Encyclopedia of niime

The niime report: a sneak peek report about Nakahata Dormitory

2023 . 05 . 21

The whole initiative began with a “quest directive” from Tamaki at the end of last year.

“Recently people gather ‘there’ obviously, and that seems to become like a core spot.”

Various people, including the staff, gather under the same roof and chat, where a new community is born.

I haven’t been invited yet, so I don’t belong to them. (laugh) People having worries now go there to consult with them, get advice from everyone and feel better. It seems like a great place. So I really want you to go interview there!

I heard ‘tamaki niime Nakahata dormitory’ is in a mountain village. I will find out the mysterious veiled community’s facts and report it all in the ‘Encyclopedia of niime’.

I am thrilled to have this new mission. Feeling a chilly early spring in the mountains of Nishiwaki, I headed for that place.

Nishiwaki City exists in ‘the Navel of Japan’. When you drive northeast along the gentle valley from ‘tamaki niime mura’ at the bottom of Okanoyama, you get to the isolated house standing in the peaceful rural scenery within 10 minutes in Nakahatacho.

It’s early March on Sunday. Our appointment was at 7 pm. There were a few street lamps in the darkness. Even though I was instructed that it was close to the ancient temple, Sumiyoshi Shrine, I needed help finding the dormitory. But I could get there safely because I could see Mr Ryuta Fujimoto coming out on the roadside and waving his hands.

Currently, the house is shared by the staff: Mutsumi Tamaki, the Ryuta Fujimoto and Mana Ishizuka family, and Ryosuke Yanagi (who lives in a single room). The building has 11 rooms with a living room, a large dining room, and a kitchen! The building was rebuilt with some additions, making it a typical farmhouse with many rooms.

The first floor of the structure surrounds the dining room. Mutsumi lives in the annex, and the Fujimoto and Ishizuka families use the main house. The second floor has four guest rooms, and Yanagi in the ‘Maku team’ uses one of the guest rooms. The three family members of Kuninori Hashimoto of the ‘Toru team’ lived in this house for half a year until February.

The interview day, this time, is also the day to welcome three practical training internship students from a dressmaking school.

Mako, four years old, the beloved daughter of Fujimoto and Ishizuka, welcomed us with cheers and a big smile. We walked through the deep corridor and turned right at the end to go to the dining room.

I heard this house used to belong to a local elderly couple, but the plumbing equipment does not need to be updated, and it looks good to use. The expansive kitchen and living room have a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere.

However, it becomes a playroom for the impish Mako and her brother Sei, and things get scattered everywhere.
Ishizuka says, “they messed up everything; there’s no place to step.”

Fujimoto kept showing us around.

“At the most crowded time, 15 or 16 people stayed, having internship students, business traders, guests, and Mutsumi and our family. It was too full.…”

Behind the living room, dining room, and kitchen was a bathtub, washroom, and two laundry machines. The bathtub is the most modern, which was renewed when the Fujimoto family arrived.

“I want this place to be where we can chat while eating when guests and staff visit.”

Going back to the kitchen, Ishizuka can take over chatting. In the homey atmosphere, people would have comfortable conversations.

“Even during regular creation meetings, you can feel relaxed in this place. At work, staff come for meetings as a part of their jobs. The boss joins the panels when we really need her.”

Oh, I see. No wonder.

Next, Ishizuka guided us to the guest rooms on the second floor. There is one room on the right, two rooms in front and one more room on the left, which were initially three rooms but were modified to separate them, and each room’s ceiling and beams were removed to make it a loft style which lets you feel free and spacious.

It’s impressive to see the fabrics and shawls, which are decorated like a wallpaper on the walls of the upstairs and hallways.

According to Ishizuka, each room is divided into colours: red, grey and blue. It is precisely how ‘niime room’ is. They showed me the red room where two internship students were supposed to stay. The rooms for girls are grey.

“We have a blue room for you, Mr Koshikawa. The space is for Yanagi, though, you can see it freely. (laugh)”

With the dorm mom’s permission, I saw a boy’s room. I’d better not write here how the inside was.

“Only in this room do we have a unique curtain that a curtain factory made as a sample. So this room is… I mean Nakahata dormitory is an experimental place to try various pieces of fabrics.”

Oh, I see! Nakahata dormitory is also the laboratory for living, in which ‘tamaki niime’ has creations of clothing, eating and living.

Not only with fabric experiments, but Nakahata dormitory may also have all the experimental spirit of ‘tamaki niime’ such as the ‘niime village’ concept, communication ways of people, or finding new communities.

A year and a half ago, the Ishizuka and Fujimoto families moved in here.

“At first, only Mutsumi lived here, but keeping the house by herself was a lot for her. When I had the second child, the boss asked me lightly, “Why don’t you move into this house?” (laugh) Since I was on maternity break, it was easy to welcome people.”

Ishizuka guessed the boss expected her to listen to the staff’s worries.

On the first floor, there is a living room and dining and kitchen between a long vertical hallway, and on the other side, there’s the living room with a Japanese-style altar which is used as a family room; however, during winter, they move to the original living room. Two Japanese-style wooden and paper Shoji doors are relaxed and comfortable to live in without an air conditioner during Summer. However, it is also severely cold in winter. That’s why they seek refuge in the living room with a heater.

