“Shiraito no Mori,” an experiential tourist farm facility, is nestled in the mountains leading to Shiraito Falls. In just five years since its opening, it has become a popular destination attracting 100,000 visitors annually. It’s surprising to learn that this completely pesticide-free farm was hand-built over 12 years by Kazuko Maeda, a restaurant owner in Itoshima City, and her husband Yukio Ogushi. Shiraito no Mori continues to evolve as a hub where “agriculture, food, and people” intersect, supported by three pillars – a Udon shop, a café, and an experiential farm for parents and children.
Kazuko Maeda is a restaurant owner, and Yukio Ogushi is a first-class architect. Why did you decide to move to the mountains?
Maeda: It all started with a TV show called “Paradise of Life” (laughs). Seeing an elderly couple living in the mountains, I was somehow inspired, thinking, “This is the way to live!” I remembered an offer I once turned down to buy a mountain, so I contacted them immediately and decided to purchase the land on the spot.
Ogushi : That was in 2011. At the time, I was on a long-term business trip to the disaster-stricken areas of the Great East Japan Earthquake as an architect. I received a phone call saying, “We’re buying a mountain” (laughs).
What did you start with after buying the mountain?
Maeda: Clearing the land. The area was an overgrown bamboo forest, so we cut bamboo by hand every day. As we also run a ramen shop near the Itoshima City Hall, we would head straight to the mountain after closing the shop and spend the nights in our car from 4 am until sunrise.
Ogushi: It was quite a feat. We managed to clear about 2000 square meters in just one year, even getting regular customers of the shop involved. I also joined the car camping after my business trip to Tohoku ended. Because our lives revolved around this, we decided to relocate and build a house here.
Does that mean you initially had no plans to start a farm?
Maeda: We hadn’t considered it at all (laughs). But once we decided to relocate, various connections fell into place. We were offered to buy an adjacent plot of land of 25,000 tsubo (approx. 82,643 square meters), we received pastry-making equipment from a closing confectionery shop, and our farming experience business was backed by the local government. Through these encounters, the three pillars of our activities emerged – “Shiraito Udon Yasuji,” “Forest Cafe Midori no Oto (Song),” and “Kids Farm.”
When you moved to the Shiraito community, was there anything you prioritized?
Ogushi: We actively participated in local events and activities. A community like this thrives on various shared tasks, such as mowing grass and cleaning ditches.
Maeda: In a nutshell, it was about our willingness to “be useful!” Shiraito is a mountainous area with about 30 households. We all relate to each other like family, so we made it a point to do whatever we could for the community.
What have you discovered since you started living here?
Ogushi: As I’m originally from Arita in Saga, the mountain scenery feels very nostalgic to me. However, I was puzzled when I viewed the entire area from the peak of Mt. Hagane, where the source of Shiraito Falls is located. The entire landscape was covered with artificial cedar and cypress forests. I was struck by how profoundly the economy had transformed the mountain.
Maeda: As I grew up in the city, I didn’t understand the difference between natural and artificial forests. I just thought, “The greenery is beautiful” (laughs).
Ogushi: More than 30 years ago, I was an architect in Tokyo during the economic bubble era. I grew disillusioned with the money-centric society and decided to move to Europe. That’s where I realized that the things we call ‘authentic’ are those left behind by people. Buildings that move people are those maintained for hundreds of years and still standing. I became convinced that nothing can be left behind if we don’t pursue authenticity.
Maeda: With the belief that we shouldn’t create anything we can’t explain or circulate anything for which we can’t take responsibility, he stuck to a method of farming that doesn’t use pesticides or fertilizers. I’m more business-minded, so we didn’t always agree. In the early years when we couldn’t harvest properly no matter how many years passed, I often argued, saying, “This is impossible!” But now, things have changed. Today exists because he never compromised. It took 12 years to cultivate the soil, and now the crops are starting to grow, and our farm, full of life, moves many people who visit. I’m genuinely glad I believed in him!
Ogushi: Regarding the mountains and soil of Shiraito and our life here, I have a strong desire to create something ‘authentic’ that will be left behind by people. I hope this will be conveyed to others and passed on to the next generation.
What are your dreams for the future?
Ogushi: I want to cultivate a rich forest full of diversity here. That’s the ‘authentic’ thing I want to leave for the next generation. We’re currently planting several hundred trees of various species each year. Together, we’re talking about nurturing a forest that can convey emotions and creating a place where ‘agriculture, food, and people’ can gather.
Maeda: Daily farm work often entails a lot of hardship. But gradually, as I’m toiling in the fields, getting bitten by bugs, and growing rice, I feel a gentle touch in the wind telling me to ‘keep going.’ Perhaps it’s the ancestors who have protected this land for generations. I feel their strength. Over the past 12 years, we have managed to rejuvenate a piece of land that was closed off, buried under bamboo. I want to continue dedicating my life to being a bridge, to pass on the power of nature and the strength of authentic life to the next generation!
Yukio Ogushi, who relentlessly pursues his ideals, and Kazuko Maeda, who brings reality into motion with the trust and networks cultivated through her restaurant and managerial skills, make a remarkable duo in shaping their aspirations. Now in their 15th year of marriage, their dedication to the community resonates with the locals who support them, saying, “We know you’ll take good care of it. You’re welcome to use our land too.” I’m excited to see how this space will be designed and developed in the future.
Interview & text by Leyla / Photography by Seiji Watanabe / Edited by: Emiko Szasz