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Take a tour around the quaint town known for its unique “namako-kabe” buildings and explore the sightseeing spots of Matsuzaki, a peaceful port town in Nishi Izu! (Part I)

Located in the southwestern part of the Izu Peninsula, Matsuzaki is a port town known for its unique namako walls. “Namako-kabe” (meaning “sea cucumber walls”) is a traditional Japanese style of wall painting made by using earthen plaster. Matsuzaki, where such namako walls have a strong presence in the city both practically and as art, is filled with amazing sights fit in a compact area, making it a perfect place for a leisurely stroll while enjoying the townscape. Here, we will introduce the highlights of the town in two parts.

First, the Meiji Era Mercantile House, Nakase Residence, which still retains a trace of its past

Our first stop is the Nakase Residence, a Meiji era mercantile house featuring a clock tower with an eye-catching, impactful design. Located next to a municipal parking lot, it also serves as the Izu Peninsula Geopark Visitor Center, tourist information center, and rest area that is free of charge, making it an ideal starting point for your trip.

Look out for the “Tachibana” family crest, which can be found on the building’s noren (curtain), on the indoor pillars and kamoi (a narrow piece of wood that passes over the sliding doors and around an entire Japanese-style room).
Enjoy the interesting subtle details such as the skylight windows and the retro locks.

[Meiji Era Mercantile House, Nakase Residence] https://www.town.matsuzaki.shizuoka.jp/docs/2016111800024/

Discover the art scattered throughout the town in the form of trowel paintings and a series of retro buildings

After taking a tour of the residence, let’s start our journey through the town. In contrast to the chic colors of the Nakase Residence, the novel exterior and colorful interior of the clock tower catches the eye, as the shutters of our cameras are already in a continuous state of shooting.

The clock tower built was built in 1924. If you look closely, you can even see the number “13” engraved in the unusual design.
The Tokiwa Bridge located over the Nakagawa River that cuts through the town.
The 30-meter-long namako wall bridge railing is a typical sight in the town of Matsuzaki.

This is in fact a trowel painting using plaster, which is used for namako walls. It is said that plasterers who painted the namako walls began to decorate them as a small token of appreciation to the homeowners who ordered them. The town of Matsuzaki is also known as the birthplace of Chohachi Irie, a master plasterer.

The streets are dotted with spots where visitors can stop to admire the cute tile walls, retro wooden framed glass windows, and other traditional style houses. We also discovered a stylish wall reminiscent of the Beatles’ famous album cover, which made it difficult to get to our next destination. This is the kind of fun that you can only enjoy when walking around.

Be careful when touring the area, as some of the houses are actually used as personal residences.
There is also a mouse peeping through somewhere in the wall art.

Take a close look at the beautiful namako walls

One of Matsuzaki’s most iconic landscapes is the Namako-kabe Street. This building, which is where Kondo Heizaburo, a legendary Japanese pharmaceutical scholar and a native of Matsuzaki, was born, was built at the end of the Edo period, and offers visitors a close-up look at the namako walls preserved in excellent condition.

It is rare to see such a staggering namako wall even in Matsuzaki.
In Matsuzaki, “shihan-meji” tiles, which are laid diagonally, were often used because they offered great drainage.

Namako walls have excellent fire resistance, heat retention, and moisture retention properties and they feel pleasantly cool to the touch. It is said that the larger the plaster build-up, the more luxurious it is, so it will be fun to compare various walls to see the differences.

[Namako-kabe Street]

Look up at “Unryu” (Dragon and Clouds), an emotion-filled artwork by Chohachi Irie at the Chohachi Art Museum (Jokanji Temple).

After taking a full tour of the namako walls, we decided to visit the temple where Chohachi Irie, a master trowel artist, spent his childhood.

Chohachi Irie studied at Jokanji Temple, which was also a temple school, and at the age of 12, he became an apprentice to a master plasterer, and later, at the age of 23, he went to Edo to study under a master of the Kano school of painting, and at the same time, he refined his skills as a sculptor. By applying these techniques to the art of plaster, Chohachi was able to create a completely unique art form.

Here you can see “Unryu,” a painting of a white dragon on the ceiling of the main temple building. This work by Chohachi Irie was painted as a way of repaying a debt of gratitude for the reconstruction of Jokanji Temple, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of Matsuzaki at the end of the Edo period.

The dragon is said to have a different expression when viewed from the each of the four round pillars at the four corners of the hall, and the way it appears is different for each person.

The dragon is said to bring rain clouds, and one can sense Chohachi’s wish that a fire would never occur again. The series of works by Chohachi, which incorporate vivid colors and various techniques that cannot be reproduced even today, are also must-see attractions.

When the sun rises or sets, the color of the dragon’s eyes sparkle depending on the direction of the sunlight.
“Hiten” (heavenly beings) are painted both sides of the “Unryu”. The three-dimensional effect appears to change depending on the exposure to the sun.

During the tour, visitors are given a 20-minute detailed explanation (in Japanese) of the works and the temple. Looking at the works after listening to the explanation doubles the enjoyment. The more you learn about the thought and skill that goes into the work, the more you’ll be impressed.

The sculpture by Hanbei Ishida at the entrance of the temple’s main hall is also an amazing work of art.

[Chohachi Memorial Hall (Jokanji Temple)] https://chouhachi-mh.izu-westwind.net/

Take your time to appreciate the stunning works of Chohachi Irie at the Izu Chohachi Art Museum

We also visited the Izu Chohachi Art Museum to see more of the works of Chohachi Irie, who loved Matsuzaki.

The building, which won the Isoya Yoshida Award, known as the Akutagawa Prize for architecture, is the culmination of the techniques of plasterers from all over the country.

This museum was opened in 1984 to disseminate the achievements of Chohachi Irie and the allure of plastering techniques. The impressive building, designed by architect Osamu Ishiyama, is said to have been built by skilled plasterers from all over Japan who contributed their techniques without hesitation, and the building alone is worth seeing.

The museum houses approximately 50 of Chohachi Irie’s most famous works. Some of the works were cut from the interior walls of the former Iwashina Town Office located in the Iwashina district of the town, and the delicate workmanship should be viewed carefully through a magnifying glass. The more you look at them, the more it’s hard to believe they are painted with a trowel.

It is truly amazing how the plastering technique has been refined into works of art.
Magnifying glasses are available in the museum for viewing the exhibits.

[Izu Chohachi Art Museum]

Summary of Part I

We were able to fully appreciate the namako walls and the works of Chohachi Irie, and were completely enchanted by the tranquil atmosphere of the town. We’ll continue this nostalgic walk through Matsuzaki that will make you forget about your busy life.

👇Click here for Part II

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