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The Nara Garden

As you know, there is nothing more soul-destroying for us here at Bartok design than to see old Japanese homes and gardens destroyed in the name of blind speculation. From time to time we hear about the impending doom before it happens, as in the case of this spectacular garden in Nara prefecture (east of Osaka).

A person I know that empties old houses has to throw away this garden in Nara…

We’ve been given the opportunity to share these pictures and we hope that with will be able to re-home some of the ornaments or even some of the plants.

We cannot say for sure how old these items are but we hope to bring more information to you soon. If you are interested in being kept in the loop please contact me via email (urgently) japan(at)bartokdesign.com

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MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA

We are deepening our relation and collaboration with the kimono designer Yoshio Jogan.
Jogan sensei is based in Kyoto and went through the long and steep path of mastering traditional kimono patterns since his youth.
But he believes that Art must always be in movement and the worship of a mummified tradition is not going to keep the Art alive.

Jogan sensei is a master in bridging the subtle traditional knowhow of kimono patterning into interior design, contemporary products and computer art. We will talk more about Jogan sensei in the next few weeks, but here I would like to anticipate a news that is also going to impact our Wakayama pre-war mansion re-branding project.

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a house for the arts – idea competition

Finally, my prayers seem to have reached some sensible ears up in Heaven…!

An enlightened owner inherited a high grade and extremely well preserved house in Wakayama. The house is a 1,400㎡ (mostly 1 story, 2 rooms on the upper floor) timber frame house on a 3,100㎡ lot.

K-house is relatively new (1940) but being pre-war, it belongs to a sensibility, culture of material and aesthetic sense that unfortunately is now lost and unknown to post war architecture.

I am not being nostalgic: it is an evaluation based on the virtue of the design elements: knowledgeable but with a scent of fantasy.
If you look at the photos below (↓) you will agree that the sukiya-zukuri style in the Taisho and early Showa period is probably the highest point reached by Japanese architecture. The materials are selected with respect for their features. There is wit and irony. Nature mingles with architecture and even penetrates it as branches become railings and full moons become windows.

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Wandering the Nakasendo

According to the newspaper it’s popular among tourists to hike the Nakasendo trail between Magome and Tsumago post towns. We opted for the easy way – rented a car. But still, the views were stunning and having a car afforded us the opportunity to see more than just the trail towns.

The Nakasendo is an ancient foot highway that connected Tokyo (or Edo as it was known then) with the rest of Japan to the west. Follow the whole road and you will eventually arrive in Kyoto. It dates back to the 1700s.

Our interest in this area stems from two things: we enjoy learning about and appreciating Japanese history; and we are enamoured with the forests of Japan. The portion of the Nakasendo which is best preserved is in a geographic area called the Kiso Valley. In this area you will see the massive forests of conifer trees, Japanese hinoki (Chamaecyparis obtusa), sawara (Chamaecyparis pisifera ). These are just two of the Five Sacred Trees of Kiso which are favoured by bathmakers.

We started our trip in Nagoya, which is centrally located between Osaka and Tokyo. It made a convenient meeting point for our party of three. Getting an early start towards Gifu prefecture was made easier for being only an hour or so away.

Day One

We took an express train from Nagoya station to Ena station. We had arranged to pick up our car from Ena. The map showed where the rental place was but we were not sure if it was walkable or a taxi was a better idea. Calling into the Ena Tourist Information centre gave us our answer (taxi) and a whole host of other information.

Following the advice of the Tourist Info Centre, we spent the morning walking along a part of the Nakasendo that isn’t as well preserved as what we would later see, but still a nice stroll with enough interesting facts to get us excited about the rest of the trip.

After lunch, we took in the view from the Shinonomeo Bridge, which overlooks the Kiso River. With free parking nearby and quite an elevation, this was a great tidbit to learn.

You can see how high we were because look at the tiny car on the right! And this was our first glimpse at the forests!

Shinonomeo Bridge
Overlooking the Kiso River

Our next stop was the ruins of the Naegi Castle. This time we were immersed in the forests and got to experience the feeling of shinrin yoku briefly (forest bathing), although being a public holiday it was busier than usual.

The short hike from the carpark was worth it. Look at the views over the Kiso Valley! Look at the trees!

