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.