Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Days before completing we weren't sure, so Faith, our close friend suggested I prayed to ask God if it was the right thing to do. As I cruised the bike home on an empty highway one cold night I said a little prayer. The response I got was strong and immediate - a resounding "Yes" with encouragement. I smiled to myself, knowing we were safe and opened up the throttle in celebration. It was as if God was riding on my shoulders that evening.

There’s a lot of reasons for our buying this house & land. Luxury living isn’t the vision, although it’ll make a very nice place when it's done.

From what we plan to achieve, we hope it'll inspire others to do similar things and in a modern way, return to traditional values of growing natural foods (using modern permaculture – which is much less work intensive), help support a community and return to healthy habits and avoid the traps of eating supermarket foods that increasingly have growth hormones, antibiotics & genetic modification – since these would be a possible route to poor health in later years. Being aware of the main dangers, it would seem stupid not to do something… whilst we still can.

On 30th March we went to a small Sumitomo bank in Sakura town, Chiba and met the people involved with this transaction, taking care to ask all the questions I could think of that might be important. Within just over an hour the purchase had been completed.
It was a relief as finally the uncertainty ended and the action could begin.

First up is the task of rebuilding the parts of the interior which need improvement and restoration. Japan's not an easy place to update old houses and things don't happen as smoothly as they might in other countries - but our woodworking professional friends Yuki & Arnie both made what turned out to be excellent suggestions:

Arnie suggested:

My wife & I went there and were surprised at the variety of untreated flooring wood available. She quickly pointed out her dislike for pine with knots in and I was a bit shocked to see the price of premium quality pine. About 3 times the price of the cheaper stuff with knots in!

Yuki suggested:

Ah-ha! I researched and narrowed down our choice of woods to Ash, Maple and Oak. Prices didn't seem a lot higher for these than what Royal home centre were charging for similar sized pine. Result!

So we made an appointment and the following morning just a week ago today - went to the lumber yard in Chiba. We looked at the options including other flooring they suggested, but ended up choosing 105 m2 of solid oak tongue & groove floor boards - unfinished, so we could stain & varnish after fitting. We needed 1.5cm thick plywood, but were told this was in short supply since the majority of Japan's plywood stock was finding itself going North to help build temporary housing and they didn't know when they'd be able to supply more.
Whilst of course we would agree that's a priority of course - we need plywood for underboard if we're going to get this work completed...They suggested we buy some old C grade flooring and lay it underneath - but I wasn't convinced it would give us the strength we needed.

"Just the oak then please..."

I hadn't expected to be able to negotiate on pricing, but my wife asked politely and they gave way to a good deal, on the proviso we'd collect the wood ourselves from a warehouse in Ichikawa the following week.

Our next stop was the Royal home centre in Chiba-Kita, where we were able to order 135m2 of 1.5cm plywood. The storeman suggested we needed 60 sheets based on rough sizing from tatami sizes but I'd already calculated based on actual measurements & added 10% extra for offcuts, etc. so more was ordered. We left an order and were told it would be in the following week, but were asked to please collect it without delay - as plywood was in short supply and if it wasn't available for sale, but customers saw the stock pile they might be annoyed. Plywood really is hard to get right now it seems.

So yesterday I woke up at 6.00am. 45 minutes later I was on the bike, riding to Chiba where I'd meet Dai Chan to go together & rent a 2 ton long bed truck. By 9.30 we were at the warehouse having 64 boxes of oak flooring boards forklifted on, before stopping at the home centre to have all the plywood loaded. As we still had a little space to spare, we bought scaffolding equipment too.

In the meantime Arnie and his son Shinobu had been working since 7.30am Monday morning taking down ceilings, walls, removing old tatami mats (& saving the best ones for re-coveriung and use upstairs) and generally doing terrible work!

Spot the man on top of the ladder covered in black dust from head to toe, removing ceiling boards...

As we reversed into the drive Arnie came out covered from head to toe in black dust, which had accumulated over a long time from the kotatsu fires that used to burn in the house. A mark of a man not afraid of good hard labour as a means to get to the end result envisioned.

It was beautiful to see the big wooden beams exposed which I'd known were there from seeing the large upstairs room. What a serious roof!

They'd found newspaper that was 25 years old under the Tatami mats.

Between 4 of us, unloading the truck was fast work.

After discussing aspects of the build with Arnie, as this was his first time helping his father work on a house I asked Shinobu if he could envision the end result. He couldn't. I'm sure he's going to enjoy the results of his labours as transformation takes place, ha!

I spent some time with Dai Chan showing him the land and telling him our plans.
The following 2 pictures were taken in the chestnut orchard behind our forest.

The more people we show the place to, the more I'm realising that without experience in building / re-forming of houses - most can't see the potential of what we have in mind. Even my wife can't see it. Fortunately she has blind faith and trusts my judgement. Me, I've no doubt she's going to love the results of this work.

Shinobu takes down earth & bamboo walls!

27 bags of straw, dust & soot on the floors.

At first I'd wanted my wife to play a very active part in the designing of the interior transformations, but as she can't envision the end result, it's difficult for her. So we've agreed I'll work out the building & alterations and together we can choose furniture and decoration together later.

The garden's blooming beautiful! Colours are beginning to show as blossoms of spring come out and flowers show. Cherry blossom trees that were seemingly dormant have become alive with petals and bumble bees are flying around collecting pollen and birds singing. The thought that this beautiful garden is only the beginning is exciting. Just walking around it is already relaxing.

I want to start learning what all these plants are called in the garden.. both Japanese and in English.

Have been researching lighting design (The Lighting Bible by Lucy Martin is an excellent guide with tons of colour pictures!) and have nearly finished making plans for where we'll put electrical wiring as walls and flooring are laid. Will update plans for lighting soon and tell where we get the stuff from... Having looked at the stuff in home centres and not been too impressed with quality or price, I think we may be importing electrical components from the States soon...

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