Day Two

The first post town of significance we visited was the beautifully preserved Magome Juku.

Magome Juku – these homes are between 100 and 300 years old
Magome Juku on the Nakasendo in Gifu Prefecture
A souvenir shop on the Nakasendo
It’s not a long hike between the post towns – this was about halfway, near the Odaki Waterfalls

Our next stop was Tsumago Juku. One of our favourite places was the old school – built from wood of course! It closed in the late nineties.

Kyu Nagisocho Tachitsumagosho School
Kyu Nagisocho Tachitsumagosho School
Each building and shop is decorated with flowers

A lot of effort has gone into preserving this area and piece of Japanese history. According to Wikipedia the area prospered until a major vehicle highway in the area bypassed the towns. Facing demise and economic ruin a few of the towns’ forefathers elected to renovate the old houses and buildings. In 1987 the central government granted them historic status.

This whole area is fascinating especially if you’ve come to Japan and are hoping to see some history but are feeling overwhelmed by the number of temples and shrines. The Nakasendo / Kiso Valley area is very much a piece of history with roots in commercialism – the trade routes of Japan. It makes for a nice change of pace because it’s more recent history than the temples which date back thousands of years. It’s actually possible to imagine walking along these routes, stopping for a night in a ryokan inn, grabbing a plate of local soba. I highly recommend you visit!

Sacred Trees of Kiso Valley

In my next post I will talk more about the trees, forests and how important they are both now and then, to the ofuro makers, such as Bartok design.

If you are interested in tracing our route please take a look at the custom map I created on Google maps of our stops. I am more than happy to give more information on anything. -Jacqui (Bartok design team member)

https://goo.gl/maps/wv9v81eWKyu5bu9x8

Reiwa Era: Important Notice

Important Notice Regarding Holidays & Bank Closure

As we welcome the new era! Reiwa era starts on May 1st, 2019


Please note that next week the spring holiday break called “Golden Week” will start. This year our holiday is particularly long on the occasion of the celebrations for the new emperor, taking place of the father who has abdicated. The new era Reiwa begins on May 1st.


To make a long story short, if you can make the bank transfer by April 24 (4/24) I think we will receive it by April 28 (4/28) and be able to work/ship during the long holiday period.


If not, all bank processing and shipping will happen after May 7th (5/7). Thank you for your understanding.


HANAMI and JAZZ in Kameoka (LIVE!)

If you are in Western Japan this saturday 4/6, you cannot miss the Hana-mi event organized by Nakagawa Juken at the model house in Kameoka.

Here you can meet with people who fled the cities and are now living in a ko-minka AND you can meet with those who are getting ready for the big jump: the people who are longing to live in an old traditional house in a natural but culturally stimulating environment and are looking for the right timing.
But you can also come to hear Makoto in concert (former top level Geisha in Gion and now acclaimed jazz singer)
And yes, even just those who want to eat heart food in a friendly setting are welcome.

I said that you cannot miss the event if you are in Western Japan. But it is not precise. Actually you cannot miss it if you are anything in the world and have a Wifi connection!
I am planning to run the full event on FACEBOOK LIVE with talks, live music, interviews, and yes! you can ask questions and have them answered!
It is my first time with Facebook live and I am not sure how it will go but if you are awake between 10:00 ~ 14:00 JST join us!
I am not sure if I can run the live from the bartok design facebook page or if it will run from my personal page, anyway here are both URLS just in case:

https://www.facebook.com/japanese.ofuro/

https://www.facebook.com/itorrini

 

Kameoka projects – tsunami for you!

How are you?
I am dying to to ask you an opinion!
Do you think I should become the curator or Rica should?
A foreigner living in Japan (A1) or a charismatic and charming international minded Japanese lady(A2)?
If you do not what I am talking about, please go the bottom of this letter.↓

Or, if you can bear with me 5 minutes, lets proceed with order.

In the internet and SNS world it is recommendable to release news slowly, to create constant and recurring waves of interest towards your projects or products.

But I did not follow the orthodox practice this time.
This post in not just a wave. I think it will hit you like a tsunami…!
(a tsunami of happiness and energetic thoughts!)

What`s it all about?

