Nakashima Takuya/Tatami Maker Nakashima Tatami Gallery

Located across from Yakushima high school, the Nakashima Tatami Gallery has the Japanese character “tatami” written across the entrance. When I opened the door, I found myself in a small gallery filled with the fresh scent of igusa grass.

中島拓也さん/たたみ職人/Nakashima Tatami Gallery

The store’s owner, Nakashima Takuya, is a tatami craftsman born here on Yakushima. He lived here thru high school and attended a college located in Osaka. Then, with the intention of inheriting his father’s shop, Nakashima-san enrolled in a special school for tatami making in Kyoto. Upon returning to Yakushima, he took over his father’s business and is now working to expand the business both on and off the island.

中島拓也さん/たたみ職人/Nakashima Takuya/Tatami Maker Nakashima Tatami Gallery

On days off, Nakashima-san, his wife, and their son relax on their tatami floor. Not all of his tatami is of the size and shape that you find in a traditional Japanese room. He also makes small mats that are easier for people with more modern tastes to enjoy.

Nakashima-san also works with a local furniture maker, collaborating on benches and chairs that combine native cedar and tatami. One example of their work can be found in a new local government office.

中島拓也さん/たたみ職人/Nakashima Takuya/Tatami Maker Nakashima Tatami Gallery

He tells me that when he trained at a tatami store, as a part of his schooling in Kyoto, he was exposed to many potential uses of tatami both domestic and international. “I think of tatami as a fundamental example of Japanese culture, so it was a new experience for me to see tatami through foreign eyes, to learn how tatami was being used in Japanese restaurants and museums overseas.”

Nakashima-san makes use of a small tea room adjacent to his gallery for a monthly tea drinking event. During his college days, he studied the tea ceremony. His teacher at the time was an English teacher from Canada, whom he greatly admired. Nakashima-san told me that the first time his teacher placed a cup of tea in front of him, he was overcome by a strange mixture of nervousness and relaxation. “Just sitting upright on the tatami, I felt calm and content. While some of this feeling came from being in a traditional Japanese space, more than that, this pleasant feeling came from sitting across from my teacher, and feeling that I was accepted entirely for who I was.”

Nakashima-san also makes the traditional Japanese sweets that accompany the tea at these events. He makes them with loving care and his wife taste-tests them to be sure that they are good.

Nakashima-san is a member of “Tatami-to,” a group of 17 tatami makers located throughout Japan. They are pursuing a variety of activities to promote the use of tatami and to support domestic igusa farmers. “If things continue as they are, there’ll be no igusa farmers ten years from now. That’s how quickly their number is shrinking. We’re holding special events and trying to combine tatami with other items in an effort to make new products that will enhance the value of tatami and protect the livelihoods of the igusa farmers.”

Nakashima-san is working with creative people in a variety of other fields in search of new possibilities for tatami. And he’s traveling to locations where igusa is grown and helping out – as a live-in guest – with the igusa harvest.

“Making use of igusa grass grown here in Japan, the highest quality product becomes all the more beautiful, and strong, when it is bleached by the sun. The color becomes brighter and, over time, the inherent beauty of the igusa plant grows. This is because the farmers are carefully selecting the finest stalks, one by one.”

Here on this small island, Nakashima-san is contributing to the preservation of Japanese culture.

Nakashima Tatami Gallery