News

the new spring of wabisabi

The cultural center and ryokan in S. Ginesio (central Italy) re-opened in the post-corona era on May 20th.

And to celebrate they cleaned and re-sanded their knotty hinoki 15-year old bartok design ofuro.

I leave the photos to describe the whiteness of the regenerated hinoki and the colors of the springtime filling it completely.

After the Corona virus I think that long haul flights and trips to faraway countries will be pursued less.
We will assist to the spread of the “micro-tourism” model as theorized by the President of the hotel chain “Hoshino Resort”

If you are in Europe, what other excuse are you waiting to visit the Wabi Sabi Ryokan? For questions/ reservations, contact Ricky and Serenella as per the details below:

Tel: 335-396025
email: irasshai@wabisabiculture.org
facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/wabisabiculture/

I think the goddess of spring is a long stay guest here at the Wabisabi!

hinokitiol Vs. COVID-19

hinokitiol is a natural extract of asnaro-hiba wood with strong antimicrobial performance. It has been proved effective in treating penicillin-resistant streptococci and is used as a component for disinfectants, cosmetics, scalp and acne treatments etc.

It can be diluted in water and vaporized in the air: it lasts much longer than other volatile substances like alcohol.
It has been used as a local and ambient disinfectant and insect repellent.

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆
Can It be helpful in inhibiting or treating the COVID-19?
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I do not know.

But I can supply it !
(because it is a by-product of my manufacture of Japanese cedar wood products, mainly Japanese ofuro bathtubs).

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆
I offer to send samples of hinokitiol to research institutes in case they are interested in testing it against the COVID-19 virus.

Please contact me and let me know the address and contact person information for the shipping. I will send 1g via airmail.
Product and shipping cost is on me.
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For more information check this page:
https://bartokdesign.com/?s=hinokitiol

  As of march, 17 2020 I already shipped a sample to:

1) Dr. Raymond Goodrich
Colorado State University’s Infectious Disease Research Center - USA

2) Dr. Maurizio Cecconi
Humanitas University - Milano - Italy

3) Mr. Joseph Payne
Arcturus Therapeutics - Torrey Pines Mesa - La Jolla - USA

4) Dr. Brooke Fiala
Washington’s Institute for Protein Design, Seattle - USA

5) Dr. Chen Katz  
Migal Galilee Research Institute, Qiryat Shemona - Israel

I do not have personal contacts within the 9 large companies who have been largely publicized on the media (nor I have big sympathy for large corporations) .
Anyway if you know some researcher who is worthy, please let me know!)

・ Inovio (USA)
・ Cure- Vac (Germany)
・ Gilead Sciences Inc.  (USA)
・ GlaxoSmithKline   (USA)
・ Johnson & Johnson   (USA)
・ Moderna Inc.   (USA)
・ Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. (USA)
・ Sanofi (USA)
・ Vir Biotechnology Inc. (USA)

Anybody else you think could use the natural hinokitiol to help defeat the virus?

quickstart on zoom

As they say, every cloud has a silver lining.
The coronavirus emergency -> craze -> histeria is provoking an economic havoc that could damage irreversibly large sectors of the economy.

But is also giving the chance to millions of people to rethink their priorities, optimize their time and rearrange their routines.
One big discovery is definitely ZOOM meeting software (no affiliation…)

I had some tepidly disappointing experiences with s**pe or goto**ing.
The first 5 minutes of the conversation were spent in yelling “moshi-moshi, hallo etc.” the next 5 minutes were used to restart computers and inevitably the conversation took place on whatsapp.

But ZOOM is very stable and the interface is so easy to use. It is possible to have meetings with up to 100 people (and more for special users) and when somebody talks, the speaker pops up in the magnified part of the screen.
It is also possible to share documents or scroll on SketchUp models etc.

I am planning to use ZOOM also to connect with people who are interested in purchasing an ofuro or need to solve some problem I can help with.

I am still not sure on how to embed it in the homepage or if it makes sense to create periodical live webinars etc. I would appreciate your insight and opinion about it. I am still a novice in ZOOM.

