“Before” and After

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:

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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.

Day 1:

Reform Day 1 - Shinchan Matsumoto
In front of the genkan, Matsuda-san (right) with project supervisor Shin-chan and his wife
Reform Day 1 - Trucks in Driveway
The Cavalry has arrived!
Reform Day 1 - Bedrooms minus tatami
Step 1: Removal of the old tatami mats, revealing the original floorboards
Reform Day 1 - Reform Crew in Main Room
A consultation in the main room, with a daunting, ever-growing stack of tatami looming in one of the servant’s quarters for my to carry away
Reform Day 1 - Irori area minus tatami
A closer look at the original irori (the square that the original owners for decades used as a heat and cooking source), with the crude and wildly unsafe stove that later sat atop it.
Reform Day 1 - Pulling up floor in Stable-Bedroom Annex
A member of the crew pries off the flooring in what originally had been a stable, but converted, probably in the 1980s, into an additional bedroom
Reform Day 1 - Annex Bedroom without ceiling leading into loft
Also removed in that room was its water-damaged ceiling, revealing a small section of the loft above. Significantly, the work done in the 1980s proves vastly inferior and in far worse condition than the original carpentry from 1810!
Reform Day 1 - Annex detail of loft and straw
Detail of the same angle. Note the thatched-straw roofing material
Reform Day 1 - Bedrooms minus flooring
As the floorboards are removed, I was surprised to see the large horizontal beams underneath
Reform Day 1 - Wood beams support frame
Resting atop large stones and dried earth, the beams are 200 years old yet dry and look almost new

Reform Day 1 - Beams Support Frame in Bedroom 2

Day 2:

Day 2 01
A big mess in the future dining room
Day 2 02
But wouldn’t a high ceiling look great?
Day 2 03
Most all of the flooring framework has been removed from the two traditional bedrooms, leaving only the original beams

Day 2 05

Day 2 06
While most of the beams rested on single large rocks, in the middle of most rooms lay a kind of rock mound, presumably to provide a firm base to each individual space
Day 2 04
An amusing discovery, probably dating back to the renovation of the stable into an extra bedroom in the 1980s, was this sign for “Riders House Mokomochi.” However, the house belonged to the same family, Motohara, for 20 generations and 200 years, 1810-2010. So what’s the story behind this, I wonder?

Day 2 11Day 2 12Day 2 13

Day 2 20
Floor work near the mizuya
Day 2 16
More floor work, here in one of the servant’s quarters. (And, no, I won’t be keeping any.)
Day 2 19
A hard-earned lunch break for the reform crew
Day 2 18
Those tatami in the back are starting to stack up!


Day 2 17
I’ve asked the reform crew to retain any wood in good condition and to store it in the kura. This is the discard pile and it occurs to me that a lot of it would make excellent firewood. Hmmm.

Author: stuartgalbraithiv

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian, writer, and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. He is the author of seven books, including The Emperor and the Wolf (Faber & Faber, 2002), the joint-biography of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune hailed by Martin Scorsese as "a must read." Peter Biskind, in The New York Times Book Review, called it "a rare feast for lovers of Japanese cinema [and] a monumental job of research . . . infused throughout with an affection for its subjects that is contagious. Best of all, it does what all good film books should do: returns us, with an enriched appreciation, to the movies themselves." "One of the best industrial histories of Japanese cinema available in English," adds Catherine Russell of Cineaste. And Bill Kelley, in The Sarasota Herald Tribune, had this to say: "Not many film books deserve to have the adjective 'extraordinary' applied to them, but Stuart Galbraith's The Emperor and the Wolf is nothing less than that. In fact, it's more . . . this 823-page achievement wants to be all things to all admirers of its twin subjects, and, incredibly, it succeeds. Reference work, scrupulously thorough filmography, exhaustive biography - all are here . . . A graceful, economical writer, [Galbraith] is also a first-rate critic and film historian. [The Emperor and the Wolf] is a wonder of clarity and organization, and an enormous pleasure to read . . . [a] magnificent book." Galbraith's other books include Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo: The Incredible World of Japanese Fantasy Films (Feral House, 1998), The Japanese Filmography (McFarland & Co., 1996), Motor City Marquees (McFarland, 1994), and Japanese Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films (McFarland, 1994). In 2007, Galbraith's The Toho Studios Story, was published by Scarecrow, while his latest, Japanese Cinema, was published by Taschen in 2009. From 2004-2009, Galbraith wrote a monthly column for Japan's Daily Yomiuri on Region 2/Japanese DVDs. Within the home video field, Galbraith has written essays for Criterion's three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and Blu-ray, Optimum's Rashomon, BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel and Subkultur's The Long Good Friday. He provided audio commentaries for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto - The Ultimate Samurai and Tora-san, editing the accompanying booklet for the latter. A commentary recorded (with Steve Ryfle) for Godzilla vs. Megalon but suppressed and aborted due to legal problems became an instant collector's item. In 2011, he co-produced Message from Earth, a short documentary on the making of Kinji Fukasaku's Message from Space. In 2015, Galbraith recorded an audio commentary and wrote and produced a new short documentary, Rashomon at 65, for the British Film Institute's Blu-ray of Kurosawa's 1950 classic. Concurrently, he served as an consultant on Oscar-winning director Steven Okazaki's documentary feature, Mifune - Last Samurai (2015). Also in 2015 Galbraith wrote an essay for Arrow Video's The Happiness of the Katakuris, shot interview material and provided an audio commentary for their Battles without Honor and Humanity boxed set. He was an associate producer for the DVDs of the classic poolroom drama The Hustler and Sidney Lumet's The Verdict. He provided audio commentary (with director Richard Fleischer) for the Special Edition DVD of Tora! Tora! Tora! (all for 20th Century-Fox), and interviewed Oscar-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond for his audio commentary track for The Sadist. Galbraith also contributed commentary tracks to The Horror of Hammer and Tales of Frankenstein, all for All Day Entertainment. Galbraith's audio commentary for Classic Media's Invasion of Astro-Monster was released in 2007 and nomiated for a Rondo Hatton Award. Holding a Master's Degree from the University of Southern California's prestigious School of Cinema-Television, Galbraith worked as an archivist and researcher at both Warner Bros. and M-G-M. At Warner Bros., Galbraith implemented preservation projects and procedures at both its USC-Warner Bros. Archives and the Warner Bros. Corporate Image Archives. At M-G-M, Galbraith worked as a "film detective," tracking down the original camera negatives to more than three dozen "lost" films. Born in 1965 in Detroit, Michigan, Galbraith was a film critic for the Ann Arbor News, a daily newspaper. In addition to writing film reviews and feature stories, Galbraith also wrote a weekly column, "Video View," which ran from 1990-1993. Between books, Galbraith wrote for such film magazines as Filmfax, Outre, and the French film magazine HK Orient Extreme Cinema. Since 2003 he has lived in Kyoto, Japan with his wife, Yukiyo, and their daughter, Sadie.

2 thoughts on ““Before” and After”

  1. Wow! Thanks for sharing that Stuart. I found the pictures of the underfloor every interesting. What’s amazing is that in addition to building the house without the use of any nails, that the woodwork was all accomplished without the benefit of electric saws and tools. The cuts are so straight and clean. I find it amazing.

    I can’t wait to see the finished project!


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