Before and After

We completed Phase I of the restoration of our minka in the mountains in mid-October, which we immediately followed with “The Haunted House of Hanase,” an adaptation of a Halloween event I’ve staged for local kids for the past six years.

For this post, I’m going to let the pictures do the talking with these before and after shots. Enjoy!

The Doma and Kitchen:

Before:

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The doma was a real mess. A beautiful mess, mind you, but a mess nonetheless. The cheap Japanese wood stove had clumsy, dangerous piping that went through and up, and the doma was separated from the main room with the cheapest of cheap wood panelling, practically cardboard. The shoji was all ripped, the doors wouldn’t slide, and ash, soot, mold, and dust was everywhere.

After:

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The cheap panelling was replaced with white plasterwork, and all the beams and ceilings were cleaned. We also replaced some of the ceiling above the kitchen and odoguchi (“big tradesman’s entrance”), and fixed all the doors and shoji.

Before:

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Access to the loft area was via this rickety old ladder. We moved the access to the annex bedroom via a far steadier stair-ladder. We also spruced up the pantry, adding lights and electrical outlets.

After:

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Before:

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After:

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Before:

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After:

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The improved pantry

Before:

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This “before” shot is actually the north end of the odoguchi, while the “after” is the opposite corner, but with these two shots you can really see the difference that Matsuda-san, Masutani-san, and I made. A dirty job this was.

After:

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Before:

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After:

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The Bathroom

Before:

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The original bathroom was pretty much unusable, its tub too small for Yukiyo, let alone me, and it was a cold, dank space. It underwent a dramatic transformation.
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We got a much bigger wooden tub (Alaskan wood), retained the original windows with their irreplaceable antique glass, but added a modern hot water system. As with the kitchen, the show and tub taps may be new, but maintain that farmhouse feel.

The Main Room:

Before:

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After:

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The Main Room’s transformation is perhaps the most dramatic. We insulated the entire back and west walls, and got rid of a mostly pointless rear engawa (no view, but dangerous during the winter when a heavy snowfall threatened to break through) with walling and wallpaper. We replaced and moved slightly the original wood stove with a heavy-duty Jotul model, repositioned slightly from the iori‘s original location. We also replaced the original hardwood-tatami mix with ebony-stained hardwood flooring.

Before:

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After:

 

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After:

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After:

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Genkan-Turned-Dining Room:

Before:

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This room, originally part of a expansive genkan (greeting hall) was badly remodeled 40 or so years ago, with cheap panelling and a low ceiling that had water damage. Once we removed that we discovered a beautiful original ceiling above it. This became our dining room, with the tatami likewise switched to ebony-stained hardwood flooring.

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After:

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Bedrooms and Engawa

Before:

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Originally servants’ rooms with paper and single-paned glass separating the inside from the outside (burr!), we replaced that with insulated walling and replaced the rotting tatami with new ones.

After:

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The new walling on the other side….

Before:

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Views of the front tatami bedrooms with the fusuma (sliding doors) mostly removed. Here we did minimal work, replacing all the tatami, fixing the fusuma and replacing the shoji, and a lot of general clean-up.

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After:

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One of many tansu (dressers) acquired from the Yoshimura Family.

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Engawa

Before:

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The engawa was unprotected from the cold Hanase winters. We decided to enclose it so that it can be enjoyed year-round, while also replacing the ugly, inadequate panelling above, as well as all the ripped shoji and broken glass.

After:

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Annex Bedroom (formerly stable)

Before:

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The Annex Bedroomoriginally a stable for the family horse, was remodeled 40-odd years ago. Ironically, the wood in there was largely rotten, while 97% of the wood beams from when the house was constructed 206 years ago were in great shape. Originally the plan was to simply replace all the terrible panelling and tatami and rain-damaged ceiling but, as with the dining room, we found it much more interesting to restore the original ceiling.

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After:

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Note the stair-steps hanging to the right. That leads to….

 

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Loft access above the futon closet.

The Loft

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The loft, with its 18-foot ceiling and vast floorspace, we hope to renovate in 2017 as a media room/bedroom.

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Where Chimneys Are Seen

The original estimate from the builders was three months and a little more, so I figured they’d finish around October 10th if I was lucky, October 20th if they were running behind. I was, then, startled in conversation with them some weeks ago to learn they were actually hoping to finish this month, September, though they cautioned they might run a few days into October. Best news of the week!

