Sachiko Yatani lives on Mineyama, a hill that straddles the boundary between Hayama and Akiya. The view from her home looking toward Chojagasaki at the tip of the cape is ever-changing, from sunrise to twilight and into the depths of night.

Creative Women Find Harmony in Hayama: 2

Photography by Yasunobu Kobayashi
Text contribution by Noriko Kanzaki


I consider myself a guardian who will pass this sanctuary of plants on to future generations.
――Sachiko Yatani

When Sachiko Yatani began living in her house among the bamboo groves on the slopes of Hayama’s Mineyama hill, she started by closely observing the luxuriant vegetation that grows there. She didn’t set out to create and manage a garden, opting instead to trust nature to do what it does best and satisfying herself with keeping an eye on how things developed. “I watched very carefully and intervened a little here and there to boost the plants that are the main players in each season,” she says. “After that, I left it to the plants to reproduce on their own. After about three years, those that were there from the start began to achieve a harmony, without me even having to do any weeding.”

Fifty steps of stairs from the road below, a steep path through thick vegetation leads up to Yatani’s home on the hill. The name she gave her sanctuary—Kusabune on Earth (kusabune means “ark for plants”)—is inscribed on a wooden board at the entrance.

Before she arrived here, Yatani was already making thread from plant fibers, then dyeing and weaving them into cloth. She would go into the hills to commune with the plants, and was enchanted to see them assume new forms under her hands. “To me, that exchange with the plants was what was most important, and the works I created were simply by-products of that. Over time I became more and more uncomfortable with being labeled a textile artist, and so I’ve taken a break from that work. Right now I’m at the stage where I’m spending time with the plants here in order to see what comes next,” she says.

Many plants indigenous to the area can be found in Yatani’s sanctuary. It’s an airy place, with gaps in the trees providing glimpses of the sea.

Yatani wanders the ridges of Mineyama wearing traditional split-toed slippers, so she can nimbly climb steep slopes whenever she sees a plant she particularly likes. And she cuts bamboo and takes it with her to use back home. She laughs happily as she claims that the inconveniences work well for her. “It’s truly dark at night, but on nights with a full moon there’s an otherworldly beauty in the way the moonlight reflects on the ocean surface,” Yatani muses. “It’s amazing that beauty like this still exists. Even now, every day is a rediscovery of that amazement. I never get fully used to it.”

Left: Yatani devised her own technique for making thread from wild plants. The samples in this jar are fashioned from Japanese arrowroot and ramie. Right: Yatani makes beauty treatments and an all-purpose lotion from botanicals like heartleaf flowers, shell ginger, and loquat leaves. The open jar in front contains tooth powder made from chickweed, salt, and baking soda.

Yatani regularly hosts workshops that are accompanied by lunch and sweet treats she makes from local plants for her students. The sessions also include thread-making lessons. Yatani claims that anyone who spends even half a day in her sanctuary will pick up on something that the wild plants are telling them.

“I feel this garden, where many plants grow together in harmony, is a sacred place. It’s not so much my own garden as a place open to everyone and entrusted to me temporarily. I feel I’m living here as its guardian,” she says.

Yatani prepares boxed lunches like this one for all participants in her workshops. Replete with the power of nature, it contains many ingredients from the bounty of her garden. There are taro croquettes, pasta salad with chickweed and young carrots dressed in tofu mayonnaise, sesame tofu flavored with mugwort, and more.


Sachiko Yatani
As leader of Kusabune on Earth, Yatani teaches about wild flora and threadmaking from local plant fibers. She is currently engaged in a campaign to save the Miyako pony, a rare breed of horse native to the Miyako Islands in Okinawa prefecture.


This article is an excerpt from Kateigaho International Japan Edition 2019 Spring/Summer.



2020 Spring / Summer

Delectable Japan