Friday, May 27, 2011

Last Sunday we spent the afternoon watching a very important film (Which is available with Japanese subtitles). It analyses & explains the damage Globalisation is doing to our environment and offers solutions in the form of Localisation.

One of the most important & well researched films I've seen recently.

More information / where to order a copy from: The Economics of Happiness

Vandana Shiva has spent over 3 dacades examining the problems with modern industrial agricultural methods and the damage they are creating worldwide.

If you don't watch the Economics of Happiness and you care about the future then at the very least spend 17 minutes watching this speech by Vandana Shiva.

Here Vandana Shiva she clearly explains four kinds of seeds – open pollination, green revolution varieties, hybrid varieties and GM seeds. This distinction is fundamentally important to understand the arguments against genetic engineering. She also describes how the cost of GM seeds and pesticide use soar astronomically, which are major factors behind the indebtedness and consequent suicide of farmers. (Kindly excuse the poor lighting conditions in the room, which is more than made up by Dr Shiva’s articulate discourse)

Friday, May 20, 2011

This week more has taken shape, albeit slower than hoped but it's positively progressing in the right directions and quality of workmanship is spot on with Arnie at the helm. The floors for upstairs are nearly finished and this also doubled as ceiling for the entrance hall, along which there are new & freshly stained black slats of decorative wood.

This plywood flooring fits neatly without joints being visible from underneath. As the work on the house finishes, we'll unscrew the boards, cover them in white textured wallpaper and re-fit for a neat job.

A large section of the upstairs flooring neatly comes out, so we can hoist furniture upstairs, instead of trying to negotiate the tight corners & stairs.

Yesterday Arnie took out the old pantry & today began to replace a few (Non structural) timber that had been turned to sponge courtesy of previous resident woodworm. Once this is done, the upstairs flooring can be completed. Note that all of upstairs is to be covered with Tatami (Good for partially sound proofing the floor too!

During this week Shinobu worked on the 2nd lounge (Which by original design is the grandest room of this traditional building).

First they made a simple dust barrier in the 1st lounge..

To protect the next door lounge room from this:

Once cleared of dust accumulated throughout a couple of hundred years Shinobu oiled beams in this 2nd lounge so it's ready for Arnie to make & fit new framing in that room next week.

Whilst Arnie's making framing in the 2nd lounge, Shinobu will be able to clean off the dust then oil all the beams in the guest room upstairs. Thist will make part of the beautiful decorative ceiling.
Once Arnie is finished framing the 2nd lounge he can go onto the framing for the guest room ceiling too. They only have one scaffolding, so this is why they work seperate rooms at a time.

Once all the framing's been done electrical work can begin with conduit running the length of the house through the central walls, to branch out as needed for electrical fittings. By having conduit, there's no chance of rodent damage, which means virtually zero danger of electrical sparks in the vicinity of straw that's hundreds of years old!

Once the electrical work's done, the wooden ceilings and plasterboard walls can go on, to be coated with cream coloured covering - the type that's made from crushed abelone shell. This shouldn't take very long to do.

In the meantime we wait for local electrical contractors to upgrade our electrical system from a measley 30A to 100A. This should be plenty enough to cope with whatever we need and avoid the hassle of the breakers tripping when there's many appliances on at the same time.

We plan to base most if not all of our lighting requirements on LED dimable bulbs, which should help keep consumption very low. Our heating will be free, as it'll be based on 2 traditional style cast iron wood burning stoves.

Once the electrical work's done and there's a couple of rooms finished, the plan is to have wireless internet (Fibre-optic cable based). With this I can be the first to move in and spend a few days there each week. I'll work during the day and when not busy, help with finishing the rest of the interior whilst learning from Arnie!

As mentioned before, the garden is morphing into a jungle in places. I was pleased to receive a carburettor servicing kit less than a week after ordering from the States for my little Stihl HS85 trimmer bought on Yahoo Auctions - Japan.
From very early tommorow (Saturday) morning I'll spend a day working with this and the Stihl weeding machine and seeing how much I can blitz through in a day.

Might even manage to sweep the forest path which is getting covered in debris.

This week Shinobu spotted a grass-snake trying to catch a frog...

He Saved the poor little bugger!

I reckon soon after we move we'll get 2 Jack Russels to keep our Border Collie company. The garden's big enough for three dogs to run around on... Not sure if the semi-wild cats that live in the bamboo forest will think much of that though, but Jack Russels are naturals at catching snakes, or scaring them well away!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

With ceilings now all down except for the kitchen, it's been a pleasant surprise to see how well put together the structure is. It's no wonder this house has lasted roughly 2 centuries and remains so strong.

Imagining how this house was built without power tools leaves me in wonder of the skills the Japanese had so long ago that have now sadly disappeared.

Unfortunately it's difficult to show how thick the beams are without proper lighting for the camera, but there are tree trunks that span almost the entire length of the roof. Each fits into another with joints that are secured with wooden wedge pins.

Main (Horizontal) beam shown runs almost the entire length of the roof.

Upstairs spare room. The upper beams will be about 170cm high from what will be tatami flooring using the best (which are to be newly recovered) mats that were previously downstairs. Ceiling will be above the beams, similar to arrangement downstairs.
Not yet decided if we'll have Sugi (Japanese cedar) stained ceilings or plain wallpapered plasterboard in this guest room. This can be decided later.