The maki sutoobu (maki stove or, wood-burning stove) crew arrived, allowing me my first good look inside the loft level. I’d tried before, but the space was so dark and so huge, no flashlight or lantern gave off enough light to see much of anything. What we found was a revelation!

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Neighbor Simon appears dubious about our chances getting out alive, as he peers in from the sub-level leading to the main loft
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Photos don’t begin to suggest just how huge the space is up there, nor how profoundly quiet it is, The straw really deadens the sound. It’d make a great recording studio
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We marveled endlessly at the gassho zukuri framework of the roof, such as this intricately-tied roof beam. The spike to the extreme right is typical of what holds the tin roof covering in place

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Supervisor Kitada-san and his assistant begin work clearing the straw to make way for the chimney and to ensure its safety from fire. A nine-hour day was planned. It took two
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Blue tarp captures 200 years worth of soot!
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It was a hot, laborious job, trimming 50cm of radius to ensure a safe-operating stove

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One of the main loft beams, with its layer-upon-layer of soot
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Lowering down a bag of cut straw
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A view of the loft sub-level, and the annex bedroom below that
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A basketful of straw, presumably from the last thatching perhaps 50 years ago
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Kitada-san ascends the roof. One really gets a sense of just how big the house is when one sees his tiny figure atop it!

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Week two of work began with the arrival of their heavy-duty van. 
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Back on the roof
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A hole in the tin roof is cut, and preparations are made to carefully install an aluminum foil-like wrapper of insulation around the chimney pipes
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Building the framework for the chimney
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A view of the west side of the loft. I hope to restore this space in 2017 and turn it into some kind of media/guest room
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Prayers tied to one of the main posts, possibly dating back to when the house was built 206 years ago

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Up the flue as seen from the main room below
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Chimney coming down!
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Two-for-one: Maki stove supervisor Kitada-san’s assistant works on the chimney, right, while the plasterer lays his first layer between the beams
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This Is Stovearama – A wide angle view of the workday
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The chimney is finally visible, poking through the roof
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While inside, the bottom-end of the piping anxiously awaits the arrival of the stove itself!
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Via Richard Hodge, I located some period-appropriate pendant lights for the main bedroom
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And, via the Yoshimura Family, a wonderful Shinto shrine for its proper place in the main room!
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A wide view of the main room, with the kitchen cabinets awaiting their installation 
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Founds some pots for our kamado, courtesy the Yoshimura Family
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A wider view of the doma, with the kitchen to the left
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In the kitchen I was surprised to find this can of tuna, left by the previous owner…
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…and guaranteed fresh until June 17, 1994!
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Evolution of a kitchen….

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The new walling in place
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Matsuda-san and Masutani-san prepare the cabinets I assembled for placement
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Note Matsuda-san’s footwear. He was stung twice in the foot by a yellow jacket a few days before while working outside, and wasn’t taking any chances
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The cabinets in their proper place, if still not quite finished
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A Cinerama-like view of the doma, facing the kitchen
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The sink finally gets its faucet, a new one that nonetheless blends in with the early 19th century doma. Still no running water, though!
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Want to visit our minka? For the past five years I hosted The Haunted House of Hataeda, most years a walk-through haunted house attraction every Halloween season. This year it has evolved into The Haunted House of Hanase, and promises to biggest, scariest attraction ever. (Indeed, far as I know it’s still Kyoto’s only original haunted house (Toei Eiga Mura’s haunted attraction notwithstanding). Three nights only – be there! (The gorgeous signage is courtesy diversely talented neighbor Simon.)

Meanwhile the wood flooring for the annex bedroom, genkan-turned-dining room, and main room arrived, and Masutani-san set to work carefully installing it.

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Annex bedroom pre-flooring
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Next, the future dining room. Once installed, it along with the main room flooring will get a dark ebony stain

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I was greatly impressed by Masutani-san’s dedication to the task at hand. Apparently the dining room flooring was a millimeter or two high relative to the sliding fusuma tracksand so he carefully planed each piece of wood so that it’d match
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The finished (if pre-stained) floor. Sadly, he covered it almost at once, in preparation for other construction in the room

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While Masutani-san worked and I mostly watched, a huge typhoon swept through Hanase:

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Water gushed from the stream next to the house like a broken fire hydrant
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…the normally clear river was muddy brown…
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and the water level had risen so much…
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…that, for the first time, I could see the rising water from the comfort of my engawa (veranda). Stay safe, Hanase!

