The house is strongly built. Main beams aren’t as thick as some of these old farm houses – but much, much more stout than modern quick build houses. it’s solid enough to out last us.
Apparently the house is 150 years old, although there’s no exact record. Rooms are all large – which is nice if not a little unusual for a Japanese traditional farm house. Area of 160m2 doesn’t include the 15 tatami (Roughly 48 square metre) room upstairs.
We’ve got a young talented friend who is an excellent professional carpenter, who is 30 mins away, who will help us and there is another American carpenter Mark will introduce, so that’s good too.
Initial ideas include using our own Sugi wood to make modifications with (& later perhaps furniture too) - turning the two south facing rooms into bedrooms with wooden floors and a large closet at the back & possibly another - Storage is important to keep the house tidy.
My wife wants to keep the shrine located in the middle of the house, as it’s traditional. Provided I could get Yuko to agree, we’d move it to the wall other side of the bedroom – which would then leave a large 25 mat Tatami main room in the middle of the house.
In this central room for entertainment the low ceiling boards may be removed to expose the beautiful raw tree trunk above them.
A higher plaster board ceiling will be made to conceal the thatch (Which would make a lot of dust otherwise). We might later put a window in the roof to shed light down to this area if we can find something suitable in terms of material. It can’t be aluminium due to electrolysis. Wood is OK, but not perfect for long life, so we’ll see. . This way the ceilings of the main room can be made much more attractive and help display the beautiful beams, without dust coming down from the bamboo & rice straw thatch that insulates the copper roof. Will be a nice place for the wife & her friends to perform belly dance shows & events held at the house.
The 12.5 tatami mat space closest to the kitchen will become the dining room and the kitchen will also remain large, with lots of drawer & cupboard space with a centrally positioned table – custom made by Yuki, possibly. The 4 mat pantry will remain but be closed off – good for storing foods in a cool dark place. Entrance (Genkan) of 15 mat size will also remain.
The original dirt floor will be covered with wide floorboards from our land also. Upstairs 15 mat room will be turned into a guest area with lots of futons stored in purpose made storage along the back wall. Should sleep 6-8 people comfortably. Ceilings feature attractive low beams which some taller people will need to watch their heads under – but as these would be guest sleeping quarters to be used occasionally, that wouldn’t be asignificant problem. The roof is high enough upstairs to allow a false ceiling above the beams using plasterboard, to keep it relatively dust free or even planks, to build more storage (Wood is free! J).
Thatch needs care with regard to fire hazards & heating + electrical rewiring - but it’s not difficult to work out safe ways to do this. Perhaps a sprinkler system is one possibility. We’d like an open fire in the main living room – after all, we’d have more wood than we can easily burn – possibly in a lifetime. Bathroom will also be completely remodeled & modernized. The toilet may possibly be enlarged, or another installed – although it’s OK for now. The 6 mat back extension room would be turned into a conservatory, where plants can be sprouted / herbs / tomatoes, other small vegetables, etc. Part of zone zero of a yet to be carefully thought out permaculture design.
We’re planning on heading to India for the end of this year to meet with old school friends in Jaipur. I can already see ourselves with overweight luggage in efforts to bring back furnishings which are so beautiful from www.anokhi.com and other sources of beauty.
Not a lot of woodworm on the house itself. I checked that carefully & found no significant rot on the house, except for just a couple of minor cosmetic places – but a good hard poke with a screwdriver didn’t reveal significant weakness and it happened a long time ago – no structural problems at all. There is woodworm damage to the Japanese styled store house outside which will need replacement of ceiling and floor, but the building is thankfully sound. I’ll restore first and make this into my office, then later turn it into a guest quarters with en-suite bathroom / Rotemburo. Wood for restoration will initially come from cedar trees that are dotted around the SE perimeter. Some of our trees are quite thick. I’ve been looking at the Logossol M7 chainsaw mill. A very cleverly designed & developed modern portable sawmill which you take to the tree as you fell it. A bit expensive, but I’m sold on it already ($4000 USD).
I like the idea of a lot of land and useful wood for building with, which would cut our development costs considerably. Also having our own wood mill equipment means no problems with transport & paying for wood mill work, although of course there’s costs such as the chainsaw and other woodworking equipment. I’m keen to learn how to make buildings in traditional ways, that’ll be really enjoyable. The shack roof to the North will make a good place to stack and dry wood for the time being, but will eventually be removed – to make way for vegetable patches as part of our permaculture design.
I’ll build a spaceous 4-6 car garage / workshop where the old shelter is is currently (Eastern most building) & have doors east facing, so the activity in the garage is out of sight. Upstairs, I’ll build an office – so that eventually the other office building would become a separated guest quarters.
