Blog

An economical choice: Sawara

Sawara Cypress
The sawara cypress tree (Chamaecyparis pisifera) is very similar in appearance to the hinoki cypress tree. It grows slowly but can reach a height of up to 50m. As one of the Five Trees of Kiso it is highly-valued wood though it ranks below the hinoki which means there are more growing naturally in the forests of Japan. Both hinoki and sawara are sensitive to pollution which means they’re grown away from urban populations.

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species there is no cause for alarm, the tree is well-represented and is classified as ‘Least Concern’. This is good news for wood-lovers and conservationists. Nevertheless, our suppliers manage the entire forest carefully with regard to the longevity of this eco-system.

Properties of Sawara
Sawara has a warm cherry-like color, a beautiful straight grain and is very aromatic. The beautiful fine color of the wood reflects the pure environment in which the trees grow. Sawara appeals to those who think hinoki is too pale. Sawara shares the same rot-resistant qualities as hinoki and is used in the construction of shrines and temples and of course ofuro bathtubs.

Sawara is becoming a very popular material also among the Japan-lover community because of its color and reasonable price.

Scale-like Leaves: Asnaro

asnaro

Asunaro
I was really excited to find these labeled specimens in the Hokkaido University Botanical Gardens. Only one problem, I’m having trouble distinguishing them, now that I am back at the office. I think this one pictured above is asunaro/asnaro (Thujopsis dolabrata). I really love the scaly configuration of these leaves.

The asunaro is also called hiba. It’s an evergreen tree in the cypress family. This particular specimen was found in Hokkaido so it’s a rarer variation, the Thujopsis dolabrata var. hondai.

Nevertheless this tree grows quite readily across the four islands of Japan in the Thujopsis dolabrata var. dolabrata variety. According to the The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species this species is stable. It gets an LC (least concern) rating as it is planted in state-controlled forests where it grows well. Read more about hiba-arbor-vitae here on the IUCN Red List.

Hiba Arbor-vitae is an important forest tree in Japan and is one of the ‘five trees of Kiso’ (all are conifers) originally reserved for imperial use. There are now managed state forests with this species as the dominant tree besides some imperial forests. Its light, soft, resinless and durable wood is used in construction, for bridges, buildings, furniture, the wooden basis of lacquer work, wood carving, etc.

The choice for your ofuro
As far as ofuro go we recommend asnaro more often than any other wood because of the cost advantage and the durability of this wood. It is harder to damage than say hinoki or sawara. We think you will love it too.


Hybrid Japanese Soaking Tubs

You love Japanese traditional wooden bathtubs but you wish they did not have exposed metal parts? You want crack-proof construction? Embedded overflow? Sexy, organic shapes? Read on!


Kintai bridge

I have a mission as a “bridge” to connect master Japanese craftsmen with Japan-lovers worldwide. As a designer, I like to apply the Japanese proverb which states that it is not by chance that men have one mouth and two ears. I like to listen to the requests of my clients and customize, adapt the shapes and details of my ofuros to match the space and the functionality that is needed, case by case.

Thanks to your inquiries about details such as top rim overflow cuts, removable seats, reversible covers, slanted walls, sloped bottom plank and more, I present … the “kakehashi tub”.

New Technology
All of the requested details have been incorporated into this brand-new product design, which I’m calling the “kakehashi tub”.

This amazing modern bathtub can be made in any convex curve and even concave shapes! The curved walls can be straight or even slanted in and out, free as a freehand sketch.

Our prototype Kakehashi ofuro is crescent-shaped. Perfect for 2 people, the moon-shaped ofuro is a tribute to the lunar side of the Japanese aesthetics.

Features

  • pneumatic controlled popup drain
  • overflow system concealed inside the walls
  • no exposed metal parts and the look is very organic and natural
  • curved, concave, convex walls
  • any shape


Kakehashi means bridge. This idea connects and conjugates tradition with innovation; natural materials with cutting-edge technology; and Japanese sensibility with a world of sensuously curved shapes. If you are looking for something sleek, yet rooted in tradition you are ready for this new product.

