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Regional Feature 2 / Nagasaki Prefecture, Isahaya City, Unzen City, Minamishimabara City

Isahaya, Unzen, Minamishimabara covering the Ariake Sea and Mount Unzen
To a town where sake bottle artist lives.

Isahaya, a town facing the middle and Ariake Sea in Nagasaki Prefecture

I took a limited express train from Hakata Station and the Ariake Sea spread out from the window in a short time once I left Hizen-Kashima Station. That area is close to the bay and its shallow depth gives a uniqueness to its scenery together with randomly standing row of seaweed cultivation bamboo stand and small fishing boats moored in a boat pool that has dried up at low tide. As the dimly looking mountain shape of Mt. Unzen on the opposite shore becomes clear, a deep view like a shallow inland sea unfolds in front of you. Artifacts that stretched into the bay jumped across the sight. The tidal levee, which runs straight from the drainage gate in front to the foot of Mt. Unzen on the opposite bank, is a dignity which is a part of the scenery that symbolizes Isahaya.

Isahaya is located in the place one hour and 40 minutes by express from Hakata, and about 30 minutes from Nagasaki city if you take the Nagasaki Expressway. The Ariake Sea extends beyond the plains due to reclamation. It is also famous for its unique seafood that lives in tidal flats due to its severe difference in slowness. At the Isahaya Reclamation Museum, located in the exhibition facility "Land of Reclamation", you can see rare board sledge "Haneita" (literally meaning springboard for fishing preventing from sinking) and a crochet hooked by a mudskipper. At the adjacent mudskipper Aquarium, there is also a corner where humid creatures such as mudskippers are fascinated with humorous movements. You can enjoy this seafood at different shops in the city, and you can experience the richness of the Ariake Sea everywhere.

“Nanko Airinkai”, a social welfare corporation expanding its facilities around Unzen City on the Shimabara Peninsula, which is adjacent to Isahaya City. It serves as the executive committee and secretariat of the “Cultural Arts Festival for the Disabled People’s ART BRUT CREATION NIPPON in NAGASAKI” scheduled to be held from May 2020. Under the slogan "Living with loved ones in an ordinary place", the fine-grained support provided by each person with a disability is a feature of this management policy. According to the service menu, there is a program to have everyone live a lively and rich life under the life support and daytime support, given by group homes with aid and vocational training for independence. You can see the efforts like in a catchphrase.

Writer Hiroshi Inuzuka, opening a solo exhibition of sake bottle painting.

諫早駅からクルマで10分ほど、東諫早駅前にある南高愛隣会の事業所で、こちらに入所している酒瓶画作家の犬塚弘さん(51)にお目にかかることになった。若い頃から日本酒の酒瓶画を描き続けており、これまでに600点以上もの作品を残している。2019年12月には個展「犬塚弘絵画展 酒びん×人生」を、長崎市出島町にある長崎県美術館で開催。今回の展覧会に出展されてはいないが、暖かく味のある作風に注目が高まっている。

At the facility of Nanko Airinkai, near Higashi Isahaya Station located about 10 minutes by car from Isahaya Station, I met Hiroshi Inuzuka (51), a liquor bottle writer who is staying here. He has been painting sake bottles since he was young and has left more than 600 artworks. In December 2019, a solo exhibition "Hiroshi Inuzuka Painting Exhibition. Sake Bottles and Life" was held at the Nagasaki Prefectural Museum of Art in Dejima-cho, Nagasaki. Although not exhibited at this exhibition, warm and tasteful style is attracting attention.


Inuzuka's hometown, Ioujima, located in Nagasaki Prefecture is an island connected by a bridge from the middle of the Nagasaki Peninsula through Okinoshima. Located on the opposite shore of Nagasaki Bay from the city of Nagasaki it boasts the beautiful sea scenery and currently there are many resort facilities such as hotels. It is also one of the prefecture's leading fishing bases, including Ise shrimp fishing. Inuzuka was born as the fourth among six brothers in a fisherman's house. He was diagnosed with autism at the age of five. He even went to a nearby liquor store or other houses to get labels, and there were episodes in his life, when he felt hard as his parents went around apologizing for him.


