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A Café, a Tree, and 10,000 Supporters

Updated: Jun 10, 2023

Standing in a park a residential area about a 10-minute walk from the north exit of Nishiogikubo Station is a magnificent zelkova (keyaki) tree, known by some local children as Totoro’s tree, because of its resemblance to the tree in the animated film My Neighbor Totoro. According to the Monumental and Large Tree Forest Database of the Ministry of the Environment, it is approximately 200 years old, with a trunk circumference of 550 centimeters and a height of 20 meters. Actually, this tree was supposed to be cut down in 2008. Directly across from the magnificent zelkova tree, there is a café where you can enjoy coffee and meals while gazing into the quiet Sakanoue Keyaki Park, named for the tree. This Cafe Atelier Canon was a central locus for activities to protect the 200-year-old zelkova tree, and we visited it to learn how the tree was saved. The owner is Keiko Yamanaka. This is her story of how a café sponsored a grassroots environmental movement (with a little help from a magical stone).

A soft-spoken, woman in her mid-40s, Yamanaka was born and raised on the property in which Canon is located. "We have been here since my grandmother's time,” she said. “After the [1923] Great Kanto Earthquake, she moved here from Yokohama. That has been about a hundred years now…. We used to live in a typical Japanese two-story house, just an ordinary one before Canon was built. And since then, the zelkova tree has always been there, just taken for granted. However, when I say it was there, there were buildings all around it." At that time, she said, the zelkova tree was located on privately owned land. It wasn't in its current state, standing proudly in the park and visible to everyone. Rather, it was surrounded by tall fences.

"Do you know the construction-site shacks (hanba-koya)? There were timber storage areas, trucks coming in and out, and laundry hanging. That kind of image. Actually, there was a very tall wall, and the fence was so tall that you could barely even see the tree. That's how it was since I was a child. Local people took it for granted that there was a big tree, but ordinary people, couldn't directly realize how amazing the tree was because of the wall. When you changed the angle, though, you might say, ‘Oh!’ But it was a place that was hard to enter because it was on someone else's property."

When Ms. Yamanaka was 26 years old, the family renovated the house where her late mother lived and turned it into Canon, which includes upstairs living areas, a basement, and a café on the ground floor. "My mother, who has passed away, had always yearned to open a cafe since her younger days,” she said. “Since I was training to become a cook, my thoughts were more like opening a restaurant or something. Starting a shop in a residential area, where there was only a middle school and no park yet, was a peculiar condition that made people passing by go, 'Huh? Opening a shop here?' (laughs). However, my mother had this mindset like, 'As long as there are people who have a connection, it'll be fine.' So, for the first few years, we hardly had a signboard or anything. And then, my mother passed away two years later. She was 62. She fell ill. Actually, my mother also designed this house."

After her mother's passing, Yamanaka, the daughter, decided to take over the management of Canon.

"Afterward, after ten years had passed, the movement to preserve the zelkova tree started here, and if the tree remained, it was as if the design my mother had created came to life, [with the front window] like in a picture frame... Yes. At that time, you could only see the fence. Looking back now, I'm glad she designed it that way."

It was on a rainy day in 2008 when they learned that the zelkova tree would be cut down.

"A regular customer, who originally belonged to the family that owned that place [where the tree stands], came in on a rainy day to have a cup of coffee. It was at that time when he uttered a single phrase, 'This tree will be cut down.' If it hadn't been raining that day, the old man might not have come in, and the tree might have been cut down without anyone knowing. It's surprising when you find things out, you know. We are located quite far from the shopping street [where information is shared]."

Coincidences aligned. So when Yamanaka learned about the impending cutting of the zelkova tree, she wanted to do something about it.

"We had a family meeting with my family members and [the café staff member] Wako-san, who is practically like family and still helping us. Then, strangely enough, from the next day onward, people started saying things like, 'I felt like seeing the zelkova tree again' or 'I wanted to meet the zelkova tree because it had been a while.' It was a strange flow of events, you know."

"We received advice from various people, and then we decided to try a petition. However, we had never done a petition before, and we didn't know what to do. So, Wako-san expressed her thoughts by writing a letter, putting into words the way we felt about the presence of this tree, writing things like, 'When three or four people hold hands, it's this size.' We made spaces for names... Later on, we realized that the format needed to be different, but still, if we didn't take action, nothing would start, so for the time being, everyone started the petition campaign with great enthusiasm."

