Sitting on the veranda, looking over the garden, we hear the sounds of the sea drifting on the wind from afar. The scent of wet vegetation and wet soil, freshly moistened by the rain that ceased only a short time ago, permeates the air. Rain falling on the hills trickles into streams and runs down to the ocean, where it evaporates to form clouds that bring new rain.
Each of these very ordinary steps is part of a natural cycle that’s too easily forgotten. Living on this hill just 10 minutes’ walk from the sea, Chieko Hirota experiences life with all her senses. Her decision to live in Hayama was triggered by a scene she witnessed during a visit 25 years ago.
“It was a cloudy day, but for just a moment a gap opened in the clouds and the sun shone through like a spotlight onto the sea,” she recalls. “That spectacle — people call it Jacob’s Ladder — was sublime. I’ll never forget how its beauty just took my breath away.”
Since making her home in Hayama, Hirota has found she lives with an awareness of things that are intangible yet extremely important.
“I decorate with the colors of the season, and I eat foods that are in season. I respect seasonal events and customs. Before I came here, I had forgotten many things that were common practice in Japan from ancient times. I began to want to learn more about saijiki (an almanac of seasonal words, often for haiku) — and I’m still learning now. There’s so much to it! I’ll never be finished,” she says.
Hirota works in a standalone studio named Akiya-shiki (Four Seasons of Akiya) near her house. All around her is food for study, from her veranda with its sea view to the imposing camphor tree, the mossy garden and the plants that thrive in each season throughout the year.
“When I arrange flowers, I not only cherish their beauty, but also absorb some of the strength that resides in each and every plant,” she says.
“I focus my feelings toward the life of the plants. I observe them intensely, tend them from time to time, and put my senses to work to discover the subtlest things in them. Some aspects may not be visible or tangible. But my aim is to engage all my senses deeply with the entirety of nature that surrounds me, and to delve into the ancient Japanese concept of wa, or harmony, and the rich poetic language of saijiki as it applies to me here.”
Noriko Kanzaki contributed the text for this article.