Late Summer

Progress on the minka in the mountains continues; perhaps not at the pace I’d like to see, but it’s progress nonetheless, and the workers can’t be faulted. When they’re there, the house continues taking shape.

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One thing we’ve been focusing on recently is our kitchen. I selected an IKEA Metod module system that, while new, has an older, farmhouse look. It took a day to drive out to to Osaka to order it, and another three days to assemble everything, but it’s starting to look good here, and I got the job done in time for the workers to install it.

You can get a good sense of what the finished product will look like here.

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Meanwhile, Masutani-san began building the framework to hold it all. To the left of the kitchen cabinets will be our refrigerator, and to the right a washing machine. 

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Today, a (presumably) husband-wife electrician team arrived to install in the many outlets we requested for that part of the house. (Rice cooker, espresso machine, etc.)
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Meanwhile, back behind the house Matsuda-san is seen here pulling off the last remnants of the space where window shutters once were stored for the rear engawa. The rear engawa didn’t really look out at anything yet made the house more vulnerable in the event of heavy snow, rain, or landslides, so we’re replacing it with a simple wall instead. Not long after this photo was taken, he was stung multiple times by a hornet. His leg swelled-up and spent a precious work day at the hospital instead.
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To the left, behind the ladder, is the other side of that same wall. The paneling nailed between the great wood beams will soon be layered with white plaster, which should brighten the room considerably. 

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This is what the space in-between looked like immediately before Masutani-san got to it.
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Busy man that he is, Masutani-san also began work on a futon closet that’s being converted into a space for our indoor toilet and accompanying sink. 
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Beyond the kitchen cabinet, there hasn’t been all that much for me to do, in terms of helping the crew out, so one day I managed to tacking this stone wall, which had become so overgrown with weeds one couldn’t even see it. Stuart and His Mighty Sickle strike again!

 

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Fellow minka owners Lauren and Pat made the wise suggestion that we install a ceiling fan to help push the warm air downward for once we get our wood stove up and running. This was a cheap but functional model, though I confess to being tempted, someday, to maybe replacing it something a bit more ornate and period, like this one:

ceiling fan

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Sadie, Simon, Keiko-san, and I also spent a morning in Miyama, and while Sadie finished her summer homework, I assembled this cute DIY birdhouse, a good deal (and deal of fun) for a mere 1200 yen.
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Sadie at the Miyama dairy.
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A praying mantis tries unsuccessfully to break into our kura.
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That evening, joined by Yukiyo, we all headed over to the nearby Hirogawara matsuage (fire festival). Here, our neighbor three minka down, Murata-san, shows off vegetables for sale grown in his garden.

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As with Hanase’s fire festival, photos can’t do justice to the sights and smells of the event. I found Hirogawara’s more intimate and casual and neighborly, and thus much more relaxed and enjoyable. 
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Most of those who intended were locals, but there were plenty of others bussed in from the city including, apparently, lots of Korean and Chinese tourists. 
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Yesterday, Yukiyo’s father visited the minka for the first time. A retired window-installer, he’ll be helping out in that department to save us money and time. He liked the place so much he recommended that we sell our house in the city and move out here. Not a bad idea, maybe. 
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We also brought our dogs, Maisie (l) and Edie (r), for their first trip to Hanase. For them it was a great adventure.
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Edie, particularly, made a new friend.
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By the end of the day, the dogs were happy but done-in and ready for a nap.

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Dog Days

Today was another hot summer afternoon in Hanase or, as I like to call it, The Day the Earth Caught Fire. The workers had been off a record 12 days – first there was Japan’s latest holiday, “Mountain Day,” and then oban and then, well, it was quiet on that front for a while. But now they’re back, allegedly planning on working pretty much every day through to the end of the month and perhaps beyond.

I’ve been busying myself with various small projects: trying to hold the line against the weeds, some of which seemed to surge to a meter in height before I pulled ’em out or hacked away at them with my mighty sickle.

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A couple of Sundays back, we introduced ourselves to the Murata family, a few doors down, as their kids were slightly older and younger than Sadie, perfect for playing with down at their stretch of the river.