"There were people looking at the tree in front of the shop, and even children came and handed us pencils, saying, 'Please give me a petition form,' or they brought what they had written. We created a website, and people from foreign countries also signed the petition. People spread the word through the website, and it started to gain momentum. It was released in 2008, so it was about fifteen years ago."

"At that time, we asked various shop owners for help. One time, when I casually entered a shop in front of the station, the lady there mentioned that there used to be a beautiful weeping cherry tree near the south exit. I had heard rumors about it, but I had never seen it myself. However, she showed me a photo on her phone, crying, and said, 'This cherry tree, they cut it down little by little every day.' I didn’t want to end up feeling that way. She turned out to be a genuine neighbor, and she gathered signatures in the south exit area. So, if I had not supported the cherry tree, and if I hadn't gone there, I wouldn't have met that lady."

The campaign progressed quickly. "At that time, many people acted together,” Yamanaka said. “Well, to put it roughly, we gathered about ten thousand signatures in about three months. While we were running the petition campaign, the men came to measure the tree (to cut it down)."

“We faced quite a backlash. People criticized us, saying that we were complaining about other people's property and that it was just self-promotion. It was a property that the previous owner had to sell, so the owners didn't appreciate residents complaining about something that was almost certain to happen."

However, Yamazaki’s determination to "save the tree" did not waver, and she decided to go and deliver the collected signatures to the Suginami Mayor Yamada Hiroshi.

"At the time, Yamada was district mayor. I made an appointment and promised to somehow deliver the signatures. When we had gathered a certain number of signatures, in the morning, I started driving with the petition forms in my car. But just before I left, the Shinto priest was performing a purification ritual. It was before the trees were cut down. So, there were people dressed in black standing there, people I had seen before in the neighborhood. I was like, 'What? Is it already this far?' They didn't say anything when the older men were measuring the day before. I was surprised, so I just shouted, 'Don't cut it down!' (laughs). Anyway, I kept the appointment and met with the mayor to explain the current situation. At that time, the mayor made a phone call to stop the project. At least, temporarily stop it. Well, it was more like a phone call to the construction company. But they didn't answer the phone, and when I entered the mayor's office, my mobile phone rang, so the mayor answered it. And then, we managed to temporarily stop it, thanks to what the mayor said."

So, the trees narrowly escaped being cut down. And now, the focus shifted to the district taking action to preserve the tree.

"The mayor was also surprised, saying, 'Is it already that far along?' The details, including which construction company was buying the land, spread rapidly, and ultimately, it was decided in the council that everyone, regardless of party affiliation, wanted to join hands and prevent the trees from being cut down."

"There were so many moments when we thought, 'This is really hopeless.' It was unbelievable how much had happened in just three months. At that time, there were 8,600-something messages saying, 'We want to save the tree.' So, we stopped collecting signatures, but signatures kept coming in afterward."

Actually, there was already a plan to build condominiums on the slope where the zelkova tree stood. Yamazaki-san and others had intended to deliver the signatures to the district, but they never expected the district to buy the land. Therefore, during the three months, while they were collecting signatures, they explored various ways to utilize the land while preserving the trees.

"We held informational sessions here with construction companies that could build houses while preserving the tree, and we gathered information to some extent,” Yamanaka said. “If there were companies that could utilize this space with the trees intact, there was a possibility, although slim. We also listened to people's opinions and ideas. Many things. But this tree was too big. The root system was substantial, so it was quite challenging. But we couldn't stay silent, so we thought, let's hear what these construction companies have to say. They provided us with information that we could never obtain on our own."

"But it became a difficult situation, and in the end, the district decided to purchase the land. They paid one billion yen at the time. Being a cross-party effort, despite disagreements and animosity among the mayor and the council members, they all agreed to preserve this tree. It was an amazing story."

"I heard that Yamada, the former mayor, had a motto, 'Wise people leave trees for their descendants.' So, in that sense, we decided to write a letter. Not that it was solely because of the letter, but Yamada came to see the tree, and we had direct conversations with him at that time too. So, I'm glad it was during Yamada's tenure. If it had been someone else, things might have been a bit different. That's why I have expectations for the new mayor who took office this year."

Supporters link up around the zelkova tree.

Although Yamanaka and her friends didn't even know how to conduct a signature campaign, the grassroots cooperation of the residents of Nishi-Ogikubo allowed them to gather this many signatures in three months. We wanted to learn a little more about the connections between people that expanded the movement with Yamanaka and others.

