Thursday, November 29, 2018

Goto Islands (Gotojima) Back To The Land

On my way south to Kyushu to see more cormorant boats I stopped to see someone I'd met in 2016 when I taught a series of boatbuilding workshops in conjunction with my exhibition of boatbuilding at the Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum in Kobe. Miyazaki san lives on Gotojima and he described a remarkable life he and his wife have created. He also wanted to introduce me to the island's last boatbuilder.

It began with his house, a 200-year old thatch roof farmhouse from Hiroshima, which Miyazaki san bought and had disassembled and brought to Goto. This, remarkable as it is, was just the beginning.

His rocket stove, which rests on a plastered base. The flue gases run through a baffle in the metal drum, then through the ceramic bench before finally reaching the brick chimney base, which acts as a heat sink, before finally exiting up the flue pipe you see here.

A view of the interior, a combination of traditional and modern rooms.

Behind the house Miyazaki san built a workshop for his son who is a cooper.

The son apprenticed with the last cooper on the island and inherited his tools. He's also part of a consortium of coopers who now travel throughout Japan build large-scale barrels principally for soy sauce companies. They also invite trainees to join them.

His longest joiner plane is simply a regular plane dropped upside down into a mortise in a long, straight hardwood timber.

Innovative handle for a bucket.

He sells his work through a website. Here are small bucket staves glued and clamped.

He challenged himself by building a taraibune, the first type of boat I studied in Japan.

The island's boatbuilder made this 12-footer in less than two weeks.

The beam ends come through the planking and are capped with copper.

Yamaguchi san holding his father's stem pattern. He is 69 and apprenticed with his father building wooden boats, but the local industry switched to fiberglass soon after, so he spent his career building fiberglass boats. Miyazaki san has hired him to teach him how to build a boat, a project they are doing in January. Yamaguchi san told me his father lost his left arm in the Battle of Iwo Jima (less then 2% of the Japanese defenders survived) and came back home, apprenticed in a shipyard, and then started his own. Yamaguchi remembers having to hold the nail and nail set while his father swung the hammer. He said he started helping his father at age twelve.

Miyazaki san's other son is a blacksmith. He apprenticed with an older craftsman too and bought his shop and tools.

His main product are kitchen knives.

Miyazaki san showed us his supply of thatching materials. He plans on building a smaller, thatch-roofed house on his property, where he also plows with a steer, grows rice, and owns two horses.

Miyazaki san showed us where he cut the thatch for his house.

The islands are beautiful and the waters are clear and warm.

Back at the house Miyazaki san has been practicing ripping logs into planks using the maebiki, the traditional ripsaw. I helped him finish one cut. Trading off we cut one meter in about an hour. The unusual saws were a very important development in Japanese architecture, as they greatly increased the output of sawn timber, replacing two-person saws.

I went up into the attic of the house. In the old days families raised silkworms in these upper spaces.

To my surprise, I found the flue pipe from the stove. The chimney does not penetrate the roof, instead the smoke fills the attic space (and sometimes the house) and slowly percolates out through the thatch. This is necessary because the smoke keeps bugs out of the thatch and also keeps all those lashings holding the bamboo to the rafters tight.

One last look at the house. These kind of homes are sitting abandoned all over rural Japan. Miyazaki san paid nothing for the house but obviously had to pay for the disassembly, trucking, and disposal of what he didn't take. Still....

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Takatsu River Boat and Rural Travel

My contacts in Masuda told me they knew of one more historic boat, located in a small museum far up the Takatsu River. I was headed back across the mountains to Hiroshima so I decided to see if I could find the place and check out the boat. I took a different road in the interests of exploration, following the Takatsugawa towards its source.

I stopped often to take photos of the river and as I walked around a rock outcrop to take this shot what should I find but a completely fiberglass boat, an exact copy of the traditional, local design, no doubt made be either laying glass over an old boat or using an old boat to make a mold. I have met many builders in Japan who were forced to switch to fiberglass constructions (called FRP in Japan) and most simply built the same designs they had built in wood.

 I took one short side trip up a mountainside to see a village of terraced rice fields. By and large driving in rural Japan is easy. Signage is generally great and there are plenty of wonderful roadside facilities, most of which feature local produce and products for sale. The terraced rice fields were marked with one tiny sign that I almost missed driving past at 80 kph.

The view from the very top. The village actually followed the valley around to the left. You see here only about one-third of the total elevation of the terraces.

A woman tending her vegetables. Note her electric cart to the right. Rural Japanese farmers simply do not quit. The idea of not farming is unfathomable to them.

You have to marvel at the amount of labor required to terrace this mountainside, all hand-laid stone. I asked a local how old the village was and he said, "Heike jidai" which would indicated back to the 1300s.

Above the last cultivated terraces I found more, taken over by the cedar forest.

In an abandoned barn I found an old wooden hand-crank rice separator. Made of wood and tin these were common. 

Back down to earth, a roadside rest stop.

Finally, the Suigen Kaikan. The museum is part of a water park.

Beautiful timber frame architecture.

An exhibit of farming equipment.

A huge dragon made of rice straw, used in a local ceremony.

The boat! Twenty-three feet overall and lovely lines. The man at the ticket window said it is about fifty years old. This type was called locally kurikomibune.

An exhibit photo. I sent an image of the label copy to my friend Reiko in Masuda and she kindly translated it:
“For the people who lived in Muikaichi or towns along the Takatsu River, the river’s bountiful fish was precious food. In Tsuwano-han( Tsuwano domain in Edo period), fishermen had to pay tax which was calculated on the basis of the catch. This tax system was called ‘Kawa-yaku-gin.’
Those people’s fishing style was called as ‘Kurikomi’ and their boat was also called as ‘Kurikomi-bune.’ In Muikaichi, there was a traditional iron factory, a foot operated bellows called ‘Tatara.’ People carried iron sand, which was dug in Ino in Misumi town, to the iron factory by the Kurikomi-bune sailing on the Takatsu River. The Takatsu River running among mountains and having a lot of volume of water was an important river for folk’s life."

The curve in the beams a beautiful touch.

As is the sheave built into the stem, and the copper cladding.

Soon after I left my road suddenly became one lane perched on the edge of a gorge.

As I got closer to Hiroshima, suddenly a scene of devastation from last summer's mudslides.

The entire first floor of this building was scoured out.

Within feet of the mudslide was this large abandoned farmhouse.

Unlocked, I decided to explore. Original rammed earth douma, or workspace.

The huge beams overhead blackened by the cooking fires.

A family photo hanging on the wall.

Timber framing. For scale the vertical post is almost 12" x 12".

Veranda. Note the huge beam running the length of the front of the house.

The bathtub is an iron pot.

Fired from outside.

And I guess the tradition of nailing a horseshoe for good luck extends to Japan.