Inuzuka started drawing as early as the age of five, when he started getting interested in sake bottles. For this reason, sake bottles are always drawn somewhere in the pictures he created during his childhood. Events such as the sea and natural scenery of Ioujima, festivals, and athletic meet. Even if it is a picture of the athletic meet, the main objects were lunch box with the sake bottles and glasses drawn around. Did he draw these pictures, by seeing his parents watching the athletic meet while drinking with their friends in the neighborhood? When he entered the facility at the age of 15, he visited various sake breweries after he got impressed by a visit to a “Shochu” factory, and immersed more seriously when he moved to a group home at the age of 25. He gradually discovered a picture of a sake bottle that he continued to draw in parallel with the sake brewing tour. The above-mentioned solo exhibition was held from December 24 to 28, 2019, and 1500 people came in 5 days.

Speed and energy to draw at once based on memory

One of the great things about Inuzuka's artworks is his ability to collect and remember information. Rather than copying while watching, it is a style of drawing what is engraved on the head by listening to it. If you tell them that you are from Tokyo, you will soon see brands from Tokyo and Saitama appearing in a row, including "Sawanoi" sake. While talking about this, he also talks about Nagano's sake. When I told I like Suwa's "Masumi", he took out his sketchbook and a set of art supplies and started drawing in front of me.

Another great thing about Inuzuka's painting is his speed. For him it takes just 10 minutes to complete an artwork. When the outline of the bottle is made with a pencil, it is modeled, the label is divided in the center, and the design is written. After writing the name of the brand thick with magic, he writes down the grade label and paints around the brand name in red. If you paint the bottle with a transparent light blue color, the picture is ready. The lines are smooth and lively because they are written based on only the information stored in a moment. It's very impressive to see that his concentration never stops.

And the true value of Inuzuka's sake bottle painting is right here. In the margins around the bottle, information related to this sake is written closely. His artworks are performed with enough accuracy in obtaining sufficient sake brewery information, such as brewery name, address, telephone number, and price per serving. Another feature of his style is that he draws all the information that comes in through his eyes and ears. The balance between the bottle and the surrounding characters is unique, and the characters are recognizable and recreated as "drawings" rather than as character information.

In addition to the information obtained from the books and by looking at the bottles lined up in stores, these characters also include all the stories he heard directly from the brewery when visiting different breweries. It is often the case that "personal information" is written, including the age and family composition of the brewery. Mr. Inuzuka uses a lot of energy to arrange and memorize all of these in his head. Even if his ability to create such artworks is born from just unwillingness or simple fondness, such process requires much power and concentration.

As he approaches the finish and follow the characters to be written, your name and address are added. Your self-introduction is already engraved in his head. Mr. Inuzuka is good at making bottled paper and making colored paper. He says that he sends labels with thanksgiving and celebrations to people he knows, stating the seasons and memories of those people.

Visiting sake breweries in Minamishimabara with Mr. Inuzuka.

In Minamishimabara City, located in the southern part of the Shimabara Peninsula, there is a brewery called “Yoshidaya”, which has a close connection with Mr. Inuzuka. This is a brewery of sake “Banshou”. Mr. Inuzuka visits about three to four times a year to get labels and look at sake bottles. It takes about 1 hour by car from the Saigo area of Unzen City, where the group home Mr. Inuzuka staying is located. Shimabara City on the way is a castle town of Shimabara Castle and a water town blessed with underground water from the Unzen Mountains. There is abundance of tourist attractions that make use of water, such as spring spots in samurai residences and carp swimming towns with waterways, Japanese sweets, and Shimabara noodles.