Shoji, the paper sliding doors surrounding such Japanese rooms are miserably ripped. During renovations of the old house, the Hashimoto family stayed upstairs until it was finished recently. This results from the mischevious play of Sou, Hashimoto’s only son, and his cohort Mako.

“I was wondering if it was strangely too quiet. Thinking about why it was so quiet… I found out they were ripping all the shoji paper…(sigh) Oh, my God! It became a room with many holes. It’s beyond the matter of having no privacy.”

Beside the grieving mother, Mako showed us carefree smiles.

Respecting each other, we are living at our own pace.

Yanagi, who mainly works in the fields, comes home late that day.

At 8 pm, internship students came out from their rooms, and a regular Takoyaki welcome party was about to start.

Ikumi, Haru, and Chika are classmates at a particular dressmaking school in Osaka. They make actual clothes and study fashion, including the clothing production business.

Surrounding the table, everyone picks up takoyaki; as they chat about learning in school, making things, and personal talks, they are getting to open up more. Busy Mako’s mischevous acts make people happy…when the takoyaki party was a blast around 9 pm, Mutsumi came home, and Yanagi did at about 10 pm.

Joining Mutsumi and Yanagi, everyone’s chatting developed more openly, such as their love stories. Powerful, naughty kids fell asleep as you expected; it’s finally time for adults…

Yanagi muttered his true feelings with the help of drunkenness, “Nakahata dormitory is the place to heal wounded people.”
When you come to this place, there are kids, mom (maybe Ishizuka?), and sister (Mutsumi?), with whom you can rest and recover.

I suggest not mentioning the reasons why you ask for healing.

Ishizuka said, “He is an honest guy.” (laugh)
“Good~ I’m so glad you think of Nakahata dormitory like that.”

That’s nothing but true, right? I have always been healed. Giving it back to them with thanks, I am cultivating the fields of Nakahatacho.

In the area surrounding the dormitory, there are rented lands with the rice and vegetable fields of ‘tamaki niime’. They are the home fields of Yanagi’s ‘Maku team’ and his staff. Listening to Yanagi’s passionate talks, the late night at Nakahata dormitory is passing.

Before, Mutsumi lived in another dormitory in the central area of the town. Tamaki was thinking about a people’s gathering place, and after buying the house, she asked Mutsumi if she wanted to live in this house.

“At first, I lived by myself and used the original living room, dining room, and kitchen.”

After that, they started having internship students stay here, and Mutsumi moved to the annex. Two years later, the Ishizuka and Fujimoto families moved in here.

“I was feeling alright; it should be fine. I had some worries at first, though. At that time, I already got along with Mako. We were not trying to do this or that, but each one was doing things in their way. I didn’t have any stress to share with living.”

Ishizuka said, “there’s no rules.”

We let Ishizuka use the kitchen in a comfortable way.

When we feel we should talk, we have meetings for the ‘Weaving team’ or ‘Maku team’.

Yanagi mentioned again, saying, “wounded people also come to see us.”

The workers who work at the department stores stay here when they visit the main office, or people who want to work at our company remain here as internship students, and they come back to see us after being hired.

They reminisce about the old days. (laugh)

Considering various situations of having people stay, in the case of having the ‘tamaki niime’ staff live here, they are allowed to stay for a limited period. They have different people to stay with. Instead, they feel good about alternating between other people coming and leaving.

At work, we only talk about our jobs. We could have more personal conversations here to get more connected.

That’s right, such as our love stories. (laugh)

“Chatting openly improves our relationships, and we can exchange our thoughts without hesitation. That’s why we are trying to make a place for people. I hope everyone takes advantage of this place.”

“Even though we had our boss’s wishes, it was challenging to do it myself. However, Ishizuka came in during her maternity break. She made meals and waited on us. That meant a lot.”

“Just like the Japanese saying, ‘Eat rice from the same pot’. It’s essential to eat and sleep together!”

Every day, it is beautiful that children grow up with various adults around them from a young age.

“Mako doesn’t care at all.”

“Not at all. She can quickly join others in the park.”

“The staff’s children often come to play with us. Among them, Mako would be the best …”

“…who can get close to us very well. It may be her personality. I am looking forward to seeing how she will be in the future.”

In a good way, they don’t make rules or established styles. They have only minimum guidelines; other than that, they decide what to do each time on a case-by-case basis. Such an important way of the Nakahata dormitory looks the same as the underlying idea of the ‘tamaki niime’ brand.

Along with the ‘niime mura’ concept, they embodied it in their ‘Living’ perspective, which is flexible community life. It looks like Nakahata dormitory shows the reality of it.

It’s getting closer to midnight when the end of the party and fun chatting are closing. I am going upstairs to the blue room, which seems well-insulated. Although I turned the heater on, I was not cold and could fall asleep soon.

The following day, I woke up comfortably in the sunshine on the east-facing window. Reflecting on the sun, the blue wall with shawls was so beautiful. Looking out the window, I saw the range of mountains and sky; I felt refreshed and got courage in the idyllic rural scenery in the valley of Nakahatacho. Alright! Let’s start a new day.

Original Japanese text by Seiji Koshikawa.
English translation by Adam & Michiko Whipple.