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In the best tradition of Green Acres, farm living with the life for Mr. Murata, who gave up his city job to become a farmer. Mrs. Murata is happy, too. At the kids’ elementary school, there are just 11 students and one teacher, and the kids couldn’t be happier. 

We’ve also met the nice couple next-door to Simon and Keiko-san, who live and work in Osaka, but come out as often as they can. We invited them over for BBQ ahead of the matsuage, Hanase’s local fire festival.

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I grilled up some steaks and corn, but Simon really hit it out of the park with his marinated chicken breasts, which Yukiyo described as the best chicken she’s ever eaten in her life!
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Boss was there, too!
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This being Hanase, there was but this single tent selling an unimpressive selection of food and drink; they had already run out of beer before we arrived!
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Conversely, a big police and fire department presence, drawn from all over Kyoto Prefecture apparently. They made up their rules as they went along. 

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Photos can’t do justice to seeing the real thing in person. Specially selected volunteers – Mr. Murata was down there, somewhere – throw giant lit tassels into the air, trying to ignite the platform on top. It took maybe a hundred throws over 15 minutes to get it alight.   

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The next day, Simon presented me with a tassel used in the event by Murata-san, who generously had given him two. A treasure indeed!
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Meanwhile, back at the minka, the workers gradually sanded, cut, leveled, and otherwise made all the sliding fusuma and shoji screens slidable once again. During this process, they even figured out that the ugly, mismatched ugly modern ones could be replaced by the original ones now bordering the living room and doma. Obviously, new paper is needed for their shoji, but it sure looks a lot better, and it was nice to get a sense of what the dining room will look like with all the doors closed. 
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For my part, I made the journey to IKEA in Osaka, ordered, and eventually took delivery of our future kitchen cabinets and sink. It was fiendishly complicated getting the right combination of parts and components, and putting it together has taken me three full days. Here’s a diagramical preview of what’s to come.
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And that damn kitchen had me working late into the night some nights. But I didn’t mind; I had the Milky Way to keep me company. 
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I’m also glad to say that I was able to help Matsuda-san carry the last wheelbarrow loads of rocks and boulders, and then pail after pail of cement, to top off the foundation for our cast-iron, wood-burning stove. 
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I just know you’ve been just itching to see this photo: our compost toilet. We’re thinking of switching to a septic system within a few years, as our “reform” budget won’t allow the expansive and expensive plumbing work involved. This’ll do for now.
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And you just gotta love the name. 
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On a more aesthetically pleasing note, I was happy to find this nice little table lamp, a photo of which I had seen in an issue of Kominka Style.
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Things really began to pick up steam when tall (probably 6’4″) Masutani-san began assembling the framework where, eventually, white plaster will go. The white plaster will help bring out the beams while reflecting light (and keeping heat in) our minka‘s dark interior.

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Incredibly, I found him pulling a Karl Wallenda, precariously balanced on 2 x 4s resting on ladders of different sizes, sawing and hammering without a concern in the world.

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The end result – looks great!
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The crew has also been hard at work on the “gray water” piping. Matsuda-san and I tried unsuccessfully to find where it all drained, and it appears the workers opted to build an almost entirely new line instead, rather than dig up the whole property in search of the original.

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Finally, Lauren and Pat (right), joined Simon, Sadie, Yukiyo, Keiko-san, and myself for a wonderful day. Lauren and Pat heard about this blog, and contacted us because they themselves are restoring a minka in the Noto Peninsula of Ishikawa Prefecture. Between slices of watermelon we swapped stories of our adventures and misadventures as foreign-born (most of us) minka owners. We all share the same passion for these sadly neglected structures yet, interestingly, each of the three families involved is working on a minka entirely different from the other two, and our approaches to getting the job done is also quite different. Still, I think we learned a lot from one another and really enjoyed sharing our love for minka with kindred spirits!