Well, everything starts from a party organized by a group of italian expats in Osaka.
I met Christian there: a Florentine nice guy with a beard who bought and renovated an old Japanese house in Kameoka (near Kyoto) and just starting to run it as an air bnb.

Two days later, a friend real estate agent in Kobe (Rica Bradshaw) calls me saying she wants to introduce me another real estate agent.
They are coming to my office few days later.

Can you imagine my surprise when the guy she introduces me … is actually operating in Kameoka and salvaging old houses? !!
Too many coincidences to ignore it !

We plan immediately to visit his projects as well as the recently met new friend Christian.
On a cold but sunny february 20th 2019 we head to Kameoka on my yellow Honda Fit,
Rica, Jacqui and me.
Here below are 3 videos we assembled with the photos and talks we had that day.

The first is a general overview of Kameoka territory and some examples of houses being renovated or on sale. The video ends at the Nakagawa Juken model house where Mr. Nakagawa produces events (like concerts or BBQ parties) and makes it possible for curious urban dwellers to sleep one night in a ko-minka country house.

The second video is the visit to Bishamon House (managed by Christian Cambi) and short interview.

The third video is the interview with Mr. Nakagawa (the local real Estate agent Nakagawa Juken).

Doesn`t it look like a tsunami?
We bring you virtually on site 3 videos full of emotions, dreams, blunders…

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Mr. Nakagawa`s ideas are complementary to my worries and tentative solutions.
Do you remember in the end of the year newsletter I was planning to take action to create opportunities for young people to learn the woodworking crafts from the aging masters in order to preserve the secrets of ofuro bathtubs manufacture for the next generations?

Well, I cannot help seeing a divine hand staging my encounter with Mr. Nakagawa.
What is most amazing is that he has the same anguish (many old buildings to renovate and not enough skilled workers).
But he is a practical thinker and already come up with the solution.

He wants to open an “Academy” where youngsters interested in traditional crafts can learn from the masters.
He is considering creating different courses to target the different traditional disciplines such as:
– carpenter
– plasterer
– bamboo weaver
– gardener
– clay worker
– tatami maker
– cabinet/door maker
etc.

and here is a chance for me to open a:
– ofuro workshop !
within the “Kameoka Traditional Crafts Academy”.

Mr. Nakagawa is considering the following conditions:
1) length of course of 1 month, 3 months, more.
2) tuition is about 3000 USD for the first month, proportionally less for longer stays.
3) there is a chance for students to work in the current projects and earn credits that can be used towards room and board, purchase tools etc.
4) students will be fully insured and can join the program with a normal tourist visa


And here is the big question I alluded to in the opening note:
Q: who should be the director/curator of the Academy?

A1: Some people are suggesting I should be.
I would not be involved in the day to day management of the courses but would have a position of supervision and interpreting the wishes/distress of the foreign students and develop the courses based on the actual needs.
I am honored to be appointed for this position, but believe that a Japanese curator would be more appealing for the foreign students.

A2:I think that people coming from the other side of the world to learn traditional Japanese crafts in an authentic environment may prefer that a Japanese person. Rica (who is translating Mr. Nakagawa`s interview in the 3rd video) is my candidate.

What would you prefer? A1 or A2? Other ideas/comments? Please let me know.

Please reply by email to japan@bartokdesign.com or comment here below.

I am looking forward to brainstorming with all the community of Japan lovers and thank you in advance for the kind help!


UPDATE!

I am here literally crying like a baby, on my keyboard reading all the emails that have been coming in from all of you!
It is so rewarding, moving, exhilarating to receive such honest, wise, caring advice.
In this moments of sharing and receiving feedback I really feel grateful and blessed.
It is like belonging to a large family: next time people ask me, I will tell them my family is made of 1600 people!

If you do not understand why I am so hot about it, read yourself the amazing comments/advice I received in the first 24 hours:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1AtNciiPNqGC-aSi2_mNPnWifhxWR8P_hycCd31Muxi4/edit?usp=sharing

I will add yours as well – omitting the private information – so please feel free to contact me by email anytime.

…to be continued…>

Happy New “Wild Boar” Year!

The end of year holidays are always a good occasion to relax with the legs under a “kotatsu” heated table, eat tangerines and think of old friends.