Minamishimabara is known for its many Christian-related remains, including the ruins of Hara Castle, which was the place where the Shimabara-Amakusa Rebellion, which began with the suppression of hidden Christians, was suppressed. Ariie in the center is a prosperous town of Shoya (a village headman in a feudal Japan), and it is said that there was soy sauce miso brewery in the sake brewery as well as “Somen” (fine noodles) storage. “Yoshidaya” also has a storehouse in this corner of the house, and a short distance from the national highway, along an old private street alley, you can see a group of tiled buildings and a brick chimney on a white wall.

“Yoshidaya” was founded in 6 year of Taisho Era (1917 year). Its owner, Mr. Yoshiaki, is the fourth generation of owners. When you go to the brewery, you will see a masterpiece - device like a giant balancing rod. This is a squeezer called “Hanegi”, which was used when that brewery was founded. At the bottom left, a tank filled with “Moromi” (unrefined sake) is piled up and a pulley called "Amidaguruma" is used to pull down this tree, which is 8 meters long, and apply pressure. This method of squeezing using the principle of leverage is a tedious and delicate operation, but as Yoshiaki says, it produces taster. Now it is said that there are only about six places here in Nagasaki.

I got the explanation while actually using the device, but Mr. Inuzuka was definitely more interested in the sales floor. Once you move there, Mr. Inuzuka went straight to the bookstore and was handed a bag with labels from Mr. Yoshiaki and paid 10 yen. It is Mr. Inuzuka's intention that he is purchasing rather than receiving, and because it is a "commerce transaction", orders have been placed properly. "We are preparing the labels according to the" Order Form "sent before coming," says Yoshiaki. Along with the brands that were instructed to be shown in detail, the “Request letter” accompanied by the request when and when I would like to have it prepared is polite and propriety, but also smiling.

Everything is natural. Me and Mr. Inuzuka remain the same."

Mr. Yoshiaki always welcomes Mr. Inuzuka warmly with such words, but about 30 years ago when they met first time, there was a time when he was confused how to treat himself while seeing him responding. When Mr. Inuzuka called and unilaterally asked for a one-sided label he wants, Mr. Yoshiaki was confused and had trouble answering. He was little bit ashamed to hear the apology from the staff of the Nanko Airinkai. Mr. Yoshiaki's answer that it is better to communicate with people in a natural way seems to be largely derived from the accumulation of such exchanges experience.

Mr. Inuzuka travels around without buying a label, taking a picture of a sake bottle at the sales floor, tasting a little at the box he brings. Another essential part of the “Yoshidaya” routine is observing empty bottles. He moves away from the pile of cases stacked outdoors, turns the bottle back, and stares at it as if he was engraving a certain label. "I'm glad to see the joy of people" said Yoshiaki while watching the situation that seemed very happy.

Mr. Inuzuka, who has always been at the sake brewery and spends his time in this way, has started to hold a solo exhibition as a writer. When I asked Mr. Yoshiaki, who said it was good to continue doing what he liked, if there had been any changes since the solo exhibition, he told me: "Mr. Inuzuka himself has not changed. I'll welcoming him and let him do whatever he wants. " On the other hand, I send yell to Mr. Inuzuka as a writer. Not everyone with the same circumstances and talents can follow the same path. So, I want him to experience such opportunity.
"I want him to be a painter like Kiyoshi Yamashita who lives freely and makes people happy."

While talking with Mr. Yoshiaki, Mr. Inuzuka continues to face many sake bottles. Looking at the label at a nearby liquor store, the appearance that has not changed since his childhood, I wonder what the landscape of Ioujima that he saw was like. Having traveled to Isahaya, Unzen, and Minamishimabara, where his artworks were created with Mr. Inuzuka, I felt like I want to put myself on this island where the roots of his artworks are laying.

Coverage Author: Jitsugyo No Nihinsha, Blue Guide Editorial Department
Coverage cooperation: Social welfare corporation Nanko Airinkai