November 2008

November 21-25 served as a staff member at the Japan Straw Bale House Association’s workshop and seminar in Tochigi-Prefecture. Construction continued on Nasu Dymaxion Village, a complex of load bearing straw bale buildings. The first building built last year was the Toilet Hut with living roof. During this years workshop we raised and plastered the straw bale walls of the Kitchen Hut. Similar to the Toilet Hut, the interior is finished with an earthen plaster while the exterior is finished with lime plaster. In order to access the straw to monitor the moisture content of the straw using a GE Bale Master Moisture Meter, I set three PVC screw top lids into the wall. The lids are removed in the photo, but screw on to a short piece of pipe to fully seal the wall.

Had a successful sweet potato harvest. We’re raising a couple of chicks in our research studio.
November 30 and December 1 visited Brown’s Field , a health and sustainabililty center in Chiba-Prefecture. Peter Buley, an American friend I met at Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Vermont, is building a tree house at Brown’s Field. http://www.brownsfield-jp.com/brownsfield.htm
I slept in a tree house that was built previously. We visited a home being renovated with natural materials near by. Peter helped with much of work on this home as well. The home features rammed earth walls, light-straw-clay walls, and cordwood walls with an earth based mortar. Un-split bamboo is apparently embedded in the rammed earth walls.


Villa del Pino: A Straw Bale Home in Fukushima-Prefecture

From July 26th to the 31st, I was working on straw bale project in Fukushima-Prefecture with the Japan Straw Bale House Association. The first floor is conventional fiberglass insulation and siding, while the second floor is straw bale. The exterior is finished with lime-silicon plaster, while the interior will be finished with dry wall. Before the dry wall is hung, the interior is also plastered to prevent vermin, fire, and moisture from entering the straw bale wall.The housing development is surrounded by a national park. Nearby, a cobalt blue lake created roughly 100 years ago after a volcanic eruption. And misty mountains.


Café Slow

During the months of May and June, I’ve been working as the primary builder and workshop instructor of the straw bale portions of Café Slow, a café just west of Tokyo and the nucleus of a number of environmental currents in Japan and abroad. http://www.cafeslow.com/
The café serves fair trade coffee and vegan, organic meals, and sells various organic and fair trade goods. The café needed to move from its previous location and wanted to use straw bales in its new interior. There were a total of 10 workshops in which well over 100 people participated, children and adults alike.
This is what the site looked like on May 1.
On June 14 and 15, Café Slow held an opening party.
At the entrance of the café there is a small straw bale wall inspired by the Okinawan Henpun, a wall built just inside the entrance of homes in Okinawa to keep unwanted energies and spirits from entering the house.

We also plastered the bathrooms with Keisoudo, a commercial earthen lime, cement plaster.
Café Slow was designed by Oiwa-sensei, the architect I work with most for my research. Beginning in July we’ll be building a straw bale café in Chiba-Prefecture for Saya Takagi, a rather famous actress who’s become a back-to-the-lander. However, unlike Café Slow that uses straw bales mainly as an ornamental interior, the straw bale café in Chiba will be a post and beam structure with straw bale infill.


Health Insurance and the Medical System

On May 20, I attended an event in Osaka featuring contemporary Cuban culture with an emphasis on the Cuban medical system. The day was divided in half. During the first part, we watched Michael Moore’s Sicko and a movie about Cuban agriculture. The movie Sicko deals with the American medical system and health insurance problem. I recommend seeing it.

The second film covers contemporary Cuban agriculture. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba lost most its ability to import chemical fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals. Rather suddenly, the entire country shifted to organic agriculture with an emphasis on self-sufficiency including urban agriculture.

In the second part, we listened to a presentation by Aleida Guevara, daughter of Che Guevara. She spoke mainly about politics and the Cuban medical system. As I understand it, health care is free in Cuba.

After the event, I spoke with Lisa, a friend, about the medical and health insurance systems in the US and Japan. I’ve noticed that often the hospital stays in Japan are longer than in the US, in order of magnitude. For example, Lisa also tore her ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and had a reconstruction within the past couple of years. She spent a month in the hospital, whereas I spent one night. This may be difficult to understand, even fathom, but her entire hospital bill came to almost 400,000 yen. That’s almost $4,000. It would be difficult to spend a day in an American hospital without running up a bill larger than that. But since she, like myself, is covered by the Japanese National Health Insurance System, she paid 160,000 yen. About $1,600.