It is also a time to look back at accomplishments, things that could have gone better and to brush up the plan for 2019.

In the past year we celebrated our 15 years of operation with a record result consisting in 45 projects and more than 500,000 USD in sales. Of course it is a crumb compared to the revenues of large companies but it is enough to feed our dozen of craftsmen and keep them busy with their good work.

Now we are blessed that our business is growing and that we are receiving press exposure etc. but I am realizing that if I want to preserve our company in the long term I have to take a more active role in promoting the ofuro culture.

The craftsmen are aging (the youngest one is 65 years old…) and the business is not enough to justify seeking for younger apprentices. They say it takes at let 10 years to understand the wood, its memories and its behaviors. In the past young trainees were willing to work for a cup of rice for few years in exchange of being taught the secrets of the craft. But now youngsters need other types of motivations…

For this reason, this year I invested time and resources to connect more with the B2B market.
In August I went to Dubai (The Hotel Show).
In September to Phoenix (USA) for a trade show specialized in spa.
In October, I participated to the Hotelier Summit in Jakarta (Indonesia).

By developing a new market targeting business users (hotels, spas, resorts, luxury yachts etc.) I should be able to provide the economic stability necessary for the craftsmen to structure for the long term. Also, this dynamic international market may be an element to attract younger craftsmen who can envision their works installed in famous projects worldwide etc.

I am planning to implement this course of action in 2019 and I just wanted to share this with the other Japanese-lovers who are following this news letter.
I apologize if it was boring (and for the too many sentences starting with “I” and “We”) etc.

But if a letter is “one-way” per definition, the writer is of course hoping to receive a reply…!
Even if this communication is sent as a newsletter, I have in mind all of you, individually, with the memories of the projects we did together or the emails we exchanged.

Therefore, if you have any suggestion, any comment, any request, please let me know!
Bartok design is our community! so do not be afraid to reach me with your ideas.

May the year of the wild boar (2019) bring you all the happiness, energy, strength and health you deserve and it only remains to me to wish you a…

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

All the Best//

iacopo torrini
Bartok design Japan Co.
japan@bartokdesign.com

Rebuild the Matsuguchi house?

It finally happened.
After demolishing the elegant and flawless 90 years old Early Showa period house, the sign of the real estate company appeared inesorably on the site.
(In the early days, I asked 4 real estate companies I know, but nobody had a clue of who purchased the property)
They are going to split the 200 square meters lot in 2 and build prefabricated houses.
I cannot dare to imagine what will happen to the nice retaining wall and the natural poll where pristine water from Suwayama, the mount dedicated to Venus can be scooped up as needed.

Are you interested in buying land in Kobe?
Is owning a vacation house in Japan your long caressed dream?
If so I can build it for you! My architectural services will be for free. This is the only humble contribution I can put on the table to save this charming property from the cancer who is eating out all japanese territory.
I have to face that the gem that was the Matsuguchi-house is gone. But I cannot accept that the best will be replaced by the worst!
To use the words of Cicero: “corruptio optimi pessima” = the corruption of the best is the worst of all…

I salvaged almost 80% of the windows and the interior doors of the old house: my dream would be to rebuild the house using traditional techniques and reusing the original doors, stair railing, stone lantern, post box etc!


check other photos here

Also the symbolic gesture of being more affirmative than the scrap and build culture, winning over the blind speculation would have a tremendous value.
Am I just a dreaming idealist?
Is there somebody out that is interested in resurrecting the Matsuguchi house? Even stronger and more convenient than before?
Of course we could upgrade it with a hinoki bathtub! Overlooking the stone wall and with the lantern and the moss garden!
Please let me know.

The real estate agent is asking 82 million JPY for the land.
Building a house in timberframe costs about 300,000 JPY per square meter so rebuilding the original house would require about 48 million JPY.
But of course fancy features would add to the cost.

In the link below is a site survey and a zoning plan.
DOC181130-20181130092500
The area is located just uphill from Motomachi and the Prefercural office area and was from the past an exclusive residential area.
The white condominium on the north side was actually built on the site of the former residence of Kimura Haruo, first major of the city of Ashiya.



