Chiiori is a house,and a dream.

Iya 祖谷, a mysterious mountainous region in the heart of Shikoku. Its steep canyons were dotted with numerous thatched houses.
Now that they are disappearing, a dream, Chiiori has begun.
The dream is to preserve the beauty of the Japanese countryside and to create an environmentally friendly community rooted in traditional culture.
Chiiori aims to revitalize the village with unique and progressive projects, while working to preserve the old houses and customs.



Finding Chiiori

In 1971 Alex Kerr first discovered Iya Valley, a remote region in Tokushima Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. The impassably steep Iya Gorges kept the valley so secluded that over the centuries refugees from Japan's civil wars fled into Iya and settled there, notably the Heike survivors from the Genji/Heike wars of the 12th century. Even now Iya people speak a dialect with traces of ancient Heian court language.
In 1973 Alex bought an old thatched farmhouse in the hamlet of Tsurui, in East Iya. Dating from around 1720, the house is typical of old Iya construction: with wooden floors, irori 囲炉裏 (floor hearths), and massive beams and rafters - all smoked black from centuries of fires burning in the floor hearths.
The house took the name Chiiori 篪庵, which means "House of the Flute."



Structure of the House

Chiiori is one of the oldest extant houses in Tsurui, and it can be dated to roughly the Genroku Period (1699-1720), the same time that the Kimura House down the hill (a designated Important Cultural Property) was built. The houses are very similar. In size they measure 8 bays by 4 bays (a bay, or ken 間, is the space between two pillars, the length of one tatami). With just a few exceptions, this is about as big as houses get in Iya.
Inside is one large zashiki (reception room, grand, but traditionally rarely used except for parties and special guests), a central living room, where the family gathered around the floor-hearth, two small sleeping rooms, and the kitchen.


Alex-kerr and Chiiori




Purchasing Chiiori

When Alex first entered Iya in the summer of 1971, many houses were already abandoned. In the fall of 1972 Alex began looking throughout the villages of East and West Iya and also villages in neighboring mountain ranges in Kochi and on the eastern side of Mt Tsurugi. After exploring over a hundred houses, Alex settled on Chiiori, in the hamlet of Tsurui.
In June 1973, Alex bought the house. At the time it had been abandoned for seventeen years. Originally it belonged to the Kita 喜多 family (who live today just below Chiiori) for many generations, before changing hands several times before Alex found it.

Alex and friends, 1979




Right from the beginning the neighbors came over to help. Sometimes Alex would wake up to find that someone had brought cucumbers and left them on the verandah. In particular, the closest neighbor, Omo 尾茂 taught Alex much old Iya lore, and remains to this day a great friend and supporter.

Iya children with puppet costumes, 1976


初めの頃からよく訪れていた詩人の南 相吉とアレックス、村の子供たち(当時はたくさんの子供たちがいました)は、ある晩集まって家の名前を考えました。そして辞書をみて、小さな竹の横笛を意味する古い漢字「篪」を見つけ、草葺き屋根の家を意味する「庵」を繋げました。「笛の家」、篪庵の誕生です。
相吉が 古い曲に歌詞を付けて「篪庵の歌」をつくると、当時の村の子供たちはよくその歌をうたいました。1988年の屋根の総葺き替え、現在理事長を務める「篪庵トラスト」の設立など、アレックスは篪庵という家と共に活動を続けてきました。

Naming the House

Early guests from outside Iya included poet Minami Shokichi 南 相吉, and one night Shokichi, Alex, and the village children (there were many in those days) got together and came up with a name for the house. The name they decided on was Chiiori ?庵, made up of Chi ? an archaic little-used character they found in the dictionary for “Flute”, and Iori 庵, meaning “Thatched Cottage”. Hence Chiiori, meaning “House of the Flute.” Shokichi wrote a poem about it to music from an old Quaker song, and the children used to sing it.
Since those early days, Alex has continued to be involved with Chiiori, including its complete re-thatching in 1988, and the founding of Chiiori Trust, of which he is the Director.

Snow on piled thatch, 1985




Alex wrote a memoir of his finding of Chiiori in the first two chapters of his book Utsukushiki Nihon no Zanzo 『美しき日本の残像』("Last Glimpse of Beautiful Japan") published in Japanese in 1993, and in English in 1996 as Lost Japan.
In 2001, Alex published Dogs and Demons (Japanese edition 『犬と鬼』2002), which describes the collapse of Japan's rural areas due to depopulation, the loss of historic heritage in old cities, and the mechanism whereby Japan's countryside was damaged by a decades-long (and still on-going) massive public construction regime. Alex has called for the revival of rural areas through sustainable tourism and rediscovery of the value of the natural environment and organic agriculture.


Alex Kerr's book