Last Sunday we threw together a little “Before” party, one day prior to the start of “Phase I” of the reform work (“reform” being Japanese-English for renovation work). Phase I will consist of three-and-a-half months’ worth of basic work on the house to make it livable and reasonably pleasant to stay in: new plumbing and electricity, a new bath and shower, a working (and western-style) toilet, a new kitchen, insulation, a wood-burning stove, etc.
But before that was the “Before” party, to celebrate the final purchase of the house and to allow friends and acquaintances to see the minka in its present state. Three-and-a-half months from now, hopefully, they’ll be invited back for an “After” party to see how everything turned out. Here are a few photos from that event:
The following morning, Chief Carpenter Matsuda-san and three of his men arrived and got to work. Boy, did they ever! Over the next two days they stripped off the rotten tatami, the flat wood underneath, and ripped out most of the timeworn framing, revealing huge wooden beams, much like the ceiling and roof ones, resting undisturbed atop large rocks and, occasionally, large mounds of earth and smaller stones. They also tore out the ceilings of two rooms that had suffered water damage through the years. Our future dining room suddenly looked more dramatic with its 15-foot-high ceiling, and I sheepishly asked Matsuda-san if it might be possible to restore the ceiling to that height? “Sure, no problem,” he said.
I pitched in as best as my 50-year-old, out-of-shape body allowed, but soon I was soaked in sweat and grime, so I think they realized I was doing my best to help, little help though it was. When Matsuda-san told me they were about to ditch the old straw tatami mats in the rice field that’s part of our property, I insisted that was something I could do myself.
“You want us to help you?” Matsuda-san asked. I foolishly insisted I could do it all myself.
Big mistake. I hadn’t realized that, on top of having to lug them up an uneven, muddy, and leech-filled path angled, I imagined, at about 30-degrees, that the mats themselves weighed probably 40 lbs. apiece. The underside of tatami have a straw handle for this purpose, but many of these handles came off as soon as I tried lifting them up. I managed about five mats before giving up for the day.
Day 2 was rainy and the path water-soaked, so a morning of dragging nearly 40 mats was, thankfully, out of the question, so I tried busying myself by cleaning the rain gutters (got them flowing again), trying to unstick a sliding piece of ventilation in the doma above the odoguchi (no luck, even after tapping with a hammer), and helping the crew out as best I could, hauling discarded lumber, sweeping up the scraps of wood and straw that remained under what had been the floors.