Click the image above to jump to the street view

The real estate agent has an agreement with a builder and they are planning to have the plans approved by mid december.
Of course, the more they go ahead with their plan, the more it will be expensive to buy the land out.
So if you fell in love with this building (and you have the financial resources to bring it back to life) please contact me as soon as possible.

If you did not see the photos of the interior of the original house you can have a sample here:

-> october 25th blog post


-> facebook post

Keeping my fingers crossed…

The Melody of Hinoki as told by an American Guitar Maker in Japan

When we came across an American guitar maker, living in Japan, using native Japanese wood to make guitars, we knew we had to get in touch! Stephen Faulk of Stephen Faulk Guitars kindly answered our questions and shared his story, along with these photos. I know he would love to hear from you if you enjoy this article. I’ll add all the links at the end.

Stephen Faulk Hinoki and Cedar Guitar

We asked Stephen about the merits of Japanese hinoki for musical instruments.

Hinoki is similar to the wood traditionally used in Spain to build guitars, Mediterranean Cypress. Hinoki is in the cypress family and it also related to The Lawson Cypress on the West Coast of North America. I’ve found that the Hinoki is a good wood to make traditional Spanish guitars with as it shares many good qualities with the cypress that was used in Spain during the 19th century to develop the modern guitar. The Cypress family woods often give a more ‘dry’ character to the sound.  Cypress woods were used in Spain not only because of the availability and cost as a local resource but also because it produces a sound slightly different than the rosewoods and other precious hardwoods used to make guitars

When I first learned that I could find Hinoki in the lumber yards in Japan that had similar qualities to cypresses form the Mediterranean area I was very excited. I had known about Hinoki for many years, but it’s not readily available in California where I began making guitars.

The cypress makes excellent ‘classical’ guitars which are a modern variant of the traditional Spanish guitar. Before about the mid-20th century there was no distinction between the classical guitar and the flamenco guitar, both instruments were virtually interchangeable. Later as classical guitar playing emerged as an art form separate from flamenco, Spanish folk music and other kinds of guitar music, the darker rosewoods came to be favored by the makers and the musicians.

However, the appeal of the dry sound of cypress never went away and stayed popular with flamenco guitarists and other musicians. Today the cypress guitar is seeing a bit of a comeback as a wood used for classical guitar construction due to changing tastes.  Musicians are now more aware of the tradition of using Cypresses in guitar construction in Spain when the ‘Torres’ style guitar developed.

I use hinoki in the same way I use the traditional cypresses I buy from European, Mexican or American suppliers, but I like it also because it is locally sourced. I have made many guitars with the rosewoods, but as a maker my personal taste is to make ‘blonde’ classical guitars.’Blonde’ guitars that are not made with dark rosewoods. Of course, I do make rosewood guitars, but make more guitars with lighter woods like Maple, Cypress, Hinoki and Lawson Cypress than most makers today.

The hinoki is a good guitar wood because it has the attributes that the late 19th-century Spanish makers liked about cypress. It’s lightweight and low density, which encourages vital resonance in the guitar. In general, it creates a warm dry sound and the sustain is crisp. It makes guitars that are good for playing dense richly harmonized music like Bach. Since the hardness and density of wood varies from region to region and tree to tree, I select the best Hinoki for guitar making by making sure it is not too soft. I like a board of hinoki that it difficult to drive your thumbnail into, hard medium dense Hinoki makes fantastic guitars.

I use hinoki to construct the backs and sides of the guitar, like the old Spanish makers.  I use either spruce or cedar for the top of the guitar. The neck is made Cuban Cedar or Cedrella which is usually from Central America and must be specially imported. The hinoki boards I select must be carefully cut by a skilled sawyer, with a big band saw. I work with them to ensure the wood is properly quartersawn for guitar use.

Q. Do you use any other native Japanese woods?

Yes, I fact I do use Red Oak from Kyushu to make some of my specialized guitar maker tools like binding cutters and ‘violin makers’ knives. Many tools used in the art and craft of making musical instrument must be made by the luthiers themselves, usually after their teacher shows them the tools and says your assignment is to construct your own set of special tools and knives! Of course, today may things can be purchased online in specialty shops but when I began this was not as possible as it is today. I had to begin by making most of my guitar specific tools.