"This place is like a small remote island,” she said of the isolated Café Atelier Canon. “So I was often told to visit various shops in different places. And then they would say, 'Oh, I know someone who knows somebody.' In the end, there was this antique shop called Iseya run by Inahana-san, who has already passed away. I think Inahana-san was the one who really livened up Nishiogi in various ways. Before he passed away due to illness, he was really enthusiastic about doing interesting things in Nishiogi. At that time, I didn't know Inahana-san, but when I was introduced to him, it turned out that he was storing antiques in the warehouse near the zelkova tree. However, even Inahana-san said it was probably impossible, but at that time, there was a district councilor named Takashi Tomimoto who supported us, and we were introduced to him, and the three of us often had meetings at Iseya, saying, 'We want to do something about it.' I remember crying in front of Inahana-san quite often."

"Iseya Art is located in front of a bagel shop called Ju-an. It's quite an interesting place. They had events by Arakii-san and various festivals in which Inahana-san was involved... When I heard about the zelkova tree, I thought of Inahana-san as 'the person to turn to in times of trouble.' He introduced me to various people. So, I think it's certain that the local connections increased the number of signatures."

"This is how the events of 2008 led to a park in 2010. If it hadn't become a park in 2010, the ground here might not have been stable, and the tree could have fallen. It was a year before the earthquake. So, the park was really developed a year before. And if it had been a year later, I don't think the ward could have spent 500 million yen for tree maintenance."

Once again, a crisis looms over the aged zelkova tree.

Creating a park inadvertently posed new dangers for the large old tree. Previously, the surrounding fence had protected the zelkova tree from wind and rain, but as it was removed, the tree was exposed to the elements.

"After the park was established, when the buildings were gone, the old tree, being an old tree, cracked. It used to be protected within the fencing and houses, although it was cramped," Yamanaka said. After the tree split during the typhoon, people started to notice something unusual about its condition.

"Our customers, at that time...some of them touched the tree and said, 'Something's not right.' So, we went to Suginami Ward and reported the situation. They came and tried to support the tree with bands. But even then, it withered," they said.

However, at that moment, she said, a mysterious and lucky figure appeared.

"This is a picture from 2015. It was taken in April. When it became like this in 2015, just a little before that, there was a person named Yoshiyasu Fukuraku from Tottori. He's a tree regeneration specialist. There was someone who introduced me to him, a wonderful old man. He was like a gardener and said, 'What an amazing tree. I want to show it to someone.' Although he is from Tottori, when he saw it, he noticed a kind of damage that an ordinary eye wouldn't catch and said, 'Oh, this doesn't look good,'" Yamanaka explained.

"After hearing that, I told Suginami Ward that it wasn't enough to just use the bands. Then they said, 'Since it belongs to our property (Suginami Ward), we will do something.' However, this person couldn't do it. Finally, when it reached that state (showing us a photo where the tree was almost dead), it was time to ask Fukuraku-san for help. After we asked Fukuraku, one year later, it looked like this (showing us a photo with the tree revived)."

"It's amazing. They added nutrients to the soil and made it soft. As a result, the other trees around it became healthier too. But Fukuraku-san said that there were some trees he couldn't revive. He said that this tree was still okay. We wanted to ask him for help, but at that time, he had another job and was able to save another tree somewhere. That tree also became healthy. It may have been difficult to handle both at the same time, and it was a turning point for him too. He often visited Aiko Sato to look at her cherry blossom tree. He said she would get energy from looking at the cherry blossoms. By the way, when he worked on the tree, he always worked silently, and he wore white. I thought it would get dirty because of the work, but his car was always clean, and he said he wouldn't eat too much because it would hinder his work."

The work of saving the tree actually started years before she entered the scene, Nakayama said. The owner of this zelkova tree worked in landscaping. When they owned the zelkova tree, they had spent hundreds of thousands of yen every year for pruning.

"The reason this tree has become so magnificent is thanks to those people. And later on, I heard through the grapevine that the person who owned it also thought, 'I'm glad' that the tree remained. It's said to be around 200 years old. Yes, that's why it casually appears in old photos, even in photos from when I was a child or before I was born. It's just there, subtly. And thanks to Fukuraku-san’s visits, this tree has become even healthier than before. When it lost a branch once during a typhoon, he said, 'It's not a bad thing for a tree to break.' He cut it off cleanly, and it grew again."