 

japanese soaking tub kakehashi

Technological Breakthrough

The technological breakthrough of the Kakehashi ofuro is its laminated structure.
The walls of the tub are made from a fiberglass mold.
Upon this mold we construct an internal and an external layer of solid quarter-sawn Japanese timber (7-15mm thick).
Essentially the fiberglass core is sandwiched between the layers of wood.
The core gives stability to the bathtub.
The fiberglass also partially compensates for the expansion and contraction of the wood.
Structural support against the pressure of the water is provided by the core thus eliminating the need for metal bands on the outside of the bath.

Best of both worlds

The Kakehashi ofuro can be made from premium Kiso Valley hinoki and asnaro wood from Aomori Prefecture.

Enjoy the same pure aroma and soft touch of our traditionally-built wooden ofuro.
It is a wooden Japanese bathtub adapted to the modern environment.
Imagine a gorgeous pale hinoki bath in your modern bathroom.

 

Traditional

Our company specialises in the design and production of traditional Japanese bathtubs made with hinoki wood and other Japanese conifers (asnaro, sawara, koyamaki). The traditional tub has some limitations in its design and functionality. It also doesn’t suit all tastes. It has been a few years now that I am caressing this new project. What strikes me about Japanese bathtubs is their minimalist design. They are very modern while being traditional.

For those who are attracted by the naturalism and the historical heritage behind the ofuro, then our present custom-order bathtubs produced by Bartok design are perfect for you. With the traditional techniques, it is possible to create circular, oval shapes or round cornered rectangles but with the limitation of having to cope with the metal bands which are needed to keep the barrel-type construction together under the pressure from the water.

We have always made and will continue to make these tubs.

Traditional crafts are in a difficult conjuncture and if we do not find alternative markets and products suitable for contemporary demand, tradtional handicrafts will be abandoned. That is why we are passionate about the Kakehashi ofuro. The Kakehashi project is also meant to bridge the knowledge of the traditional carpenters towards a stable and bright future.

By ordering any Bartok design ofuro you are helping preserve Japanese traditional crafts as they are passed to the next generation. Our craftsmen are excited about exploring these challenges with you.


To order

To start the order process please use the contact form below or contact us by email. What shape are you dreaming of?

Kakehashi Inquiry

 

Download a PDF of the Kakehashi Hybrid Ofuro

An onsen on a budget in Oita Prefecture

When planning a trip it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of options. We at Bartok design have taken it upon ourselves to explore the onsen areas of Japan (a tough job for sure) to find places that we can recommend. Today we’re sharing a budget option that isn’t going to make you feel like you’ve stumbled into a youth hostel.

Onsen Inn Usa, Good Stay Mizuho

If you were to find yourself in Oita Prefecture and you needed a place to rest your weary body then might I recommend Good Stay Mizuho? It’s not the fanciest of places but the owners are extremely welcoming and you are sure to have an authentic Japanese experience.

I happened to be in the area this week on another matter but knowing my interest in onsen and Japanese soaking tubs, my friend took me along to visit the owners of this Japanese-style inn. They very kindly let me take photos and explained some of the behind-the-scenes information about inns of this type.

This particular inn was renovated in 2017. It’s functional and spacious with plenty of space to relax and enjoy the retro ambience. There are three onsen baths on the ground floor. These baths are available for use free of charge by guests and you can also ‘drop-by’ to use them for a set fee of around $15 per hour – good to know if you are just passing through.

Each of the three baths is private which means you may enjoy them as a family or a couple. Their source is a natural onsen hotspring located in the town. The water is heated to a comfortable temperature but has no extra additives, it’s completely natural. The baths are emptied and cleaned daily (as was the case when I visited early on a Monday morning).

The owners told me that they have had increasing numbers of international visitors, which is really pleasing to them. They are learning to speak English and have access to a telephone interpreter if you get really stuck. You may know that there are a few hard and fast rules when using an onsen – even a private one like this – since the bath water will be used by all of the guests at the inn. The owners recognise that a lot of signage and instruction detracts from the overall experience but there is a handy poster explaining the basics: wash in the shower stall before you enter the bath, avoid wearing bathing suits, underwear or your towel in the bath, keep long hair tied up. Leave the changing area tidy before you exit, put your towels in the hamper and make sure the floor isn’t wet. These kind of baths are basically self-serve so cleaning staff don’t typically come in more than a couple of times each day, guests are expected to be courteous towards other users.

