How A Tokyo Resident Found Fulfillment In Rural Japan

How a Tokyo resident found fulfillment in rural JapanLike many rural communities with a dwindling population, Nanmoku opens its arms to visitors--and one, in particular.
That person is Yuki Iwama, who first visited the village in 2009, fell in love with the place and kept coming back.

Eventually, she opened a seasonal coffee shop business here based on her Chottoshita Cafe (just a little cafe) in Tokyo's Nerima Ward, where she lives with her parents.

Iwama, 33, first visited Nanmoku through a program set up by a nonprofit organization to study local farming operations.

She stayed five days and was quickly enchanted by the lifestyle and the elderly folk whose lives were so intertwined with their natural surroundings.

"I found something new I liked about Nanmoku every time I visited," Iwama said. "Before long, I just wanted to work here."

That was easier said than done because of the small business she started on the first floor of a friend's house in Tokyo in 2008. She had previously learned pastry skills in a culinary school and worked in a sweet shop.

The tug of Nanmoku kept pulling on Iwama. Eventually, she came up with the idea of opening a summertime cafe in the village as a way of escaping the sweltering months in Tokyo.

With her eco-friendly philosophy, air conditioners are not an option for Iwama.

In August 2013, Iwama closed her cafe in Nerima Ward temporarily and returned to Nanmoku, which has a population of 2,200.

With the help of village friends, she found an old house and turned it into the summertime cafe of her dreams. She was put up in a house provided by the local government to lure visitors to the village.

Iwama ran the cafe until late September and then returned home to Tokyo.

This summer, she moved her cafe in Nanmoku to the premises of a school that closed years ago. She opened for business on July 20 and will keep going until Oct. 5.

Iwama has let nothing go to waste in the old wooden building that served as the Ozawa junior high school. Customers sit at the school desks left behind. She uses the blackboard to write down the special menu of the day that uses local specialties. They include strawberry ground cherry and yellow peach shortcake and "yuzu" citrus fruit squash by the glass.

"Over time, I want to center my life around Nanmoku," she said.

Saijo Hasegawa, the 61-year-old village mayor who is a regular customer, said: "I really wish there were more people like Iwama. She lives here for only a few months of the year, but has a deep interest in our village. Nanmoku will be able to survive if people like her continue to exist."