As the park has matured, the Canon staff also helps maintain flower beds in the park. This maintenance is being carried out as part of Suginami Ward's greening activities, through the "Kōen Sodate-kumi" (Park Nurturing Group) and the "Hanasakase-tai" (Flower Blooming Squad). “So, we always create the flower beds ourselves through community efforts and take care of the watering. It's quite challenging, but Wakiko-san and I are right there. Wakiko-san usually takes care of the watering. Yes, we're doing it. The Green Park Section of Suginami Ward provides us with flowers. We select the flowers ourselves and decide how we want to manage them. That's why you can see areas labeled "Hanasakase-tai" in various places, probably even in front of the train station. It's simple, but they plant flowers, even in small parks like that.”

A grassroots movement broadens its connections.

This movement, originating from Atelier Canon, can be regarded as a highly successful example of a grassroots environmental movement, albeit one with a very narrow focus. Through these activities, however, the small group in Nishi-Ogikubo also found a common cause with other similar grassroots environmental movements throughout Japan.

"So, regarding the tree movement, it was such a successful case that we received letters from all over the country. The newspapers covered the issue of these trees. People who were engaged in the movement to preserve cherry blossom trees sent us many letters and even came to see them in person. They expressed their true feelings, not just giving money. The people involved in our movement also felt encouraged to continue their efforts, and as a result, there was progress. We even received good news that the large Aeon Group decided to preserve some trees and incorporate them into their plans. That's the kind of positive stories we received. So, even though we are not all united, those who participated in the movement stayed involved, and it gave us the motivation to keep going a little longer. However, we may have different conditions than you, but please don't give up for now."

"We also established a volunteer organization called 'Miise (minna de ikeru sekai = towards a world where everyone can live) with members who wanted to preserve the zelkova tree. It's a small-scale volunteer effort, but we thought that if we don't give up, some things can come true. For example, we organized local events or events that everyone could participate in. Especially before the pandemic. After the earthquake (Great East Japan Earthquake), we established a connection between the zelkova tree here and Minamisoma City in Fukushima Prefecture, which is our sister city, with the tree as a symbol. Among the eight members who have various professions, we started a project called 'Sainou Kikaku' (Talent Project) to donate our talents. We collected the donations and sent them to Minamisoma continuously."

The "Sainou Kikaku" is a project in which each person's talents are used to collect donations.

"For me, since cooking is considered a talent, I decided to donate all the proceeds from a monthly 500 yen curry sale. The photographer created postcards from the photos taken there and donated all the sales. The musician donated the proceeds from their live performances before the pandemic. We saved the donations and handed them over to the Suginami Ward and the exchange division of Minamisoma once a year. I received a certificate of appreciation from the ward mayor this year too."

"There are things I want to do, but now there is also the war between Ukraine and Russia, so I want to shift a little and continue to do something, even if it's a small contribution. However, I continue to remind myself not to stop that movement and to remember that such things existed in my mind."

Reconstruction from the tsunami and nuclear accident in the Great East Japan Earthquake is still an ongoing process, but in the broader society, it is starting to feel like a thing of the past.Yamanaka hopes not to let it be forgotten.

"In daily life, there are many things that we forget. But still, continuing to do something is not just a mere ideal; it's also important to bear the burden oneself. Although the number of members is currently very small, we gather once a month. Around five or six people, mainly core members. When some of us can participate, we go to Tochigi, for example. There are people from Tochigi as well. That's how it goes. We discuss and say, 'It would be nice if we could do this this year.'"

Even during the COVID pandemic, Yamanaka has continued the curry every third Thursday of the month.

"We haven't stopped all this time, so we're still doing it. So that's the only thing. Takeout has increased, especially during the pandemic. But strangely, people always come together and look forward to meeting on this day, not just urgently but as a community gathering place. And naturally, we receive vegetables. Our curry doesn't use any water, only the moisture from tomatoes and other vegetables. We use minced meat, so it's cooked very well without any solid pieces, making it suitable for children to eat. In that sense, people send us things like 'Please use this' or send us rice. So it's rewarding and heartwarming to see that such a network is expanding. It was even featured in the newspaper. We also want to prevent it from fading away. So, the day before the third Thursday, while making the curry (laughs), we make a considerable amount, so the preparation takes quite some time. That's why I feel a sense of fulfillment and continue doing it."

