Saturday, March 5, 2016


On my way to work today I took a different side street and found this large, abandoned house.

These fronts made of thin vertical wood closely spaced are very well know in Kyoto.  The name for this escapes me as I write this post, however.  This building was a miso factory with living quarters upstairs.  Its been abandoned so long the second story curtains hang in tatters.  Just the other day the Center hosted a talk by an architect who has been helping communities deal with abandoned buildings.  Japan's tax structure is such that it costs next to nothing to walk away from a building, while tearing something down costs a fortune and the tax burden on an empty lot is very high.  With rural communities witnessing a falling population there is no demand for these homes.  The result is in a place like Himi there are abandoned buildings everywhere, and many of them are exquisite examples of traditional architecture.  We even found an abandoned temple not far from our house.  If you could find an owner willing to sell you wouldn't have to pay much...

Next to the house were the bottoms of miso barrels, the largest about five feet in diameter.

The house had a strange, modern appendage on one side, a decorative piece of pottery still left in the window.

Some lovely carving details on the eaves.

At work Yuki san, on the left, came by.  She is a volunteer for Himming and I met her two years ago. At that time she told me her father and grandfather were temple carpenters.  She said she was interested in learning woodworking but her grandfather refused to teach a woman.  She called her father and he stopped by and we had a very interesting chat about his work.

In the course of talking it turned out he and his father had built this temple gatehouse, which Catherine and I saw on our first weekend.  Later he called and invited us to come up into the mountains to see the shop after work.

On the boat I laid out the rough shape of the planks and cut them.  Then I surfaced them with a hand-held electric plane.

Finally I planed them to a final finish by hand.  I sharpened my plane twice during the process of planing the four faces.  This cedar has a fair number of knots which dull the blade.

I propped the planks slightly higher in the middle to give them a crown.  This makes the planing easier since it keeps the wood surface tight to the plane.

After work we drove up into the hills.

I apologize for the strange light but the shop was lit by bulbs that gave my photos a yellow cast.  They were working on building keyaki wagon wheels for a shrine.

The pile of felloes and spokes.

The old hubs.  Yuki's father said they would take their hubs to be turned to a rough shape on a lathe and then given to a professional carver.

Yuki's grandfather and their other employee acted as though we weren't there.  They were not the least bit interested in us or the interruption.  I asked Yuki's father, in his mid-forties, how long his apprenticeship had lasted.  He laughed and said, "I'm working with my father (mid 70s) so I am still an apprentice!"  This reminded me of one of the subtexts of the excellent documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about the relationship between father and son.

Their huge wood pile was mostly a stack of perfect, knot-free hinoki, or Japanese cypress.

The sharpening bench.  That's an electric heater in the center dipped into their water trough.  The shop building is sided with clear plastic corrugated siding, about 1/16th of an inch thick.  At least they probably get a slight solar gain in winter on sunny days, because there was no heat source in the building, and snow still on the ground outside.

Its not a particularly old building, but nicely framed in a traditional style.

This timber had a mistake and was rejected, finding a home over one of the shop windows.  Yuki's father said it was six days work to make from a square timber.


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