I purchased the paid plan (about 200 $ per year) so I can make unlimited meetings with up to 100 people. Of course it can be used also on the smartphone so I am always reachable.
My ID is 51848377.
Let`s connect. A virtual hug to everybody!

iacopo

experimental tatamis and meet iacopo in London!

Just a few words to update you about:
1) a fatal encounter with an experimental tatami maker
2) meet iacopo in London on 2/27! 


Chapter 1) 

Our schedules did not match: although we had a couple of tentative venues we did not manage to meet.
R&S: two dear italian friends and Bartok design ofuro users, always present in my mind and inspiring my activities and discoveries come to Japan for a couple of weeks.  
They come to Kansai, they were here in Nara, Kyoto and surroundings but we did not manage to meet… Such a shame…

But every cloud has a silver lining!
Before living they gave me the introduction to Mitsuru Yokoyama, young tatami maker in Kyoto.
I could not resist and called him immediately. It was a very strange feeling: like my own voice was echoing back. I immediately felt our ideas were on the same wavelength and as much as it was pleasant to talk, I felt we almost did not need to talk..! 

(more…)

happy 2020!

Japan is nicknamed as the “land of the rising sun” but not everybody knows that New Zealand actually enters the new year one hour earlier than Japan.

Nevertheless, considering the landscape, the culture, the personality of the Japanese, I think that there could be no better nickname!

In Japan it is custom to spend the last evening of the year laid-back at home and get up early to climb on high ground to contemplate the first sunrise of the year.

This year I was in Shikoku, on Inoyama – also known as Sanuki Fuji for its beautiful perfect conic shape – near Zentsuji in Kagawa prefecture. The sky was clear and the angle was unobstructed. The sun is popping out as an egg yolk being tossed out from the belly of the mountain.
I can understand the sense of surprise and reverence that pre-blue-screen generations may have felt everyday contemplating the most important daily event on earth: the rise of the sun.

Even if it is only once a year, assisting to this extraordinary miracle always has a powerful effect of filling up my energy cells while grounding all the negative stress. I do not know if I can call it a mindfulness experience but I am a big fan of the “hatsuhinode”: the 1/1 sunrise watching.

Of course one could do it 365 times in a year (366 times in 2020!) but nothing compares to enjoy it from a place like this, with the mindset of january 1st, feeling the warmth of the first rays shaking the winter night.

I wanted to share with you this moment with the auspice that 2020 can be a shining year for you: bringing happiness, health, and prosperity!!

2020 is also the year of the Olympic games and I am sure you will feel closer to Japan than ever. If you want to celebrate the games with a bottle of sake, do not forget to dress it properly with our “kimono bottle covers”.
New colors, new package. Check the shop here-> https://bartokdesign.com/product/kimono-bottle-covers

meeting friends in NY

Last December 11-15 I was in NY and as I explained my plans in the last newsletter, I received many replies from 4 past and present clients.
I experimented this way of traveling to other countries last year and it is extremely rewarding!
I go abroad and you meet people with whom you corresponded, friends, people who share my path and interests.
I will never forget in summer 2018 when a Parisian architect who used Bartok design ofuros for 3 projects come to meet me in Dubai.
Or shortly after when a Japanese lover and former Tokyo resident hosted me in her house in Phoenix with a huge cactus in the garden.
Feeling at home and meeting friends everywhere you go is probably one of the sweetest experiences in life!

(more…)

the warm heart of Nippon!

As a corollary to my recent trip to New York, the visit to Nippon deserves a post of its own.
Before leaving Japan, I asked a friend who used to work for Asahi television in USA for an authentic japanese restaurant in NY.
He had no hesitation in recommending me “Nippon”, on E 52nd street, also known as the “unofficial cultural Japanese Consulate in NY”.

I kept the visit for the last day (Sunday) at lunch and when I arrived I had the shocking surprise to find the restaurant closed!
Somebody was moving inside and I decided to knock on the glass and at least say hello.
They were very kind to let me in and started talking. The restaurant was closed as they were having a tasting session by the Japan Airlines officials as – yes! the restaurant Nippon is providing the food consumed on the flights back to Japan.
Hearing that I am an architect, they showed me the private tatami room near the entrance, simple but striking, built with premium material by a japanese “toryo” master carpenter.

