Natural high - Issue 171 - Magazine | Monocle

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“In Nakijin, there’s a saying: noon nen shiga,” says Miyako Shimmi with a smile. “In the Okinawan language, this means that while there might be nothing here, Nakijin will satisfy your heart. There are no resort hotels or theatres; there’s nothing of that kind. But upon coming here, you’ll be fulfilled by the natural landscape that is the pride of Nakijin.”

Located on the northern side of the Motobu peninsula on Okinawa’s main island, the village of Nakijin is a place where life ambles by at a leisurely pace. Fukugi-lined streets lead through traditional settlements towards crystal-clear coves, while lush forests envelop the mountains. Within these peaceful surroundings, Miyako and Seiichi Shimmi opened their villa Nakijin Tsuwabuki on the winter solstice in 2022.

Four years in the making, the project has seen a partly forested site spanning almost 3,000 sq m become the setting for an exclusive villa limited to one booking per night. Miyako’s early encounters with the place, which had grown wild after intermittent periods of agricultural use, provided a taste of its natural charm and potential, leading her to envision ways to preserve and share the unique mountain landscape.

Main bedroom, designed to float in the forest canopy
Miyako and Seiichi Shimmi

As a newcomer to Okinawa, she began assembling a team of collaborators from scratch, starting with ceramicist and sculptor Koichi Uchida. Inspired by Uchida’s efforts to preserve banko-yaki ceramics in her hometown of Yokkaichi, she brought him onto the project as an advisor to help form something that could endure for generations to come. The ceramicist would help to shape the project, while also creating the reception tea space and its ceramic tableware, along with selecting a range of antique furniture.

Scenic route to nearby Kouri Island

During the early stages of the project, Miyako was also introduced to Nanjo-based architect Hiroyuki Yamaguchi, who worked closely with her to bring the vision to life. “Upon joining the project, my first thought was to cherish and respect the site,” says Yamaguchi. “We surveyed almost everything, including individual tree heights and locations, then determined how best to work with the topography while minimising our impact.”

“Rather than focusing on the architecture, I was more interested in the act of moving between buildings through the living, breathing forest”

Considering the unique nature of the site, initial plans for multiple villas were replaced with a concept that focused on enriching the experience of a single group of guests. Yamaguchi’s comprehensive studies, which included the production of hundreds of models in pursuit of the ideal configuration and scale, led to a design in which the main bedroom, dining area and open-air bath are dispersed throughout the landscape. “Rather than focusing on the architecture, I was more interested in the act of moving between buildings through the living, breathing forest,” says Yamaguchi. “Instead of imposing myself on the design, I sought to create something that would take precedence in its own right.”

Lacquered bowls by Mokushikkou Tokeshi
Antique furniture and crafts in the dining area

The architect’s ongoing dialogue with the owners, coupled with a desire to find harmony between built and natural forms, yielded spaces that merge and complement their surroundings. Perched among the treetops, the main bedroom opens to the forest on one side, while on the other, ocean views unfurl through a break in the foliage. 

Arriving at the space via a staircase of Ryukyu limestone, one is greeted by a calm interior wrapped in Hinoki cypress. The attention to detail extends further, from the original Tsuwabuki confectionery to the height of the custom-made bed bases, which have been carefully calculated to offer the best views of the horizon.

“For evening meals, local chefs can be arranged to cook a private dinner to savour. Even the sea salt is drawn from Nakijin waters”

Reception space, hidden behind a ‘yaki-sugi’ façade
Working the fire
Welcoming guests with freshly brewed tea
View towards the islands of Iheya and Izena

The dining area, which is just a short stroll down the slope, hosts a daily breakfast service. Prepared by Seiichi with the warmth of a home-cooked meal, the menu centres on just-milled rice prepared on a wood-burning stove. An emphasis on local organic produce sees a range of Okinawan flavours worked into the morning spread, whether it be locally caught snapper, freshly made shima dofu (island tofu) or mangoes from a nearby farm. Pickles and condiments are made in-house; even the sea salt used here is drawn from Nakijin waters. For evening meals, chefs can be arranged to cook a private dinner to savour.

Through every facet of the Nakijin Tsuwabuki experience, which begins with tea in the intimate reception space, the owners seek to create something truly original. Consistently drawing from the power of the Nakijin landscape, incorporating elements both new and inherited, they have crafted a place to feel at home and relax in the company of nature. “I believe that true luxury is the special feeling that comes from things that can only be experienced there and then, whether it be architecture, people or cuisine,” says Miyako. “Therein lies the spirit of Tsuwabuki’s hospitality.

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