A tool made of Kyushu Red Oak, the tool is a binding channel cutter.
A tool made of Kyushu Red Oak, the tool is a binding channel cutter.
A tool made of Kyushu Red Oak, the tool is a binding channel cutter.
A tool made of Kyushu Red Oak, the tool is a binding channel cutter.

I like Kyushu Red Oak because it’s hard enough to be durable for life and it’s also smooth and doesn’t mar the work. This kind of oak is also used to make martial arts weapons for Okinawan karate. I’m interested in native woods for guitar making too, such as Keyaki and Sakura. I’ve made a beautiful guitar about of 90-year-old Persimmon that I took from an old broken tansu.

Sakura is a fruitwood and used to be common in European instruments from the late middle ages to the baroque era, often used as bridges on lutes and guitars, but also for pegs and fingerboards. I have used Kagoshima Sakura wood for bridges on my guitars. It’s a wonderful bridge wood, and would make great guitars if you can find a tree big enough that needs to be cut down.

Career as a guitar maker

My instrument construction training began when I was in high school. I played the cello in the school orchestra and also played the guitar. When it happened that my cello needed some repairs the band teacher sent me to Mr Tenney who was a violin repairer and bowmaker in Redlands California. I took my cello over to his shop to have a crack fixed and to get new strings and I was hooked within five minutes of entering the shop with all the activity going on there. On one wall there was an enormous painting by a Spanish artist who lived in France in the 1840’s called Narcisse Diaz de la Pena, he is well known, under the painting was a Beethoven era piano built in the 1820’s and on the top of the closed piano were five or six Italian violins laying on a small Persian rug.

There were violin bows being made and old master paintings being restored and antique furniture everywhere. Mr Tenney and his wife owned an antique shop, which his wife Betty ran. Mr Tenney employed me after school to move antiques, clean the shop and to strip and refinish furniture. Soon he let me help him do instrument repair work, learn more about woodworking tools and try to build some instruments myself. I built some cello and bass bows and learned a great deal about paintings antiques, architecture and violin making in his workshop. I worked for the Tenney’s for about three years and then I went to college to study. I remained friends with the Tenney’s over the next 25 years visiting them often.

I went to college at the San Francisco Art Institute and graduated with a degree in sculpture. After that program, I was accepted into the Graduate Studies Art Dept at Mills College in Oakland California. I finished the master’s degree course in studio art and art history. After the time in the academic setting, I wanted to make instruments and work on a career in visual arts.

In 1997 I began to study under two instrument makers in the San  Francisco area, one was Eugene Clark a notable guitar maker who was thought highly of in the classical/flamenco guitar world for his depth of knowledge of traditional Spanish guitar making concepts. And the other was historical Lute maker Mel Wong, who is still active in San Francisco. Unfortunately, Gene Clark died a few years ago. I worked and studied concurrently with Mel and Gene for two years going back and forth between their shops doing projects, learning about guitar and lute repair and construction. After that time I opened a small workshop of my own in Oakland CA. In 2006 and 2011 I did a year of additional training on steel string guitar repair with Stewart Port who is master guitar repairman in Oakland CA who specializes in rare and vintage steel string guitars. I had my own guitar making shop open at that time and Stewart Port and I are both former students of Eugene Clark.

I maintained a guitar repair and building shop in Oakland until 2013 when I moved to Japan with my wife who is native Japanese. We met in CA where she had lived for many years. She works in the graphic design business and does bilingual Japanese/English web design as a freelancer. The move was prompted by the unfortunate death of her mother in 2012. We came to Akune in Kagoshima to help her dad and keep him company. I moved my guitar making shop to Akune into a former salt supply warehouse and began making guitars for my remaining US customers.

Current Projects

Final thoughts: We have to ask – Are there any onsen in your area? Hinoki ofuro?
In Akune, where we live, there is a tradition of putting Bontan, a locally grown type of giant Pomelo citrus in the baths. It makes the room fragrant.

There was an onsen here that had a hinoki tub, but they had to close down two years ago.

Akune also has a natural saltwater geothermal onsen!

Thank you so much, Stephen, for your detailed comments and for sharing your passion for wood and guitar building so openly. If anyone wants to reach Stephen you can contact him via his website Stephen Faulk Guitars and make sure you take a look at his Japanese persimmon guitar on YouTube.

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