The restaurant was opened here in 1963 by Nobuyoshi Kuraoka and his wife. Since then, they have been frontrunners when it comes to delivering the authentic japanese culinary experience to the USA.
Mr. Kuroda purchased farmland in Canada to grow soba buckwheat, installed a machine to produce tofu in the kitchen and won a 5-year long legal battle to legalize the import and consumption of the potentially poisonous (but delicious) fugu blow-fish.

All celebrities you can think are regulars here: from baseball Hideo Matsui to Bloomberg the Major. From Japan`s prime minister Shinzo Abe to tennis champion Novak Djokovic. Mr. Kuroda is also famous for having supported many athletes and golf champions who were struggling at the beginning of their careers. Too good to be true?

If it sounds like a plot for the next superman`s movie, well it is not.
Mr. Kuroda and his wife left this World in 2018 but their outstanding successes are a shining example of what a man can do when he has motivation and clear vision.

Now the Restaurant is in the capable hands of the general manager Yasuhiro Makoshi, his wife and the chef Akira Azuma, for 40 years behind the counter.

But the story does not end here. While the restaurant was closed, the manager and his wife offered me to sit on the bench in the waiting area and served me a “small snack” – service from the chef. What come out from the kitchen was a delicious soba noodles salad with wagyu thin sliced beef. I really felt like the prodigal son returning home without notice and finding the benevolent mom and dad happy to feed me with what was in the house.
This confirms that the generosity, sense of hospitality and warm heart planted by Kuraoka did not depart with them but are now part of the DNA of Nippon.

On a side story, with so many celebrities enjoying the delicious cuisine of Nippon, I suggested that if Donald Trump ate this soul food, chances were that the curse would break and Donald would turn into a nice guy…
On the other hand, I had the feeling that he would not be welcome here.
Sorry, Donald…

Anybody with a good idea? Maybe a take out?

kanna thoughts

On the quest of a woodworking atelier that can help me create the right furniture for a super-brand store I am working on, I met with Toshio Tokunaga.

His atelier is in the Kobe countryside, next to his residence (who he built himself 25 years ago) and in front of a vegetable garden is also adjoining a temple which hosts a festival once a year.

We arrived there in a winter afternoon and the setting was just like stepping on a stage of Kurosawa Akira. Smoke, sharp strokes of light from the dying sun, country sounds. The atmosphere was primed with an explosive concentration of poetic charm.

Tokunaga sensei was surrounded by young apprentices, friendly, understated. But the wood board floor showing the scars of thousands of births, the table we sit at, stained with sweat and passion and the religious dedication of his apprentices were clear signs of the genius.

Tokunaga sensei was himself disciple of a giant: the Kyoto based woodwork artist and “Japanese National Cultural Treasure” Hekigai Takeuchi.
Tokunaga`s core concept is based on the use of the japanese hand planer (kanna). With this tool it is possible to cut sharply the wood fibers (as opposed to the use of sandpaper) thus conferring shine, hardness and durability to the object he finishes which do not need any paint finish.
Here below is a comparative microscope photo.

 kanna-finish                                sandpaper finish
← kanna planer / sandpaper →

Let me mention two other points about his “kanna thoughts” I really found enlightening.

  1. Tokunaga sensei uses the plane also to finish curved, three dimensional and organic shapes. “When you use the plane on a curved surface, you create narrow faces of a polyhedron. Each face reflects the light and provide sharp edges to guide the eye. When finished with kanna, a curved shape becomes more iconic, its line is crisp and meaningful.”
  2. using kanna is not only finishing the wood, it is more like communicating with the material. While planing, you feel the wood direction, its soft and hard spots. You interpret the message already contained in the wood, you help revealing the shape that is already there. He goes as far as saying: “It is difficult to become a good craftsman if you do not have an understanding of nature. All people that played in a river in their childhood (before turning age five) have the potential of becoming a skilled craftsmen”.

    (I read a similar concept about mindfulness from a 3rd century Chinese classic “Prince-Wen-Huis-Cook” and his technique in cutting meat! – but this is another story…)

Mr. Tokunaga speaks English so you can contact him directly for any information/project/quotation etc.
If you need some help, let me know: any alibis is welcome for me in order to be able to work with these incredible craftsmen who reveal the deep philosophy of life through their hands.