Things to do in Oita
The magnificent Usa Jingu shrine is nearby. Kitsuki City and Kunisaki Peninsular are also places to check out. Check JNTO for more info.

While I was in the area the Fukuoka Marathon was held. Were you there for it? Unfortunately I missed it but there is always next year. It was beautiful weather! On the Sunday afterwards I took a train to Oita Prefecture from the center of Fukuoka (Hakata) which took a lovely scenic route around the coast. It cost about $50 – $60 and took about an hour and a half to arrive at Usa Station.

Let us know if you have travelled around Fukuoka or Oita Prefectures. Where did you stay? What activities did you enjoy while you were there? If you are coming for the Fukuoka Marathon next year, we might see you there! If you are coming for the Rugby World Cup, we will definitely see you there! Read our post here.

a toilet to match your kimono

Well, I am not talking about the interior design of your powder room: I am actually meaning the actual sanitary equipment.
That is the link between a toilet and a kimono?

Mr. Yoshio Jogan, the director of the Kyoto Design Factory is turning state of the art Japanese automatic toilets into works of art.
Jogan-sensei started actually a kimono designer. Traditionally the production of kimonos is carried out with the coperation between several highly specialized craftsmen. The product takes shape as it is passed on from the binder to the dyer, to the weaver and then to the block printer and/or designer.
Jogan Sensei was involved in block printing and design of the kimonos and he shaped his culture and sensibility thru years of apprenticeship. In the world of Japanese crafts, you first need to become a master of the ancient shapes. You need to let go your individuality and absorb the basic of the traditional imagery and sense of composition. Only after tens of years and after you become a perfect copier you are allowed to start breaking the rules.
And this is what Jogan sensei did. But as his design retains a very traditional (and extremely delicate) touch, his revolutionary step is more structural than formal.
In order to save the declining kimono culture he decided to make a pact with the devil. He threw away the wood blocks for stamping the kimono outline pattern and started to use intensively the computer and ink jet printing.
A part for optimizing time, cost and energies, his revolution enabled him to bring the kimono culture outside of the clothing world.

(more…)

Out in the green – round hot tub

A client from the USA kindly shared with us a beautiful picture of her Bartok design`s outdoors hot-tub (roten-buro?)
Of course, the landscape is not included in the package!

Well, I feel this photo does not need too many other comments!!

The tub has arrived and it looks great!! Thanks again …

L. from Pennsylvania

Warranty and Repairs

Warranty: Is there a warranty against cracks/leaks?
We offer full warranty in case of damage during transportation. (replacement)

For any other problem (cracking etc.) we cannot offer a warranty because of the environmental conditions for which we cannot be responsible.

To avoid cracking we recommend to:
1) use the tub often (everyday is ideal)
2) do not use air conditioning or heaters in the bathroom (may be used while the tub is full). Beware also of centralized air conditioning.
3) in case of the above conditions cannot be met, we recommend to keep a bucket full of water inside the tub. This avoids the insurgence of cracks in most cases.

Until today we have supplied over 250 tubs.
We had about 20 reports of cracks or leaks.
In 1 case we replaced the tub.
In 1 case we had the tub shipped back, repaired and have it reinstalled.
In some of the other cases we shipped a kit for repairing the tub (wood color epoxy putty). (Cost is about 3,000 JPY inclusive of shipping fee)
In most cases we supplied advice and the tub could be seamlessly repaired by the user.

With the assumption that all the customers who experienced a crack contacted us (but there may be some exceptions), about 10% of the tubs had crack problems (including tubs 10+ year old).
On the other hand, 90% of the tubs did not experience cracks.
I would say that in 90% of the cases the tubs are used as directed and the environmental conditions are met.

Order and Payment

Most commonly we prefer to accept payment via Wire Transfer/International Bank Transfer to our bank in Japan.

PayPal
For amounts of less than ¥150,000 JPY PayPal is a more convenient option. You may use a PayPal account or a credit card. The fee for each transaction is 4% on the transferred amount (born by the buyer).