Land’s pretty flat compared to most places we’ve seen. The majority of the forest’s trees are Japanese Sugi, which is a fast growing softwood (Japanese Cedar). It’s mostly well spread out so a lot of it’s pretty tall & thick which is good.
It’s apparently much the same wood that’s been used to make the house about 150 years ago. The estate agent told us the previous long term owner’s business used to be in the supply of Sugi. I’d use wood from our own forest to restore and create buildings, furniture, equipment, etc and replace the perimeter trees (Over time) with stronger harder wood which will shed it’s leaves over colder months, to allow more light to the house. The forest area is very large. I only realised just how how much land there is we hadn't even seen yet as we gawped at the land schematics just before putting our Hanko stamp on the contract!
The Garage/ Workshop I’ll want to make in the same style as the rest of the house & keep it period looking, with the same style tiles as the large Kabuki entrance gate. The office / guest house would also have similarly tiled roof to replace the current steel covered one. Naturally the garage will be built very strong, so I can fit hoists to the ceiling to be able to remove engines and dig 2 pits in the floor too, which can easily be covered when not in use. Cupboards, storage, etc. will also be cleverly designed in. Garage / Workshop is important of course… I have visions of 2 pits with good lighting and enough space to open car doors fully and walk between at least 4 cars, I’d like 3-phase electricity if possible with a metal working lathe, milling machine, mig welder with stainless wire, aluminium wire, steel, compressor, spray equipment, hydraulic press, polishing equipment, woodworking machinery, work benches, shower in the corner, lots of storage, etc, etc. All so I can make things, work on wood and perhaps someday completely restore a car or build my own from steel tubing, etc. Cars could also be stored behind the house under shelters made of pine with cheaper but strong and durable roofs that could be walked on to clean off old branches, etc. as they build up from time to time. I will finally be able to import my bike & RX-7 from the UK as they’ll have a home. This year I’ll masho all of my personal cars except the M3 and get carry numbers when I want to use the rest to save on shaken & road tax costs. Perhaps in the future I’ll make a trailer to carry cars. I could ask my friend Obata San to help get it complianced.
I may sell the Tornado Catamaran if there’s a willing buyer, as I don’t think I’ll have much time to use it for years to come & storage is 90,000 Yen a year at Yamanakako, or I could store it on the land at home – Not decided yet if I can bear to part with it, but I don’t want to keep paying storage with it 2 hours away and so much work to do in my spare time.
The forest’s large & mostly flat. Eventually after using wood for various projects, heating, etc. we’ll lose of some of the the existing Sugi that’s blocking the south western afternoon light and plant more fruit trees, possibly hardwoods, oak, etc.
Behind the house’s forest there’s a field with rows of chestnuts, which is quite pretty. The existing garden will be changed. A large & deep pond or several interlinked ponds on the southern corner of the house will have some large rocks with water trickling down, pumped & filtered. Water source will be mostly the large roof of the house, then eventually of the workshop too. The house already has a well dug (Apparently 150m)… Sanbu is known for it’s good water and Sugi. There’s no sign of polluting farms, industry or homes around the region that would contaminate our well water, which is encouraging. Still not decided where We’d put a small pool (chemical free, possibly with water flow used for drip irrigation of the land. I’d also like to build a pyramid roof shaped BBQ porch overlooking the pond(s).
We’ll need a used good quality digger / leveler to help make all the heavy land moving work easier. This is available through our friend Mark who exports such used machinery to South Africa & we can sell it after a few year’s use, or just keep it.
Some of the ornamental trees in the garden may go to make way for orchards for fruits and lower growing shrubs, with vegetables grown where there’s more sunlight, but I suspect we might like them too much to take them out. The previous keepers (Which we hope to meet someday) took a lot of care over the garden.
There’s a large forested area behind the house – which is mostly flat and quite well spaced to walk between trees. There’s been some (not magic!) mushroom farming there, I think – a good sign of soil quality, but forests are usually good soil. Lots of space there to develop further...
We figure all of this will take around 5-10 years to complete, as and when time & money are available. A lifetime’s occasional work, if I can call a hobby - work.
My wife is a little concerned about a lack of a Steiner school in the area for our 2 year old daughter. We’re thinking about possibly building a small school house in a few years where 6-8 children could share an education using Steiner techniques and also learning about permaculture, making things with wood and of course growing up in a place with an abundance of nature.
We couldn’t find another place with as much potential, flat land, convenience of location (20 mins from the Pacific too – nice for Windsurfing, maybe!) and a house so large, so we bought it!
Now the project begins. Dreams turning into reality at a realistic pace.