Progress

I’ve been too busy to blog much about the minka in the mountains these past few weeks, making trips there almost every day to try and do my bit, helping the workers here and there but mostly working independently on little jobs. Since my last post most of the work has been concentrated on getting all the flooring done, but in recent days they’ve begun work on the walls and a few details like getting the mizuya drawers unstuck and planing and sanding the sliding doors and fusuma so that they’ll slide easily, too.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words so I’ll let these images do most of the talking this time out:

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When the crew has the day off, I like to drive around the hinterlands beyond. Here, about five minutes north of Keihoku, I discovered this strange shop/art studio, that looked like it hadn’t been occupied in months. Nevertheless, some mighty curious stuff there (also next two images)

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Sometimes, while driving around the area, I just had to stop the car and take a picture or two. Here’s one.
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…and another
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The old minka is also quite close to Bujoji Temple, founded in 1154

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August is hot, even in Hanase. Fortunately, one can cool off (at least up to the waist) in the river across the street
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From this angle one can just make out my kura through the roadside shrubbery
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Summer wildflowers
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Dusk in Hanase
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Back to work, I removed a truly awful space devoted to ages-old firewood, creating a much more convenient shortcut to the kitchen and bath
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The crew, meanwhile, poured the cement foundation for the bathtub to come
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…and more cement and cinder blocks under the north and westside walls, all of which will soon be replaced with insulated walling
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In the two servant’s rooms, the crew are hard at work finishing the flooring
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Next, the basic framework for the main room
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The summer heat brought a relentless swarm of bees, hornets, and yellow jackets. This is one of many vain attempts on my part to keep them at bay. Found it on the Internet. Didn’t work at all!
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These are sliding doors to a rear engawa (veranda). Since it didn’t really look out at anything, and since I’m concerned about landslides and snow building up against during the winter, an insulated wall will replace it.
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In the main room a big box was built that will serve as the foundation for the wood-burning stove. All of us carried huge rocks to put inside it…
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…then we poured pail after pail of cement to fill it
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Elsewhere, little bowls of charcoal will help keep the area underneath the floor dry
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Getting there!
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Elsewhere, I decided to tidy up the doma, especially the okudosan (foreground)
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The flooring completed (less its hardwood top), work begins on the walling where the engawa at the rear of the house once was
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The crew also planed the mizuya (left) drawers, which had been stuck in place for who knows how long, probably at least 5-10 years
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I also weeded and tidied up the front of the kura, which now looks more presentable to passersby
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Also, at long last, the cheap, paper-like wood paneling, designed to keep heat in rather than look attractive, was finally removed above and below the great wood beams. In their place, eventually, will come white plasterwork
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Beam detail
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First step of the new wall is finished!
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The crew have also begun stripping walling in other areas. Here, to the right, is a genkan wall that had for decades been covered with anachronistic ’80s paneling
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Deliberately and carefully cut and removed from one wall of the servant’s room was this Meiji era calendar, dating back to the 1890s. It will be preserved and embedded somehow on the new, insulated wall in a nod to its history
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…and from where it was cut
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One can never get enough ceiling beams!

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Neighbor Richard Hodge is moving from Iwakura to a much smaller home downtown, so he very generously offered many of his outdoor items to the minka in the mountains. I think they’ll enjoy their new home.

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The crew made an interesting discovery this week, that a couple of anachronistically modern sliding doors, separating the doma from the future dining room, could easily be replaced with more age-appropriate ones lying around gathering dust. They look terrible now but fixed up and with new shoji they’re going be great!

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Not my minka, but a soba restaurant nearby that uses the same wooden stove-chimney system we’ll have. I had to take this shot as a reference to what ours will look like when it’s done
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Finally, I learned today that my daily trips up and over the mountains have exacted a heavy toll on my tires. I could tell something wasn’t quite right and took my car to the dealership. From these images of the front tires, it looks like I came awfully close to a spectacular accident!

More to come!

Week Two

The second week of “Phase I” as I call it, the hardcore, make-it-livable part of the “reform” (i.e., renovation) work, wasn’t quite as visually dramatic as the first, but progress was nonetheless made.

The most noteworthy developments involve the former genkan passageway-future dining room and former stable-future annex bedroom, each of which had some water damage to their respective ceilings. Once those were removed I began to think how much nicer each of those rooms might look with the high ceilings retained, especially as they exposed additional long ceiling beams running the length of the house.

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Hard to believe it now, but this is a look at a part of our future dining room’s high ceiling. It’ll get better. Believe me.
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An interesting discovery in the servant’s quarters. The non-matching wood at the top left I think must originally have been an open space, allowing the maid to deposit fresh linens directly into the master bedroom’s futon closet
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The ugly, postwar sink is no more

My pal Jeff Flugel paid a visit to the Hanase minka for the first time, and while he was there we tried climbing the long ladder in the doma 18 feet up to the small sliding door that leads to the loft area. But even stalwart Jeff confessed to being a little nervous so high up, and having to squirm into the tiny space up there.

