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Landscape in Kurokawa Onsen: a hot spring town in Kumamoto Prefecture -1

2016.02.25

I had an opportunity to travel to Kyusyu region recently, and dropped by Kurokawa Onsen, which I had been desperate to visit. When I took contact with Mr.Tetsu Tokunaga who has taken part in the landscape project of this town for advise for visit, he kindly offered me a guided tour.

We met up at Fukuoka airport and moved to Kurokawa Onsen. We passed by Hida City. The city still retained the tranquil and peaceful ambiance, which I felt when I engaged in a master-planning project of this town. This kind of scenery with range of mountains and a river flowing quietly through the town evokes Japanese people’s nostalgia.

Tsuetate Onsen, another town on our way before destination has more than 30 hot spring hotels in a narrow valley. I have a criticism in the landscape design for unbalanced proportion of volumes of buildings to its setting.A set of architecture and bridge constructed as a part of Kumamoto Artpolis project does sit uncomfortably in the townscape of Tsuetate Onsen, and the degradation of those structures could be observed.

Another hot spring town, Manganji Onsen is not a tourist destination so that local people think hot spring is not for commercial use but for daily use, Mr.Tokunaga told me.

Meanwhile we were approaching Kurokawa Onsen. The main route to the town, National route 442 was filled with traffic. This journey to enter the town is worth to describe; there is neither gate nor sign at entrance but still it is inviting people somehow. This wordless signage of town entrance reminds me of the philosophy of minimalism ‘less is more.’ The path heading down to the valley also has some temptation to drag people into the valley.

The size of the town is smaller than I imagined from outside, with range of land levels, and couple of observation platforms where people can enjoy the panoramas of the valley. Buildings are divided into small segments and oriented in the different directions to fit into the narrow valley. This allows buildings merging inseparably into the total natural picture.

There is no undesirable element in the scenery in terms of color and forms with nicely designed sloped roofs, warm texture of wood, earth colored wall. Also the usage of black wooden boards bringing unity and coziness of handmade architectures to the whole townscape. Thanks to human scale of the town, people seem to relax everywhere in the town, on the bench, or street.

In addition, planting contributes to the unity of the landscape. There is efficiency in plantings even filling narrow spaces such as gaps between roads and buildings. For instance, there is a combination of tall deciduous tree which bottom branches are cut off and evergreen shrub such as Pieris japonica screening at its bottom. The volume of green at canopy level and eye level are balanced genuinely. As twenty years have past since planting, there is a maturity of the nature.

Unfortunately, we could not make it to the best autumn color season. I think revisit in the spring would be also good with the shining fresh green leaves swaying in the breeze.

Yoshiki Toda

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