Wire Transfer
The wire transfer fee is ¥6500 JPY, per transaction, born by the buyer. For larger amounts, a wire transfer is cheaper. For any wire transfer your bank will make the currency conversion and detract the relative amount in your own currency from your account.

Credit Card
Our secure payment processor is PayPal for credit card payments. Please note the fee of 4% will be added to the buyer total. We accept payment in Japanese Yen. Your credit card provider will make the currency conversion automatically.

Once your order is confirmed we will send you the relevant details and instructions regarding payment.

Other Options
It may be convenient to use the automatic comparison tool here below:https://www.finder.com/international-money-transfers/send-money-to-japan

Deposit

Upon confirmation of your order we require a deposit of:

50% of the custom items (tub and platform).

Once the tub is completed, we will send the pictures for your verification and approval. If you are satisfied and we can proceed with the packaging, at that point we will need the balance payment.

The full balance must be paid in full prior to shipment:

Outstanding amount for custom tub and platform, any accessories plus the cost of packaging and shipping/transportation fees. We just have a limited margin on this product and we cannot afford to take any risk on the payment of the tub.

Packaging / Shipping / Transportation

Due to the fragile nature of our custom-made baths we build a sturdy wooden box to ship it in. The bath is first wrapped in plastic. These precautions are necessary to protect your bath from damage during shipping. Packaging is a non-negotiable cost.

Is the cost inclusive of transportation?

Yes. Each personalized quote includes pick-up in Japan, freight (usually Air via DHL or FedEx), terminal charges and delivery to your door (unless you specify otherwise). We guarantee delivery to your home within 6~8 weeks from the time of confirmed order.

The bathtub unit is delivered in one piece for trouble-free installation. It is not flat-pack, no assembly required beyond installation by your builder / plumber.

Sales Taxes

The price may not include sales taxes. In most cases you (the consignee) will have to fill in a customs application (it can be done by fax) which costs US$200-250 and includes sales tax. You should not have to pay any other charges.

VAT

From time to time we have inquiries about VAT, especially for European countries. Please contact us for more details. We have shipped successfully to most countries around the world so we have experience to draw on.

Currency

We often receive requests for pricelists in USD or EUR. Our invariable answer is that we can only accept payments in JPY (japanese yen). The reason is simple and is based on our comittment to providing our customers the best price conditions.
You know that currencies exchange rate fluctuate. To build a tub we need from 1 to 6 weeks depending on the model and the period of the year. Before entering in production, we correspond with the client for 1-2months, often even more. As you understand there is the likelihood that the exchange rate varies during the period from the original quotation to the actual date of the pre-payment and balance payment. It is called the “currency fluctuation risk”.
Q> Do you think we can bear this risk for free?
A> No, we can not. We operate on a low margin, direct sale model and we cannot afford to lose money on a transaction.
There are two ways of dealing with this “currency fluctuation risk”.
1) We can build up in the prices an additional percentage (let`s say +10% to guarantee a foreign currency quote up to 6 months)
2) We can bill our net prices in JPY and the client pays for the current market value

We always recommend option 2).
We do not like and strongly dis-recommend option 1).
Said so, if a client insists to have an invoice in foreign currency, we will consult with our bank, evaluate the fluctuation risk (of course on the “safe side”) and let you know the risk margin that we need to consider for the transaction.

slaughter of a delicious house in Kobe


I cannot sleep. I just want to cry. I can`t forgive.

In a central area of Kobe they started to demolish a beautiful traditional house.
Along a high traffic street but screened by green, it was a 2 story house with traditional ibushi roof tiles.
It was my favourite, I saw it almost every day. 5 years ago, the old building to the right was demolished and replaced by a tasteless, plasticky prefabricated house. But the beautiful old house remained and the contrast between the smart and refined house and the new unbalanced and basic new house was even more striking.

I always wanted to look inside. But there is no place to park the car, besides I figured it was occupied by an elderly person and I imagined they would have felt scared to see a stranger (and caucasian foreigner…) at their door.