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But a long piece of floor bracing, leaning against the futon closet in the bedroom annex got me thinking: Why not put a much shorter ladder to the loft right there? The climb up into the loft would be a much less daunting seven feet instead of eighteen. Further, a simple collapsable step-stair of the sort associated with attics could be hidden out of sight in the futon closet.

Big, strapping Masutani-san – he must be around six feet, five inches tall – continued his work with the flooring, adding insulation between the original beams before nailing the flat wood base that will rest under the hardwood flooring, and full sheets of insulation where the tatami rooms will be. For much of this, he used a red laser to reposition and ensure a completely level floor. What would the original builders in 1810 have made of such a device?

Week 02 04

Meanwhile, I did what little I could to save the crew a little time and trouble. Monday was a national holiday so Yukiyo, Sadie and I drove over to barbecue. Later in the week, I cleared several hundred pounds of muck that had through the years been building up behind the house, almost all of which consisted of endless rocks, roots, muck and mire. Soon after I began work on a multi-stepped gravel pathway, an intended shortcut for the crew (and, later, us) from the secondary parking directly to the doma, but my efforts were so pathetic I’m not ready to post any images just yet.

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We also made a final decision about which stove company to hire for the purchase and installation of our wood-burning stove. It was an agonizing decision. We got three estimates, and each company a) came up with a plan completely different from the other two, and b) insisted the other two plans were totally unsafe. We went with the plan that made the most logical sense in terms of safety and, naturally, it was also the most expensive.

We also found a place to send our two dogs, Maisie (a 15-year-old Papillion) and Edie (a six-year-old Boston Terrier), to for a little remedial education. Much as we really want them to be able to run around the area without a leash and have the time of their lives, Edie particularly is so stupid it’s easy to imagine her running off merrily into the mountains, never to be seen again, or Maisie latching onto a snake that turned out to be poisonous.

Each day on my way to Hanase I’d pass a dog-training center, and finally we stopped by and said hello. Turns out the owner-trainer, Fujii-san, knew exactly where we lived in town from my annual Halloween Haunted House shows. And it turned out he’s training a German Shepherd two blocks away and also trained Oscar, the dog that lived in our house in town before we did. Small world, this.

The real fun came on Sunday. With most of the house’s interior looking like the inside of a Brontosaurus skeleton, I thought it would be fun to take Yukiyo and Sadie out exploring the countryside near our minka in the mountains. First we stopped by a big summer festival at the public campgrounds about five minutes from our minka. Farmers brought produce from at least three local communities: Hanase, Hirogawara, and Momoi, and we feasted on grilled ears of corn, and Yukiyo and Sadie enjoyed some barbecued squid. My American eyes latched onto a booth selling burgers but it was only after I ordered, “Hitotsu, onegaishimasu!” (“One, please”) that I was to be given a choice: wild boar or deer. I opted for the wild boar, and I must admit it was the best burger of any type I’d had in a long while.

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Later, we drove through the mountains past some really spectacular scenery to Miyama, a medium-sized town to the northwest famous for its little sub-hamlet of restored straw-thatched minka. During the long drive back into Kyoto both Sadie and Yukiyo, as they always do, fell into a deep sleep. Must be all that fresh air.

Miyama 26
Near the summit above Hirogawara, on the road to Miyama
Miyama 25
Spectacular scenery at a local rest stop

Miyama 24

Miyama 23
Wedding photos taken with Miyama positioned in the background
Miyama Panorama
Miyama approaches!
Miyama 21
Sadie dips her toes in a foot-cooling stream, seats provided
Miyama Stream
So, too, does the writer of this blog

Miyama 20

Miyama 18
Local bread-shop, apparently 
Miyama 17
Sadie poses in front of one of Miyama’s powerful water cannons (to guard against fires), discreetly disguised as a mini-minka
Miyama 16
An old-style public mailbox, a rare sight in Japan today

Miyama 15

Miyama 14
Thatched-straw roof detail
Miyama 12
In Miyama, it’s impossible to take a bad picture

Miyama 11Miyama 10Miyama 09

Miyama 08
Sound advice inside the local folk museum
Miyama 07
An important exhibit (square hole in the floor, as it turned out)
Miyama 06
The loft of the museum is almost identical to how our minka in the mountains look, though our straw is more blackened from years sitting above a burning irori
Miyama 05
Tea break

