Azumi Setoda embodies both the tastes of its former aruji when it was Horiuchi-tei, as well as the new facilities envisioned by Yoshi, the new aruji. The Azumi Setoda team includes locals and those who fell in love with Setoda who now call the region their new home and who consider themselves part of the Azumi family.
Previously, the shotengai was known to be quiet in the early morning hours, save for a few commuters and school children on their way to catch the first ferry from the port. Now, the bustle of Azumi and yubune staff accompany the bird songs at dawn. Sakaeda, who has lived in the area her whole life, starts her work day at yubune by preparing for the asaburo morning bath time. She lines the hinoki buckets diagonally on the blue tiles, airing them out. When everything is ready, she heads to the entrance for the final touch – hanging the noren, which was dyed with indigo by Sarasa Yoshioka, an artist in Kyoto. When the noren is up and blowing in the breeze, it signals that yubune is ready to greet Azumi guests and townspeople for another new day.
In the quiet yet excited moments before guest check ins, as the Setouchi sunlight softens behind the clouds, Azumi facilities caretaker Ishii san can be seen surveying the gardens of Azumi. When he reaches the central garden outside the communal dining area, he crouches down under the sakura tree, and draws a clove out from the dewy moss with his right hand as his left one gently presses the ground. The weeds, only a couple centimeters tall, are just large enough to be able to pick. They’re surprisingly stern, their roots deceptively deep. It’s a balancing act; pulling them too forcefully means the roots get left behind. This laborious process requires one to look attentively. It’s mundane work, he laughs, as the collected weeds now form small balls in his bag.
From here, Ishii san observes the seasons and the day’s happenings. Sometimes, he mends the moss after the island cats have scratched their paws on it. Other times, he notices a new bird frequenting the trees. In Spring time he deals with weeds, in Autumn, he picks up all the fallen leaves from the trees one by one because the moss is too delicate for a rake. And since the Azumi gardens range from the restored original Horiuchi garden to the more contemporary and tropical varieties around Azumaya, he sees how different parts of the garden shine at different times.
As he calmly crawls into the lush, tropical plants by Azumaya, he shares how he heard about Azumi from a friend on a neighbouring island, and now happily calls this region home. Before then, he was diving in Okinawa. His eyes glisten as he speaks of his adventures around the country.
Though the work to maintain the grounds seems minute, it’s these subtle rituals of care that run in the blood of Azumi. It’s trust in the energetics of careful hand work and human touch, whether it is in the washing area of the baths, or the shaded corner of the garden.