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The Koto Sea, Tales of the Pearl Sea

Period/Open Hours

2019.11.01(Fri) – 11.10(Sun)

11.01 (Fri) – 11.03 (Sun) 10:00 – 19:00
1303-1 Sedogō, Higashisonogi-chō, Higashisonogi-gun, Nagasaki-ken

11.02 (Sat) 17:00 – 18:00
Jidainushi shrine, 74, Ōnegotogō, Higashisonogi-chō, Higashisonogi-gun, Nagasaki-ken

11.04 (Mon) 10:00 – 12:00 / 13:30 – 15:30
77-1 Matsubarahonmachi, Ōmura-shi, Nagasaki-ken

11.08 (Fri) – 11.10 (Sun) 10:00 – 19:00
Nagasaki Holland Village
1683-4 Seihichō Jikibagō, Saikai-shi, Nagasaki-ken

Photo: Junpei KawasakiPhoto: Junpei Kawasaki

The Koto Sea,Tales of the Pearl Sea
Omura Bay, Recalling memories asleep below waters linking East and West

Known as the Koto Sea, Omura Bay is located in the center of Nagasaki prefecture.
Surrounded by mountains and forests, the enclosed nature of this maritime region is rare
even in the world. Calm almost like a large lake, the beauty of this sea evokes myths
of heavenly maidens that still circulate today.

In ancient times, the area of the Koto Sea was known as Sonaidama no kuni. Meaning
“country in which beautiful pearls are found,” this area thus subsequently became called
Sonogi. It has been a sea rich with pearls for more than 1300 years. An adorable variety of
whale known as sunameri (finless porpoise) has called the area its home for more than
100,000 years. The environment is truly beautiful. Due to aggressive modernization, however, t
he area has suffered environmentally. People have forgotten the beauty of Omura Bay out of
a failure to respect nature, and the fundamental importance of the sea has thereby been lost.
At some point, tales about pearls were also forgotten, as men, women, and children lost touch with the sea.

The sea brims with the wonders of the life that it supports. Nowhere is that richness better
expressed than in pearls. To revive stories about pearls and return to the memories of ancient
times is also to forge bonds between humans and the beauty and importance of the sea and
the creatures that live there. It is also to contribute to the protection of the forests and the
natural environment.

In collaboration with the Netherlands, a country whose deep historical connections with the
Koto Sea has left many lasting memories, and who is renowned not only for
its engagement with the sea but also its skills of invention in general,
this project aims to revive forgotten memories through art and culture, thus giving
birth to new tales about pearls and the Koto Sea that people can enjoy for the next 100 years.

Omura Bay, linking East and West, protecting the sea and the natural environment, the Koto
Sea’s world-class richness and beauty, transmitting tales about pearls globally – this is a
project that thinks responsibly and carefully about the future.

illustration: Pieter van Eenoge


This is where the story of “The Sound of the Celestial Maiden’s Koto and the Pearl Sea” comes from. Yearning for her dead father and mother, a celestial maiden descended from the heavens to Omura Bay and played her koto. The place where its sounds were heard clearly was named O-Negoto (Great Negoto), and where it was heard softly Ko-Negoto (Small Negoto), names still used today. It is thus that Omura Bay came to be called the Koto Sea. The area was also once known as Sonaidama no Kuni, the Land of Pearls, evoking a place of serene beauty alive with fables of Koto Sea pearls and actual mermaids.

MATSUBARASHUKU(former Matsuya Inn)

Constructed in the Edo period, there used to be 25 inn stations along the 230 km Nagasaki Highway that linked Nagasaki to Kokura in northern Kyushu. Two of those stations are located in present-day Omura city: Omura-shuku and Matsubara-shuku. The latter, Matsubara-shuku, located to the north, stretches for a full 640 meters, a testimony to its prosperous past. Though there were no official inns for the samurai lords who passed through, by the end of the Edo era in the mid 19th century there were some 71 different teahouses where they could rest and refresh themselves.


