / こてえ) which could literally be translated with “trowel painting” – and that’s what it actually is. Its origin may date back more than 2,000 years, when the first techniques for covering walls with plaster were engineered. During the Edo period the plastering of walls (mainly erected from natural fiber and wood) was largely promoted in order to support the fire resistance of buildings.
Applying ornamental decoration to the walls – mostly the exterior walls of buildings – became something of a fashion, particularly for those who felt compelled to show the world how rich they were. One of the characteristics of kote-e is, that it largely consists of symbols of luck and prosperity.
The use of colours is – even in our days – rather restricted, but only as far as the number of different colours is concerned. Otherwise kote-e are mostly gorgeously colorful, while being limited to the traditional base colours: red, vermilion, blue, yellow, ochre and black.
That doesn’t just look pretty, it sometimes even has very practical and profane purposes. Have a look at the “wave”-design on the roof below. It actually does represent a stylised wave, hence: water. And its purpose is to protect the building from fire. Naturally, one has to have imperturbable faith, to make it work…
In the Mitsu (光 / みつ) district of Kotoura (琴浦町 / ことうらちょう), which you can see here, the traditional art of kote-e has been cultivated for a long time and is being continued as a kind of means to make the village more attractive. There is virtually no building in Mitsu that would do without a piece of ornamental adornment. The old store houses (倉 / くら) are the ones that have been decorated most lavishly.
The genealogy of the kote-e masters of Mitsu goes back to the early years of the Meiji era:
- Shōzou Toyoshima (豊島庄蔵 / とよしましょうぞう) 1878 to 1968
- Teiichi Yoshida (吉田貞一 / よしだていいち) 1900 to 1985
- Katsushige Yoshida (吉田勝重 / よしだかつしげ) born in 1928(the oldest son of Teiichi Yoshida)
- Sadao Noguchibara (野口原貞夫 / のぐちばらさだお) born in 1931
As you can see: You don’t have to travel all the way to the Ōita prefecture (大分県 / おおいたけん), which is said to feature particularly many places with kote-e. Tottori offers just the same – and even in an utterly un-touristic environment. The photographs you can see here were all taken at Kotoura, Tottori.
There is another interesting feature you can discover in Mitsu: There is a – mostly subterranean – stream flowing through the village. This flow of fresh water is also diverted into open pools in front of many houses and used for e.g. washing fruits and cleaning vegetables.
Close the the southern outskirts of the village you will find a small museum that features items (stencils, patterns, tools etc.) that are being used for kote-e. You can learn quite a bit about the craftsmanship of the local stucco masters.
How to get there:
Take the JR San’in main line (JR山陰本線 / さんいんほんせん) that runs between the cities of Tottori (鳥取 / とっとり) and Yonago (米子 / よなご) to Akasaki station (赤崎 / あかさき). This is, by the way, the same line on which you can reach Kurayoshi (倉吉 / くらよし).
Mitsu is located 1.8 km southwest of Akasaki station at the prefectural road no. 30 (県道30号線 / けんどう３０ごうせん) and can be reached e.g. by taxi. For the current schedule of regular taxis please have a look at this website (which was current when this posting was made) – or just treat yourself to a little walk…
Should you wish to obtain a guided tour of Mitsu (which is, unfortunately, only available in Japanese for the time being), please have a look at the local tourist office’s website:
By the way, I could not find any restaurant or coffee shop in Mitsu when I visited it.
Should you wish to learn more about the fascinating Tottori prefecture, why don’t you also have a look at the following:
– The town of white walls and red roofs
Tottori Sand Museum (砂の美術館)
-Travel Around the World in Sand
Tottori: Sand Dunes (鳥取砂丘)
– The Sahara, in the middle of Japan?
Tottori Folk Crafts Museum (鳥取民芸美術館)
– Have a look and be amazed – thanks to Shōya Yoshida
Tottori: Wakasa (鳥取･若桜)
– A gem, hidden in the mountains