Hiroshima and Miyajima

After 21 years of living in Japan, I finally had the opportunity to visit Hiroshima.
The A-bomb memorial left me very deep emotions. I feel more adult, more responsible, I feel stronger after the visit.
Again, photos and videos are here if you want to visit through my eyes.
https://photos.app.goo.gl/kD9QotW8YP8yLLLh9

From there is also possible to board a powerboat to Miyajima (about 45min.), the famous shrine with the orange torii emerging from the waves. You can buy the round trip ticket but if you get the one way only, you will have more options to choose from for the return trip.

Miyajima was wonderful beyond the imagination! I do not know why it took me 21 years to make it here!
There are friendly but wild dears strolling around. Unfortunately, the famous torii was under restoration: an additional reason to come again.

On the island, the atmosphere is relaxed, few cars, the shrine surrounded by the sand and water is just spectacular and all the other sites and the village itself are a paradise if you enjoy taking photographs.
I am an amateur photographer and just used the phone but I hope that the photos at the link below can stir your appetite…
https://photos.app.goo.gl/fk3VTAUbBKxn2EHy7

This december day was blessed by a warm sun, wild clouds and the colors of the autumn maples. The only problem was the little time. I definitely want to return soon, maybe in springtime and definitely with a full day to mindlessly stroll around…

Kumano, Shu-gen-do and more!

Following from the previous blog entry, after the visit at the Furuya house, we had lunch with the city hall staff and other consultants and I spoke about the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route and how many European tourists skip the beaten track and head straight to the Koya-san monasteries.

(If you are not familiar, the Kumano Kodo is a 4 to 6 days pilgrimage trail also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Wakayama prefecture)

Wouldn`t it lead to positive results both culturally and economically to appeal to these tourists rather than opening yet another aquarium with jumping dolphins?

My comment was maybe superficial – also considering the fact that I did not yet walk the Kumano route myself.
I just felt that if we had to find the Hannan hidden potential it was probably not on the tetrapods of the reclaimed shores but rather on the trails connecting Sakai to Mino and to Koya-san.
This generated a very interesting conversation about Shugen-do and maybe with some potential to change the destiny of the area.

Shugendo is a syncretic theosophy, with some similarities to the shamanism of the American Indians or the celtic druidism at its base (just to add another layer of syncretism…)
Shu-gen-do (literally: PRACTICE + MIRACLE + PATH) is the “path to gaining special powers as the result of training”. It was founded by En no Gyoja in the VII century and combined elements of ancient pre-Buddhist, Shinto worship of nature together with the doctrine and ritual of esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyo), Taoism, Onmyōdō, astronomy, medicine etc.

The Shugen-do practitioners are also known as Yamabushi and have to spend time in the mountains (one trip for each season, 4 times a year) and learn from nature the truth about life. Thanks to this experience, they gain knowledge of curative herbs and in the past acted as healers and were believed to have superpowers. (As a side story, many ninjas used yamabushi techniques for fighting and disguised under the robes of pilgrims.) You can find a lot of information on the internet about yamabushis: let me just add one comment (as I did not find it elsewhere) : the best definition of what “Yama”-“bushi” are can be found in the literal reading of the kanji: “mountain” + “human + dog”: in the sense that practitioners seek freedom from the control of their rational mind to become like animals a part of nature and understand its rules and power.

Shugendo was outlawed by the Meji government as the newly established Emperor was aiming at creating a simple pyramidal structure where he was the chief of a depurated Shinto religion and therefore Buddhism and Shintoism had to be forcibly separated.
(Before then, most of the sacred sites included Buddhist and Shinto buildings side by side, as you can still see in Asakusa – which is now an exception).
In any case, the Yamabushi continued their training in secret until they were rehabilitated after WWII. During the years of concealment, Shugen-do was mainly absorbed within the Shingon Buddhism and Tendai Buddhism influencing its present structure and rituals.