In 2015, upon the renovation of the Chiwata No. 3 Seto Rice Granary (formerly operated by the local farmers’ cooperative) as Sorriso riso, other old buildings in the town of Higashi Sonogi (Nagasaki prefecture) were converted into new businesses: Chiwata train station house as Chiwata Cafeteria; an empty residence as Chiwataya, a bread bakery that uses its own yeast; an empty storehouse as the organic restaurant Kurage Shokudo. Used as an event, exhibition, and community space, Sorriso riso functions as the base of this vibrant transformation of Chiwata.


Opened in 1983 in collaboration with the Dutch city of Port Hoorn, Nagasaki Holland Village offers detailed recreations of buildings in Port Hoorn. The townscape, designed and built by Dutch and Japanese engineers and architects, is a symbol of the friendship between the two countries. After being closed for many years, Holland Village reopened in 2016 and there are high hopes that it will grow as a base for interactions between the Netherlands and Japan for years to come.


11/01 (Fri) – 03 (Sun) 10:00 – 19:00 at Sorrisoriso

The Koto Sea, Tales of the Pearl Sea
– Recalling memories asleep below waters linking East and West
by acoya director ChiChi (Chitose Ohchi)

11/02 (Sat) 16:00 – 17:00 at Sorrisoriso

‘Pearls, sacrificing life to give birth to beauty’ Celebrated around the world, the glow of Akoya Pearls is of a beauty on par with the changing of the Japanese seasons. It is the spontaneous beauty of the seas and nature, a miraculous life born of careful collaboration between humans and the sea. Each life is unique, with no two colors or shapes alike. Artists from Europe and Japan have worked to transform Nagasaki’s Akoya Pearls into works of jewelry. Protecting the natural environment and retelling stories from time immemorial, we hereby impart to the world Akoya Pearls, born from the Koto Sea and the waters of Nagasaki.

Participating Creators
BCXSY, Hilde De Decker, Yu-Chun Chen, Atsuko Ito, Jeanette Jansen, Jiro Kamata, Konishi Jun, Mikiko Minewaki, Shuhei Ohata, Emilie Pallard&Niels Heymans, Annelies Planteydt, PE/ AH, Ulrich Reithofer, Nina Sajet, Philip Sajet, Ayato Takeda, Taro, Chikako Watanabe, Saya Yamagishi

Photo: Mathijs Labadie

The Sound of the Celestial Maiden’s Koto and the Pearl Sea
by Lute player Chikako Inoue and ChiChi

11/02 (Sat) 17:30 – 18:30 at Jidainushi shrine, Negoto

The name Negoto, literally “musical harp,”comes from the fact that this is where the story of the “The Sound of the Celestial Maiden’s Koto and the Pearl Sea” originated and where the “Koto Lake,” Omura Bay, is located. Alas, these beautiful tales have been forgotten. Here, the beautiful sounds of the lute (also known locally as the Western biwa) will guide the way toward a new world of stories, thereby reviving the lost beauty and the memories of pearls.

Sea and Pearls, Environment and Beauty
by Tetsuro Oike, Ph.D.

11/03 (Sun) 16:30 – 17:30 at Sorrisoriso

Dr.Tetsuro Oike, who is a CTO of a cosmetic material company,
has been developing a novel membrane system for desalination of
sea water to make tap water as his main subject.
In this exhibition, Dr.Oike presents a story of the beauty of human,
environment and economy on the basis of his original observation
of lives in the sea of Koto and the beauty of pearls.

BAROQUE –beautiful, distorted, vain –
by Axelle BERNAGE (soprano),
Chikako INOUE (lute)

11/03 (Sun) 19:00 – 20:30 at Tsubame coffee
Admission Fee: 2,500 yen

“Baroque” when Nagasaki and Europe were connected.
Baroque ‘distorted’ beauty, beautiful and ugly art.
It leads to the old world with the sound of singing and lute.

A Kaleidoscope of Blue and Pearls
by Glass blower Ayato Takeda / RURIAN GLASS STUDIOS, INC.