Because it's what she personally believes and wants to do, Yamanaka continues her efforts for the zelkova tree, Kanon, and volunteering. Listening to her story, she feels like someone who embodies the concept of grassroots activism.

From a mother’s dream to a broader community project

Atelier Canon was born out of the dreams of Yamanaka’s mother but has expanded to include many stakeholders.

"It's been 22 years. My mother loved talking, so I didn't imagine it would become this big, but she had a dream of running a café. And she also enjoyed making clothes as a hobby, so she wanted to sell the things she made in the shop. Maybe she also wanted to display her dyeing work. Although my mother didn't explicitly say so, I've been thinking that lately."

The customers are mainly local people. "There are many elderly people living alone. Some things have changed due to the COVID pandemic, but yes, there are quite a few people living alone. So, I try to talk to each person as much as possible, you know, like that. It's not a clingy relationship, but if I find someone interesting, I engage in conversation."

"Our neighbor is Mr. Higuchi, who has a house called 'The House with a View of the Zelkova.’ He is involved in community support activities, like opening his house on Thursdays for anyone to come in and providing support through the Care 24 (Community Comprehensive Support Center) program. So, although we have our shop closed on Thursdays, our neighbor holds a weekly gathering on that day."

During the COVID crisis, Canon also played a role as a local neighborhood anchor. "Especially during the pandemic, many shops closed down,” she said. “In response, the number of people coming to see this zelkova tree increased significantly. We keep our doors open, and we don't even ask for subsidies. Closing the shop might be better for the business side of things, but there are many elderly people who have nowhere else to go, and I also felt it would be bad for my own health. I really love being here, to the extent that I call it my 'Hobby Canon.' It's not about money. (During the pandemic, with the self-restraint measures) I thought many people would end up getting sick. In the beginning, it might be fine, but it made me realize that humans are meant to work. Surprisingly, customers still come, sometimes just a few here and there. Well, I felt that the existing value of this tree, for humans, is very significant, both before and after the pandemic. Over the past three years, I've seen people who quickly pass by even for a short moment, people doing exercises or qigong. We initially had two benches [in the park]. Now there are three, but somehow people are drawn to them."

Work in the café has a comfortable rhythm for Nakayama." Usually, we operate with a two-person team,” she said. “However, I tend to spend most of my time in the kitchen. Still, I somehow feel that people are always interested in other people. I've been feeling this particularly recently. Even though my workplace is my home, people rarely ask, 'Don't you want to go somewhere?' But the idea actually tires me out. Even if I think about taking a train and going somewhere, I feel exhausted. It makes me realize that I've been growing up in this sterile environment. It's a matter of mental strength. When customers say, 'This place is nice, it's different,' I don't understand it, but when I feel tired from going outside and doing errands, being in a place where I feel comfortable matters. We have an 80-year-old grandmother who comes here from 5:30 in the morning. She always says, 'This place is different!' She used to live in Russia and has many interesting stories. When we open in the morning, she says, 'This place is amazing. I've been to various places around the world, but this place is incredible!' Hearing that makes me realize that I could have a cafe in such an amazing location. Even when I'm tired or feeling down, I try to think, 'Because I can do it here.' It really helps me."

Social connections established over two decades also impact the cuisine. For example, they serve many types of Korean cuisine due to their connection with a friend who runs a book café in Korea. The Korean connection came through her work on her book, she explained. "I have a friend in Korea who works for a publishing company or designs book covers. They started a café there and offer delicious homemade bread and vegetables that they grow. Before the pandemic, my friend often visited Japan, and we collaborated on running the café for a few days. Everyone was very pleased with it. Even now, during the pandemic when we can't travel back and forth, customers express their desire to try the food. So, I received instructions from my friend and learned how to make it. The dishes have quite a generous portion. Yes, many people really enjoy this."

“The café is located in a very cold place in Korea called Pyeongchang. So we have something called Mizugaru, which is a Korean tea, a yellow powder, rich in nutrients. It's highly recommended…. The most popular dish is curry. It's a curry that doesn't use water, so it's like this. We make everything from scratch…. This one here is Yulmu tea. It's packed with nutrients, like Misugaru. It has a satisfying and slightly sweet, fragrant feel, which is recommended for those who are a bit hungry. Kakigori is only available in the summer, but since there are many children, we make it quite often. We make it when we can. We're quite relaxed (laughs). We have Yamamomo (mountain peach) trees here, and it's a shame to waste them when the fruits fall, so we make Yamamomo juice. When we have plenty of apples, we make apple juice."