↑ photo copyright by http://wadaphoto.jp/

But the core component of Shugen-do is very simple and there is no sacred text or theory. You just have to walk (in silence) in the mountains and go through trials like climbing a steep cliff, meditate under a cold waterfall or walk on fire. Nature will teach you the truth about life, without the necessity for any interpretation or mediation. No theory, just do it!
Isn`t it powerful?

There were hundreds of holy mountains providing the challenges and the teachings necessary to become a wise man but the most famous areas for wanderers are:

  • The now lost paths of Mino (north of Osaka) and Ikoma mountains where En no Gyoja, fascinated by the red maple leaves started to develop his practices.
  • The most famous of all times is the Omine mountain range which includes the Kumano, Kinpusen and Yoshino super-holy sites, making it the mecca of the “mountain wisdom seekers”.
  • Koya-san was not properly a Shugen-do site but of course distinctions were much more fuzzy in the past. It is technically part of the Kii-Omine mountain range but it is so sacred that I am listing it separately. Koya san was connected to Sakai and Osaka by a pilgrimage route.
  • Dewa Sanzan – the Three Sacred Mountains in Yamagata prefecture (north-west Tohoku). Mount Haguro,  “the mountain representing the existing world,”  Mount Gassan, “the mountain representing the past,” and Mount Yudono, “the mountain representing the future,” alone can teach you everything you ever hoped to know … and more!
  • Hakusan (lit. white mountain) is the collective name for a number of sacred Japanese mountains that converge along the borders of four prefectures (Ishigawa, Fukui, Gifu, and Toyama) in northwest Honshū From early on, Hakusan was known as a “mountain realm inhabited by kami” and banned to normal people.
  • The Isu peninsula with its ancient hot springs holy sites and Shinto-Buddist – one thousand handed Kannon statues
  • Mt. Ontake in the Kiso Region (Nagoya)
  • The Katsuragi mountain in Nara prefecture
  • The Ishizuchi mountain in Shikoku Island
  • Last but not least, Hiko-mountain in Kyushu featuring giant buddhas carved in the cliff.

The practice included some rituals before “entering-into-the-peak” (nyubu girei) but as those traditions were handed down orally, there are very few traces remaining nowadays. But most importantly (and here I am coming to the point of this long entry) each path consisted of a number of stages: practical experiences to be done in order to absorb the wisdom from nature. These stages were marked by stone tablets or kannon statues, so that the practitioners could understand where to stop and what hint to look for. The Omine path has en route 75 ascetic practice stages called “Nabiki“.
Other paths consist of 33 stations, symbolic of the 33 manifestations of Kannon Bodhisattva.

And here is my idea and proposal. Did you know that the twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus Sutra were buried among the peaks in the Katsuragi range which extends from Futagamiyama (Nara) to Kada (at the gates of Wakayama)? At present only a few stations are known (#1 being a cliff in Tomogashima and #7 being a cold waterfall).
Also, it is amazing that the Katsuragi route would connect to the Omine and the Kumano pilgrimage route forming a triangle.
Onigashima is the island with the spectacular ruins of the Japanese Imperial Army batteries which is worth a visit alone! And there are 26 sutras that are waiting to be found in the mountains leading back to Yoshino, in the heart of the old country of Yamato, the heart of Japan.

Don`t you think it would be extremely thrilling to re-discover the forgotten Shugen-do path together with its treasures of wisdom?
The location is also ideal making it easy for the visitors of Koya san to intercept at least some stations. Also, being the Katsuragi mountains quite low it would be possible to cover the pilgrimage in 2 days creating an introductory experience for those who could then decide to wander the Kumano or Omine range on their next trip.
It would be culturally exciting – and I think also commercially successful to rediscover and restore in a non-invasive way the old Shugen-do Katsuragi path and all of its 28 stations. What do you think?

Giving it a try, instead of just wrapping ourselves in theoretical thinking.
Learning while experiencing this wonderful World we have all for us: isn`t it the perfect antidote against the invisible force that sucks our time and confines our lives behind a virtual facebook avatar?

I would appreciate it if you let could let me know your opinion about such a project (via email or by commenting below) as I could use these data to convince the authorities to look at concrete ways to implement the project.
I know, it is not an easy way but – hey! – if it was easy what is the point?

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