Itsuki Mura, a village located in the southern part of Kumamoto Prefecture, was for many years like a number of other rural villages in Japan – a successful, self-sufficient community of farmers tending to their rice paddies, livestock and fresh produce. Then, in 1966 Their whole world was turned upside down when the local authorities announced that a dam would be erected in the center of the village, displacing almost half of the 3000 person population. Those who would lose their homes, livelihood and land would be moved to a new part of the village that was going to be constructed in time for work on the dam.
Naturally, the community in the village were devastated, many feeling a strong sense of betrayal and distrust towards those who were so quick to decide the fate of their beloved home for generations. Some refused to be rehomed in a complex of new-builds and opted to leave the village altogether, others begrudgingly accepted their fate and agreed to allow the proposals for the new dam to go ahead. A small group of individuals however, who were passionate about the heritage and history of the village refused to budge and protested the making of the dam for weeks, months and then years. They argued that the creation of the dam would all but kill off a community that had been fostered over generations of hard work, and many years of local industry.
Unfortunately, the local authorities went ahead with plans to flatten the area in question, taking down not only people’s homes, but also decimating large chunks of forest to make way for the infrastructure of the dam.
Even when their homes were reduced to little more than piles of rubble, the group continued their protesting, with one man refusing to leave his home even. His was the only house not demolished in the end.
The oldest house in Itsuki Mura, now open for you to check out up close
One small consolation with the new builds, is that they were built in a style that respects both Japanese architecture and traditions
After many years of protests and meetings with officials at the town hall, the group finally won their battle and plans for the dam were halted. But a large chunk of the village had already been destroyed, and large swathes of the community were now living elsewhere.
The group in question took it upon themselves to try and rebuild their community, and set out in attempting to entice those that had left, and others, back to Itsuki Mura. The end goal was (and still is) to get the village back up on its feet, to attract people from different areas to visit and stabilize the local economy again.
One young couple who are at the forefront of this regeneration effort are Nozomi and Masaki.
Nozomi and Masaki
Nozomi works at the town hall organizing programs where young people from around Japan can come to Itsuki Mura and do a range of internships with local businesses – the students can learn not only about life in rural Japan, but also about local revitalization and help play a part in rebuilding Itsuki Mura. Her partner, Masaki, has recently opened a café/restaurant in an attempt to reignite tourism in the area, his café is located opposite the entrance to a picturesque park and waterfall, a place that was once bustling with visitors from out of town, before the troubles with the proposed dam scared them all away.
Shirataki Park and its emerald green water
Local families enjoying the peaceful setting of Shirataki Park
The café – Café Minamoto – is a smart-looking, yet laidback place with somewhat of a hip atmosphere. The wooden interior offers a cozy environment to locals and out-of-towners alike. They serve a number of hot and cold drinks and a simple yet very tasty selection of cooked dishes, including deer curry, deer burgers and shiitake mushroom bolognaise. All ingredients are locally sourced, from farmers in the area.
Café Minamoto is located exactly opposite the entrance to Shirataki Park
The warm, wooden interior of Café Minamoto
Curry made with the meat of local deer
Shiitake Mushroom Bolognaise
As well as the food and drink on offer on the menu, Café Minamoto also sell a selection of goods that have been produced by the local community, including marmalades and other condiments, homemade salad dressings, freshly picked shiitake mushrooms, and other local produce from the village.
And they are of course open for drinks and light snacks too, including a selection of locally made cakes and desserts!
Local produce on sale at Minamoto Café
Nozomi and Masaki have an obvious passion for Itsuki Mura and their quest to put it firmly back on the map is infectious! They are working tirelessly to build links and connections with the surrounding community, and almost all of the food served at their café is from within the community itself. Having grown up in Itsuki Mura, Nozomi is in a great position to help leverage the connection between new start-ups in the area and the older generation of farmers. Coming from a family of farmers herself she feels a deep connection to the agricultural community and involves those that were part of her upbringing as much as possible.
Relatives of Nozomi in the fields farming their vegetables
If you’d like to visit Minamoto Café yourself, you can find it located right opposite Shirataki Park in Itsuki Mura. Full address and location details can be found at the bottom of this page.
Nozomi and Masaki at Minamoto Café
Another initiative that has recently popped up in the village is Itsuki Keiryu Villa, a fun and relaxing getaway located in the center of the village, close to where the dam was due to be erected. The idea behind this place is to give visitors from other parts of Japan a place to stay when they visit Itsuki Mura, or a reason to visit in the first place!
Keiryu Villa has six wooden cottages dotted along the side of the river that would have fed the dam with water. The cottages are self-contained with bedrooms, living space and a private outdoor patio.
An overview of Itsuki Keiryu Villa
One of the guest cottages at Keiryu Villa
Inside a bedroom at Keiryu Villa
A glamping tent on the patio at Keiryu Villa
Inside a glamping tent at Keiryu Villa
Most of the cottages come with a “glamping” tent outside, adding a fun twist to any experience at Keiryu Villa, or perhaps offering mum and dad a bit of peace and quiet from the kids!
Speaking of kids, there is plenty to keep them entertained at Keiryu Villa, including a fairly beginner-friendly bouldering wall, a pump track for bmx bikes and also clear bottom canoes that can be taken out in the river behind the cottages if the weather and other conditions allow.
Clear bottom Canoeing at Keiryu Villa
If you’re feeling brave, you can test your skills on the pump track at Keiryu Villa
And for those guests who don’t fancy testing the limits of their physical abilities quite so much, other activities include bird watching and star gazing!
The comfortable and welcoming reception area at Keiryu Villa
The comfortable and welcoming reception area at Keiryu Villa
Check out Itsuki Mura yourself using the link at the bottom of this page. You will also find location and contact details down there too.
Located just behind Keiryu Villa is another new attraction to Itsuki Mura – not one for the feint of heart either…
Yup! As the picture above suggests, Itsuki Mura is now home to an enthusiastic group of bungee jumpers, who are waiting to share their adrenaline-fueled adventures with visitors to the village!
Having recently set up shop in the village the folk at Bungee Japan are going to new heights to help place Itsuki Mura firmly on the map, with the intention of drawing thrill seekers from across the country.
They are of course fully trained professionals who will coach any interested parties through the whole experience. So, whether you are a seasoned bungee jumper or a complete beginner, this is an excellent place to get your fix of tall places and big jumps!
Check their website and location information below.
Historia Terrace Itsukidani
Sadly, there’s not a huge amount to see from the old village due to the demolition of many parts for the dam, there is however, a folk museum dedicated to telling the story of the village with a host of historical items on display.
Historia Terrace Itsukidani
There is little information in English, but one can see a variety of artifacts that survived the bulldozing of the village, including tools that were used in the fields by the farmers, treasures that were found by an archeological team when the preparation for dam construction was underway, and examples of items that were found in some of the demolished houses.
Examples of how people in the village used to live
Archeological finds displayed at Historia Terrace Itsukidani
Inside Historia Terrace Itsukidani
The museum also has a well-equipped play area for kids and a simple café serving hot and cold dishes, and drinks.
You can find information on the location of Historia Terrace Itsukidani below.
LINKS TO ALL PLACES HERE (HOMEPAGE AND LOCATION INFORMATION