While the Ichihara Art x Mix festival is a must-see for residents and visitors alike, the city of Ichihara itself is special for its livability, particularly for families. With its proximity to the capital and a number of golf courses, its vibrant art scene, and close-knit – but by no means secluded – community, it is the Chiba Prefecture town more than worthy of settling down in, especially for those seeking an optimal work-life balance.
Art x Elephants
One feature kids of all ages are sure to love is the Ichihara Elephant Kingdom, which houses the greatest population of elephants in the country and a plethora of other animals, from llamas to a room teeming with fluffy cats. The elephants’ paintings are displayed in various places. The zoo is not dizzyingly large but is for this reason more intimate than those in Gunma or Ueno.
You can feed the elephants at any time, and come surprisingly close to them, without a large barricade or single enclosure. And because of this you can witness up close the relationship between the creatures and their keepers. Shows occur once or twice a day, where the elephants are introduced to the audience, produce paintings, do tricks and dance. The most famous member of the cast, Asian elephant Randy, was a protagonist in the 2005 film Shining Boy and Little Randy, which details the origin story of Elephant Kingdom.
As with many of the sites of Ichihara, natural beauty only enhances the old culture. Keiousan Koutokuji Temple, more than 500 years old, is surrounded by towering and equally aged cedar trees. On the grounds are around 40 cherry trees and some 1,000 hydrangeas framing the pavilions, among other seasonal flowers.
By the main hall stand hundreds of arhat statues, rows of saints in situ, every figure with a different countenance. An arhat is a saint that has attained enlightenment, so the gathering signals the presence of great enlightenment. Indeed, to pray in front of the arhats, among the flowers, or to simply walk through the complex renews the spirit.
City life has its own challenges, and the Ichihara’s deep cultural roots and peaceful scenery makes the prospect of moving to the mountains appealing – but one may worry about the support systems available for residents. Ichihara city is taking strides to accommodate a younger population. The city is relatively well-off thanks to its industrial zone, and government subsidies towards housing and moving expenses are available for families. A vacant house near Yoro Keikoku Station, on the Kominato Railway, will be repurposed into a consultation desk, with one-stop support services also available online.
The first thing you notice about Ichihara is the deep quiet. Boats float placidly on Takataki Lake. A padded silence sweeps over the arhats at the great temple, the tunnels and streams of Quad Forest and the surrounding farmland. The beauty of mountain life, especially when it is commutable, is a rare pleasure in these modern times.
Find more about migration and settlement in Ichihara city at lifework-ichihara.com (Japanese only)
Photos by Kayo Yamawaki