But if I went I could have known their plan, maybe I could make an offer to rent or buy the house.
But everything was so abrupt I just could not take any action.
The greens were manicured until the last day, there was no sign that the propery was abandoned or was on sale.
In my optimistic mindset I just could not conceive that somebody may decide to demolish that beauty.
But the same thing happened 5 years ago with the house to the right. I should have been realistic.
At 46 years old I should have the power of judgement to risk hedge. But now I can just cry on the spilled milk.
I really cannot forgive (myself)

It is a real shame.
There is nothing I can do to stop this slaughter. No time to think what are the options.
Therefore I asked the demolition company if I could take the nice entrance door and maybe even the stone lantern.
The guy was friendly and said “take everything home!”
I called my handiman Israeli friend who has a small truck and we started to load windows and doors.
He was repeating “don`t be greedy…” but all pieces were just so beautiful, so unique that we ended up bringing back 3 loads. Maybe 30 or 40 fixtures and one stone lantern.
I do not have a place to keep this material but will figure out.
Maybe I can share some with the japan lovers in the bartok design community.
My dream at the present is to buy that land and rebuild the same house and reuse the parts I could salvage.

The house was splendid but its compact and airy layout, the smart use of the inner space and its balance with the garden is a example of what architecture should be.

In the back garden, a beautiful stone retaining wall protects the privacy and becomes the magic landscape that could be seen from the north side room. A tiny moss garden with a grand stone lantern. And there was even a little cave, not really a well but a natural small pond of about 2 feet x 2 feet of pristine water coming from the Rokko mountain. I am sure it was used for the tea ceremony.
The stone lantern is very old and has the symbols of the 12 animals of the chinese zodiac. This one already has a buyer. An antique shop bought it for 10,000 dollars. But I think this space in its perfect balance is worth 10 millions…

I hope the people who will buy the land will understand this and will create a beautiful and sensitive house, even better than the previous one. I am in tears not just because this house was pictoresque, of cute, or nostalgic. The real value of this house it that it was very well thought. The builder understood the environment and created a perfect match. Respectful but dynamic. Simple but artistic. Pure intelligence.

I am praying that this sacrifice will not be in vain.

Come for the rugby, enjoy the onsens

If you’re a sports fan and a fan of Japan’s favourite pastime (visiting hot springs) then you’re in for a treat. 2019 sees Japan hosting the Rugby World Cup for the first time in history. This amazing event will be held over a six-week period with games hosted in regional stadiums across Japan.

Did your team make the cut?

If I had to pick which games to attend based on the location of the stadium I would go with Oita. This prefecture boasts the largest number of naturally occurring hot springs in all of Japan! What better way to relax after an exciting match?

The games kick-off at Oita Stadium on October 2nd with favourites New Zealand playing the Repechage winners (I trust you know who that is). Australia, Wales and Fiji will also play in Oita at different times over the series.

Not too far from Oita, also on the island of Kyushu, you’ll find matches being held in Fukuoka and Kumamoto. With fantastic highways as well as the world’s most efficient train system you could easily spend your entire Rugby World Cup “trip of a lifetime” only in Kyushu, tripping between these three stadiums.

I know you’ll want to get to the main games in Tokyo and the final in Yokohama but those tickets are going to be hard to come by. Plus, Tokyo, meh.

Visit Oita! Visit Kumamoto! Visit Fukuoka! Don’t think of these locations as playing second fiddle to the bigger venues. Visiting one of the lesser known areas of Japan promises an experience that you won’t ever forget. Not many can say they’ve been to Kyushu.

This probably sounds like an advertisement for the rugby but as you’ve probably guessed I don’t know that much about rugby. I am however a fan of hot springs and the beautiful Japanese countryside. If you’re coming to Japan anyway …

Also, a little bird has told us that a new hotel is due to open in the area in 2019. It’s the ANA Intercontinental Beppu Resort. Take a peek!

“With its natural beauty and more than 2,400 natural springs, Beppu has built a reputation throughout Asia as one of Japan’s most renowned onsen destinations” via Hotel Online.

Hinoki barrel bath? Check out this one. Gorgeous.

So are you convinced? Will you come to Japan for the Rugby World Cup in 2019? Will you consider making Oita one of your stops if only to experience this wonder of the world, the onsen? Let us know your rugby plans and which team you are rooting for.

Back to top