Looking up from the central lounge room. Only the immediate (thick) brown beams will be visible once the ceiling is in place. These are now cleaned of dust & will be treated with linseed oil to bring out the grain. The more the beams are oiled through progressive years ahead, the more protected and beautiful they will become. They'll always remain a dark colour.

The roof is about 60cm thick. There's a thick bamboo structure with rice straw thatch, then two layers of wood framing and covering, topped with a copper roof.
As the thatch holds dust & soot from the irori fires that were burnt inside the house to ward away insects, it creates a lot of dust.

My friend Mark told me of Arnie's engineering skills and now I'm beginning to see them coming to fruition.

The frame for the ceiling in the central lounge room.
We were originally planning to have a plasterboard ceiling, but on Arnie's suggestion will be having stained and satin varnished Sugi wood. This is the material traditionally used for the grander rooms of these houses. It's also cheaper to do, as Arnie has bought plain boards which he'll plane & groove to fit with plywood fillets to minimise warping due to heat & moisture.

This is one of the 2 non-structural beams removed from the central lounge which had been used to support the lower ceiling. It's about half the thickness of some of the structural beams. When removing it, Arnie had no choice but to cut it out, followed by removing the joint which went about 18 inches through a vertical post, secured by a concealed wooden wedge pin.

To avoid having dust enter the house each ceiling will be sealed with thick plastic sheeting before having about 30cm of insulation fibreglass laid on top.
This is the same plastic sheeting that's been used to protect the under floors from drafts before laying insulation, but there's been other preparation first:

Cutting framing for the floor. Arnie needed to shim this as necessary, so the plywood will sit such that when the oak flooring is laid at the end, it'll be flush with the other parts surrounding the floor.

Framing the floor after having first laid plastic sheeting. This will protect from intrusion by insects, drafts, etc.

This insulation is usually used between plasterboard walls, but is put to good use here. It'll help keep the floors fron being noisy and protect from condensation as well as helping maintain heat inside during the winter.

Plywood under flooring is 1.5cm thick. Slotted and fitted with plywood filets to keep it from warping. Also protected with creosote on the underside.

Finished flooring in the main lounge for now. Next, the ceilings will be put in, then the plasterboard walls, covered in a permanent off-white coating made from crushed abelone shells, which is very long-lasting and a more traditional coating than modern wallpaper (Cheaper too). Apparently, it's not too difficult to trowel on.

Once the ceilings and walls have been completed the beveled edge solid oak flooring can be glued & fitted into place. The same processing will be applied before laying oak hardwood flooring in each room.
Work has recently resumed after Japanese Golden week break. Arnie & Shinobu took time out as Arnie's weekend job takes precedence during holidays too - being a weddings Pastor.

We sent back to Shodoshima for the break to be with my wife's parents & have on occasion continued shopping on the internet. Most of the rlectrical goods ordered from the States have arrived. Everything from a 6 gallon Ariston water storage heater to make a temporary heated shower until we re-design the bathroom (Storage heater can be used for the guest barn later, or even the future garage's shower cubicle), to dimmer switches and floor mounted plug sockets.

We're still awaiting a few things which should arrive soon.

To this end, I've also made plans for electrical switch and socket locations. Every room will have dimmers and only the dining room and entrance foyer will have pendant lights. All will have multiple lighting options, so the mood can easily be changed, depending on time of day and activity. Spot lights will be used in the double lounge to bounce light off the stained Japanese Cedar ceilings tall above the thick wooden beams and there will be some wall sconces too.
We want to avoid visible wires, so for example where there will be a table lamp in a corner the wall socket will be quite high, so the plug is well hidden by the small table. All table lamps for each room will be controlled by a cental switch. Speaker terminals will be strategically positioned to avoid wires trailing around the perimeter of rooms - and there will be a centrally built console to house the component hifi system, CD's, phone / fax, etc.

It's taken one supplier about a month so far to not be able to supply the $5.00 repair kit for a petrol trimmer I bought on yahoo auctions (Japan). So as a result the garden continues to morph into a jungle. But I found a supplier who did have stock. With a $25 postal charge, it's cost $50 to fix a tool that cost 3,000 Yen on yahoo. Still, I'll be able to start trimming soon. Tried by hand, but the sheer amount of work to be done meant I'd be there for a week, chopping bushes!

Have also been buying furniture on Yahoo. The sheer volume of available stuff is huge and combined with having to weed out the over-optimistic stores or sellers who bid their own prices up it's resulted in a lot of wasted time - but we have managed to get a few classically styled pieces. The costs of Takyubin delivery have sometimes been bit shcking...

So far there have been no nasty surprises with the reforming work & costs have continued to remain affordable. We'll probably not be able to re-do the kitchen & bathroom before we move, but that's good in a way - we'll be able to really think about how to make these important rooms as usable and comfortable as possible.
I also need to work on my wife, as I have visions of sunken bathtub and big sliding glass doors looking out to the forest, but she's not sure yet. Best wait till she sees the first stages of transformation I think.

We're in no hurry to move in & would rather wait for the place to be comfortable and livable with minimused disturbance when we complete further improvements, than moving in too early and being forced to eat dust. The weather's beautiful in Shizuoka and I'm looking forward to some activity on the lakes. Perhaps we'll move at the end of summer.

My mum will be visitting us for 3-6 months - arriving next week. She's a keen gardener, so I wonder what she'll think when she sees the house.