Miyama 04Miyama 03

Miyama 01
The ride home

Progress: Phase I, Days 3-7

Work on the minka in the mountains continues at an impressive clip. The reform crew removed the old, far-too-tiny wood (and wood-burning) bathtub out of the bathroom, which appears to be in good enough condition to use outside, in addition to the new and much larger one that will replace it indoors. They also removed the old, very dangerous wood-burning stove that had been sitting atop the former iyori, along with the crude piping. Incredibly, there had been no chimney per se: the hot smoke and soot emptied into the loft. I’m told this isn’t unusual as the idea was that the black smoke would keep the thatched straw under the tin roof dry and the insects out.

By now nearly all the flooring had been removed, much of it useable firewood for our eventual stove, and since there was a literal ton of it (or more), it made sense to begin sticking it all on a firewood rack I had ordered online and assembled at the house. While the reform crew did their thing, I tried to help out by moving firewood around, and swept out debris in the various floorless rooms, as well as the bathroom, ahead of its major reconstruction.

I also tried to rake and shovel the muck and mire behind the house, thinking to eventually supplement the stone retaining wall with a French drain. It was hot and humid, but nonetheless I wore big rubber boots, heavy jeans, and a long-sleeve shirt owing to the many snakes, mukade, and especially wiggly black leeches back there.

What I discovered was that the ground behind the house seems to consist almost entirely of 1) rocks; 2) tree roots; and 3) slimy muck. However, the previous owners must have succeeded in making that back area nice at some point. There was, unusually, a small engawa that, I discovered, looked out over a small garden, its stone border still in place, if completely overgrown.

But Matsuda-san, our chief carpenter, made the most interesting discovery of the week: two coins, dating back to Japan’s Edo Period. (see below)

Next, the crew tackled the ugly, impractical postwar kitchen sink, a back-breaking job as the sink turned out to be virtually a huge cement block with a sink on top. While they worked, I thought it would be a good idea to remove all the firewood under and adjacent to the okudosan, as Mrs. Fujimura pointed out that was extremely dangerous once the stove became operational.

Moving all this firewood, I couldn’t help but wonder how long these dry pieces of wood and been stored there. Five years? 50 years? Then, as I was reaching deep under the stove, I experienced something very much like what happens at 1:45 mark of this:

At first I thought it was an enormous spider, but it turned out to be a hand-sized colorful cricket-like insect. I was so startled by it lunging at my face that I let out a yelp loud enough for the crew to hear it over their jackhammering and stop to see what it was.

Finally, the lumber for the flooring framing arrived and everything was off-loaded and made ready for next week’s work!

Day 3-5

Reform - Day 04h
The main room minus the old stove and all the ugly piping. Looks bigger now
Reform - Day 04g
Another view of things with the chimney gone
Reform - Day 04f
The bathroom with the tub out; years of ash and rusted components underneath
Reform - Day 04e
The tub removed (notice the little oven at the bottom where one would stick wood or charcoal to heat the water)
Reform - Day 04 d
A rainy day, with covered discarded lumber
Reform - Day 04b
Bowls of charcoal in stainless steel strainers, which will be placed under the floorboards to help keep it dry
Reform - Day 04a
The bathroom minus the tub. I suspect most of this will be gone by next week, too
Reform Day 05c
Like something out of Law & Order: SVU, Matsuda-san printed and posted images from other restored minka, as a guide to what I’d like various things (plasterwork, type of flooring, bathroom ideas, etc.) to look like once renovated. Below that is a floor plan indicating where I’d like the electrical outlets to be
Reform - Day 05b
The main room all tidied up, awaiting our final decision as to where the wood stove foundation needs to be
Reform - Day 05a
Required wear for outdoor work in the summer. On this exact spot a few days earlier I was sprinkling salt on the leg of a young woman trembling with fear after a three-inch leech attached itself.
Reform - Day 06b
Under the kamado, no one can hear you scream
Coins found 2016.07.16
The two Edo Period coins Matsuda-san found while tearing out the kitchen. The one on the left is a 4-mon coin, made of brass and dating sometime between 1769-1859. The one on the right might be a 1-mon coin from the same period. The hole in the middle is so that one could run a piece of string through one’s change and keep it all together.