Continuing Family Musical Traditions: Canon as Event Space

Atelier Canon also is a platform for event promotion. The first floor of Atelier Canon is a café with a grand piano. The basement is a studio that is almost the same size as the café space. Various events have been held on both basement and first floors.

"From around October of this year, we started reopening. I wanted to do what I could... because if I push too hard, it won't lead to good results. So, I started with acquaintances or things that resonated with me. Right now [with the pandemic still lingering], it feels like a battle with something invisible, so we really limit the number of customers. If we can do it like this, we do it here. We really focus on events that can be done socially, like piano concerts. The other day, we had an event for about five children. It's been a while since we had a tuning. Although the basement is the main studio, we have ventilation. In May of this year, there was someone I knew who is a pantomime artist. They are amazing, so we limited it to 30 people. Kiyoshi Shimizu. This time, it's a live performance. It's also held in two places in Osaka, and they really wanted to continue at Canon.”

Her family has a connection through music through her father, who is a famous enka singer, so before the pandemic event music events were common. “Various people have connections, and they invite musicians from different countries. Every December, we used to have exciting events like, 'Oh? Will someone like that come here?' We used to send the proceeds from those events as donations. Shimizu-san came to Canon a little before that because they wanted to rent a studio, and we asked them a lot to come. So, it was a kind of fate.”

The name 'Canon' is also from music. “It means repeating in German,” she said. “It's like asking customers to keep coming back."

They have also sponsored events outside the café. "We used to hold workshops twice a year, inviting children from the children's center for Keyaki tree reading sessions and playing in front of the Keyaki tree. But the children's center is gone this year, so it has become like a facility for small children, like the Zenpukuji Children's Center. Every year, the first-grade group used to come here and do various activities. So, in the future, we plan to visit elementary schools and pass on the history of this tree.”

The Story of the Mysterious Stone Enshrined Next to the Cafe

Finally, she told us the story of the stone. Next to the entrance of Canon, there is a small shrine where a peculiar stone is enshrined. This stone is called the "O-ishi-sama," a sacred stone. "It is enshrined at our entrance. It's quite interesting because many people specifically come to see it. It was featured in an occult magazine called Mu. It has also gained attention on the internet, with rumors circulating that it might be a meteorite. However, that's not the case. In our family, my grandmother was what we now call a 'okamiya' (a kind of local shaman). She prayed for people, a spiritual practice. She passed away when I was a child, but she had the ability to see various things. One day, someone asked her to come and pray for their family because they were experiencing a lot of misfortune. When she went there, she discovered that the foundation of their house contained this O-ishi-sama stone. It turned out that this stone was the dwelling place of a revered deity, and it had become the foundation of their house. So she dug it up and preserved it, taking it with her from our ancestral home. Since my childhood, when it was still placed at the entrance, many people would come to pray. Recently, we have moved it outside, and we receive letters or direct expressions of gratitude from various people. However, what they often say is, 'Selfish wishes are not allowed.' My grandmother used to tell me that only wishes not motivated by personal desires would be granted (laughs). Now, naturally, many people have taken an interest in the Oishi-sama. When I was doing a petition campaign, I always prayed together with the keyaki tree and the Oishi-sama. So, when talking about Canon, I thought I should mention the story of the Oishi-sama (laughs). Some people don't even notice it and ask, 'What is this stone?' But even I don't know much about it since my grandmother passed away. I just know that she said, 'It's a sacred deity, so we put our hands together in reverence.' That's the feeling I have. That's why when I created the picture book 'Sakanoue no Keyaki' (The Zelkova on the Hill), the storyteller is the Oishi-sama. It's a fantasy story, but about ninety percent of it is based on actual events, so it was produced in that way."

Atelier Canon is a place that supports many movements. They all start with small actions, but with people like Yamada at the forefront, they continue and gradually expand. This is a residents' movement to improve their living environment, with the belief that "we want to make our living place a better one with our own efforts." A small cafe is thus much more than just a business but can also be a platform for supporting a local community, its sacred trees, and its legends. (James Farrer June 9, 2023)

(Interview by James Farrer and Fumiko Kimura Feb. 4, 2023; transcription and Japanese editing by Fumiko Kimura; translation and English editing by James Farrer; copyright James Farrer, all rights reserved)



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