They discuss ways to bring classic houses into modern age while retaining traditional charm, the joys of mixing new technologies and ancient art, and examples of how Alex’s 40+ projects since 1970s have come together as “positive public works“.
As well, they check out a city-block-sized Akiya and quick peeks at two other renovated guest houses, a kura turned restaurant, and another reservation-only country restaurant run by former Chiiori foundation staff.
Re: Minka Summit 2022 (not just for Kominka) in Kyoto-fu
Memo: Folks from a very pleasant FB group called “Kominka Japan – A Resource for Traditional Japanese Residences” are putting on an event in rural Kyoto Prefecture towards end of April with workshops, speakers, presentations and a “mall of vendors“ focused on acquiring, renovating and building/living/community-sparking houses around Japan.
While the group’s main focus is traditional kominka farmhouses, there are members doing a variety of projects ranging from akiya scores to machiya townhouses to general fixer-uppers￼￼￼￼￼. Also tours of area houses and food vendors from local farms on the slate.￼
Three days with various reasonable pricing for one day, three day and/or optional dinner/speaker event + discounts/free for students, elders and kids.Held in mostly outdoor spaces and primarily in English but with various translation arrangements to accommodate. it’s grass roots / volunteer driven event and seems like a great chance to meet other folks homesteading in Japan.
Hello from Sunny Okayama where my wife Ryoko and our new baby live on ancestral land in a “cottage” (kinda shotgun house slapped together) next to the parents who renovated Grandma/Grandpa’s kominka about 4 years ago keeping all the original touches but doing some practical and comfortable upgrades.
We are staying in a big tatami room while doing some changes to the cottage – lovely sliding doors, changed form original but maintaining aesthetics, engawas (where i sit now) now have thermal glass windows but also open fully for the fresh breeze.
We’re now bringing this full circle as we use the old sliding doors to the cottage reno, plus re-wrap the tatami mats rather than tossing out, plus adding an efficient wood stove (my wife is an arborist so always has wood gathered) – don’t get much snow but does get chilly and summer’s of course are hot and humid – plus adding a new room, moving kitchen into a more open location and whatnot. Also added a new ofuro bath so the 3 of us can bathe together #heaven.
Unlike the parents’ house, the cottage is sorta slapped together but we resisted a tear down and start again and making incremental changes. (Funny the parents said “you will just live in our house when we pass away” to which i replied, “you are 65 year old healthy Japanese so that means 30 years from now!”
Anyhow, the property also has a magnificent 150+ year old “kura” grain barn with massive wood beams, mud walls and 3 thick doors with cast iron puzzle keys. This has turned into my art studio and music lounge (needs a few little upgrades for safety and power/lighting) and a “naya” tool shed for wife’s business which also has loads of Grandpa’s heavy duty pre-war farm tools (including probably 6 pick axes!).
memo: have resources to add/ recommend? please drop a comment or contact – of course there are loads, this will get ya started.
So many vacant houses in Japan – millions! “Akiya” houses (free/cheap abandoned houses)Sometimes the owner is unknown – sometimes there are mysteries, sometimes houses have businesses attached, sometimes from way back in Meiji or Edo period! Sometimes someone died in odd circumstances within, sometimes just died.
Often very very messy, always requiring work, a lot sometimes.
Materials, labor and disposal can be really expensive in Japan so good to remember (speaking generally for anyone else who is reading along, not just you :-)). But hey, you are crafty right? Ha, its a whole other style of construction than “western” places. Tile roof! Foundations, plumbing, electric all different, Sometimes need boundary surveyed.
Importantly: Also, just cause you own a house, doesn’t mean you get a visa.
The situation in brief: The big cities are growing and the countryside is shrinking, fast. Young folks move away to the big city to work, old folks stay in country, working til they grow old and in Japan, folks grow very old. They die, the heirs are unknown or simply refuse the “inheritance” or they try to think they will go back and fix it up and enjoy the legacy but year after year paying property tax, they finally realize they won’t ever fix it up. Property/houses is generally/always a depreciating asset in Japan.
Anyway, the laws of changed significantly in the last year allowing local governments to appropriate more easily so there’s loads and loads of these available, does definitely take some hunting around though. Indeed! It’s definitely a scavenger hunt…
Ryoko was teaching a tree-trimming workshop at a community centre for seniors in the logging town of Maniwa so I rode the bus to meet up. We stayed at a hotel for a couple of nights, went bowling plus i took some strolls to contemplate the change nature of rural Japan while Ryoko was working, oh and we found a quirky coffee shop/art gallery.
Let’s address each of these check points separately:
Bowling and Hotel (pleasantly lost in Showa)
First the hotel, the Maniwa Riverside was the sort of “once grand but now rather shabby” hotel i kinda dig.
Laden with memories a la Grand Budapest hotel. They were making a good effort though the rooms were unfancy and the carpets not changed since sometime in the Showa time. Importantly, there is an onsen hotspring bath with was the main reason. Nice outdoor bath too. No secret i love love love soaking in hot water.
The hotel included breakfast which was a bit odd but the onigiri (rice balls) were hand prepared. Also hard boiled eggs with salt, pickles (yum) and a few various pastries and miso soup.