My cousin Grant arrived in Tokyo on May 13. On May 14 we took the bullet train to Osaka, and then traveled to Wakayama, where we stayed with Kudo-san. On May 15 the three of us went to Kyoto to see the Aoi festival, one of Kyoto’s three famous festivals. In contrast to the Japanese Matsuri of common folk, the Aoi festival was traditionally observed by the aristocracy. On May 16 I traveled to northern Kyoto-Prefecture to conduct research while Kudo-san showed Grant around Kansai (the Osaka, Kyoto, Nara region). Have been studying traditional Japanese architecture, timber framing, and earthen plasters. Notice that the pillars of this massive structure are not anchored to the ground. Simply the weight of the building holds it in place and allows it to move slightly in the event of an earthquake. Traditionally, temples and shrines are roofed with Japanese Cypress bark, while homes, etc. are roofed with thatch, straw, or tile.
Unfortunately traditional roofing methods and materials are becoming less common. In fact, many thatch roofs are covered with metal. Notice the door of this storage building is built of earth plastered on an internal wooden frame.
Rain-screens to protect gable ends. And when not protected. Notice the wooden bars preventing a burglar from breaking in through the window are implanted in the thick earthen plaster.

On May 17, participated in an earthen plastering workshop at the straw bale milk processing plant in Kyoto-Prefecture. On May 18 I stayed with the Okunushi family (Satoru, Namiko, Shino-chan, Fumi-chan).They're renovating an old Japanese farm house. Wide concrete sink, wood fired bath, etc.On May 24 and 25, my research studio baked and sold pizzas at an art event in Fujino, a community in the mountains of Kanagawa.


Iide-Town in Yamagata-Prefecture

March 13 traveled to Iide-Town in Yamagata-Prefecture, the birthplace of sustainable rural planning in Japan. My advising professor is Itonaga-sensei. Itonaga-sensei’s professor, Aoki-sensei, began working with Iide-Town over 30 years ago. Yamagata-Prefecture is located in rural, northern Japan and receives significant snow fall. This is a photo of a traditional two-story thatched roof house, where in winter it is not uncommon to exit the home from the second story.
Maeno-san, a doctorial student who graduates this March has taken a duel position working with the Iide town government and post-doc at Nihon University. His doctorial research dealt with developing sustainable local community energy systems utilizing mainly biomass. We visited a demonstration “green” home in Iide which utilizes radiant floor heating and a pellet boiler. Adjacent to the home is an insulated “ice house” where packed snow and perishable goods are stored. Within the ice house is a “cold exchange” coil which connects to the home’s radiant floor piping, and in summer can act as an air conditioning system.

This is an insulated storage facility, divided roughly in half, and located adjacent to several large greenhouses. Snow is packed in one half the building while perishable goods are stored in the other half. This eliminates the need for summer refrigeration.


Japanese Timber-Framing in Yamanashi-Prefecture

Presented February 1 to a Rotary Club in Chiba-Prefecture, Katsura-City. Chiba-Prefecture is a peninsula just east of Tokyo. Submitted an essay to an essay contest sponsored by the same Rotary club. The topic: the future of the Nanbousou (southern half of the peninsula). My essay states that, given Chiba’s mild climate, plentiful sunshine, abundant natural resources, fertile soils and coastline, strong cultural heritage, and unique location next to Tokyo, Chiba has excellent potential to develop renewable energy sources and attain a high level of food and energy self-sufficiency. I present my essay and participate in a panel discussion on April 13.
February 14 participated in a group discussion of Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposphy, and environmental design at the office of Bio-City magazine, a quarterly Japanese magazine covering ecological design. http://www.biocity.co.jp/ Submitted an article about Camphill Village Kimberton Hills for the April issue of Bio-City featuring Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophical design, and the Camphill movement.
March 3 collected data from Waraya, a strawbale home in Yamanashi-Prefecture featured in a previous entry.
In addition to collecting data, I spent the day with Matsuda, a timber framer who works for a company called Kinokaori (direct translation: scent of trees). He spends 80 percent of his work day in the office, designing, researching, and networking, and 20 percent on site. We visited the site where he harvests his lumber. The trees are prepped before and are felled efficiently with the assistance of a backhoe. This is Matsuda’s mentor holding a house plan written in traditional style.
We visited this old local timber-frame shrine. Note how the post is not anchored to the foundation stone. This allows the post to move slightly in the event of an earthquake. Traditional Japanese timber framing is categorized at 柔構造 (soft structure) in contrast to hard modern building which counters earthquakes through rigidity. Matsuda showed me some of the projects he’s worked on.
Presented March 8 at the Architectural Institute of Japan’s Kanto Branch Symposium. Last month submitted an abstract to present a paper at the 7th International Symposium on Architectural Interchanges in Asia. If selected, will present in Beijing in October.
Have been appointed manager of my research studio’s permaculture garden. It’s not related to my research, and I’d like to invest more time and energy in other areas such as research and Japanese studies, but it is mainly Itonaga-sensei, my professor’s decision.