11/04 (Mon) 10:00 – 12:00 | 14:00 – 16:00
at Former Matsuya-ryokan
Admission Fee: 2,500 yen

In the beginning there was the sea, and from the sea all stories begin. Glass originates from sea sands, and Akoya oysters are fragments embraced by the sea. There are many colors hidden in the blue of the sea. Since what is visible to our eyes, and what we call “reality,” is but a limited sample of the vastness of the world, true beauty will always be hidden from us. Turning and turning, always changing, never resting, the small world of glassmaking expresses the kaleidoscopic nature of existence.

Parel Silhouet
by Anneke Hymmen & Kumi Hiroi

11/08 (Fri) – 10 (Sun) 10:00 – 19:00 at Nagasaki Holland Village

Parel Silhouet by Kumi Hiroi

11/09 (Sat) 15:20 – 16:00 at Nagasaki Holland Village

Through the unique perspectives of creators invited from the Netherlands, a country with deep historical connections with Japan and renowned for its engagement with the sea, we will explore new ways of expressing the value of pearls and the Koto Sea. We will encounter many memories, including the time when Siebold ate pearls from the Koto Sea. And we explore the possibilities of new tales about pearls and the Koto Sea for the coming century. The artworks produced will travel to the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum (November 13–18) and IMA Gallery Tokyo (December 3–11). With generous support from the Embassy of the Netherlands and Creative Industries Fund NL.

Nameless Portrait
by Sei Yamazaki

11/08 (Fri) – 11/10 (Sun) 10:00 – 19:00 at Nagasaki Holland Village

Nameless Portrait
by Sei Yamazaki

11/09 (Sat) 16:10 – 16:50 at Nagasaki Holland Village

Each pearl has a memory that is all its own. By swathing a granule with unique traits, that memory gives birth to a pearl. Layers upon layers, those traits give birth to new tales. Soft folds produce the most sacred of forms. Beyond the meaning of all time and all stories, a space simply supporting the tender recreation of life, a mother’s womb. A sound audible through those folds, the sound of waves, the sound of landscape, a heartbeat. The birth of song, the birth of words, the etching of memories, the blooming of unique traits, the creation of personality.

by Butoh dancer & choreographer Yuasa Ema

11/09 (Sat) 17:30 – 18:30 at Nagasaki Holland Village Harbor
General Admission Fee: 2,500 yen

The Koto Sea was once a sea flourishing with pearls. Once known as “shiratama” (white jewels), a name suggesting a soul, they appear in the Kojiki ancient chronicles and the Manyoshu poetry collection. Shamanesses also wore them when dancing. We, alas, have lost not only such connections with pearls, but also any real feeling for the sea from which we ourselves were born. A requiem dedicated to pearls and the Koto Sea. Evocations of a world which lurks in that ambiguous time between day and night. Reverberations of the sounds of a lute, the Western biwa. A woman offers herself in dance to unseeable existences.

The Koto Sea and Pearl Cruise

11/09 (Sat) 17:00 – 18:30 at Nagasaki Holland Village Harbor
Special Admission Fee is charged

A boat cruise across the pearl sea. Guided by a captain and pearl oyster farmers who have deep knowledge about the Koto Sea and many stories to tell about its pearls. In closing, “Matama,” a butoh dance performance, upon the Koto Sea. Dusk on the waters, the faint sound of a lute, a dancing celestial maiden. As if viewers had been invited aboard as marebito, visitors from another world, to witness a land of fables beyond time.

PRESENTED BY General Incorporated Association Art Culture Matrix
SUPPORTED BYKingdom of the Netherlands, Nagasaki Bus Fund, Nagasaki Holland Village
ASSISTED BYSociety of Higashisonogi Hitokotomono Under the auspice of Matsubara Community Building, Higashi sonogi-chō,
SPONSORSHIP BY Nagasaki prefecture, Higashi sonogi-chō, Negoto Community Building, Social Welfare Corporation Ōmura Pearl Heim,
Nagasaki Cable Media, SALIOT, Gururi Architect office, Midoribu, Saikai city

CREATIVE DIRECTION: ChiChi (Chitose Ohchi)