if you like our content, do not forget to sign in to our newsletter. We usually send a new year greetings letter + 3~4 mailings per year. And of course you can opt out anytime.


june 2022 newsletter

Why are Japanese destroying their temples?

How are you? 
You may remember my appeal to find the right person to adopt a 150+year-old Kameyama temple:
Well, the good news is that there is concrete interest from a party in Australia.
I cannot reveal the details now but I have a clear feeling the project is going to materialize.
The reason I am anticipating this “scoop” is that this could become an important precursor of more similar projects. Yes… the not so good news is that what is left over of the construction heritage in Japan is depleting quickly like snow under the sun.
Let alone the governmental policies to encourage demolition of unoccupied buildings, the hyperbolic depopulation of rural areas, and aggressive marketing of prefabricated house makers and governmental grants scavengers.

The next wave of demolitions is not going to spare even temples and shrines.
Actually, there is a weird cause triggering a trend of demolition of old temples all-over Japan and the Kameyama example is just the tip of the iceberg.
Let me explain.
Some temples are being demolished because of a decrease in the population of Buddhist priests or Shinto “guji” to take possession of the building. Sad but probably inevitable.

But what shocked me is that many temples are being demolished for the purpose of rebuilding a new ones. 
In rural Japan, the local families (danka) support their temple or shrine both with yearly donations but also with special crowdfunding for particular occasions such as repair of the building, additions, and reconstruction but also to cover expenses such as the wedding of the son of the priest, rebuilding of the house of the priest etc.

Needless to say that this system can be taken advantage of … and actually it is often abused by unethical priests. A rural family may be asked to pay a special contribution of 10,000 USD or even more to buy a house for the son of the priest. Unbelievable as it sounds, it was common sense in most rural Japan. Needless to say, the grip of traditions, moral burdens, and social customs do not affect the younger generations and the priests (both the greedy ones and the ones in good faith) understand that if they want to raise a large amount of money, they can only appeal to the 70, 80, 90 years old practitioners.
And every time there is a changing of the guard in the head of the families, the temple loses a sponsor.To cut a long story short: the priests understand that this is their last chance to plead for large donations, while the old guard is still alive…
The irony of the fate is that these Japan traditional social customs is now one of the causes of the destruction of the cultural heritage. 

As it is useless to cry over the poured milk, the question on the table is: 

What can we do to turn this tragedy into an opportunity?

Action 1:
I will try to use the Kameyama temple example to gain some visibility in Japan and find out about other submerged realities of temples on the verge of being destroyed and for which we can still propose an alternative plan. 

Action 2: 
I need help to spread the word, network, gather information about possible host locations for Japanese temples (and maybe also traditional houses).

Will you help me?
Often a local park or botanical garden can provide the space available to relocate the temple, and governmental authorities, local businesses, and art patron may raise their hand.
By giving a new caring home to a traditional Japanese building, your city may gain an extra feature that can bring tourism, cultural activities, media coverage, and new business opportunities.

Ride the cheap yen!

(I am sharing a photo kindly participated from M&M who purchased from us an ofuro back in 2005.
More info is available in the testimonials gallery)

Lumber had a cost increase at the beginning of 2022, after about 6 years of fixed prices. Shipping costs are now increasing on a monthly basis…

Nonetheless, this is probably the most convenient period to purchase an ofuro!
As you certainly know, the dollar and the euro exchange rate soared in the past 2-3 months and gained 20% or more on the Japanese Yen.
Experts say this trend is going to last for a few years but I think the biggest gains on monetary fluctuations can be made in the first period before all other economical factors came into play and balance the situation.

The message is: if you are considering buying an ofuro, NOW is the best moment \(^o^)/
Contact me for an updated quotation or for any questions!

 Let`s meet in NY in July!

Because of Covid, (and also because I am not vaccinated), in the past 2 years, I could not travel as I wished to…But I think it is now time to spread my wings again!
I will travel to NY from July 7th to July 14th.

I have a few meetings but I will have time to meet old and new friends. 
Please let me know if you are available and it will be great to get together for a coffee or a green tea!

One of the reasons I am traveling to the USA is a non-ofuro related business.
As an architect, I am now proposing projects that use artificial lagoons (kind of very large pools) to revitalize the rural and stranded property.

Too many of Japan`s 2500 golf courses are now being sold for a few pennies and becoming the prey of solar panel farms, land infills, dumps and other speculations to earn state subsidies.

And from the governmental side, it is shocking to see the huge rise of green field developments, useless industrial parks and “white elephant” projects despite the surge of vacant industrial and commercial land (brownfields).
The economical crisis is apparently the excuse to immolate well-preserved pieces of nature for the brutal … though useless pork-barrel type of developments.

 As an alternative, I aim at creating smart cities, retirement communities, and resorts that can sacrifice a small piece of nature in exchange of large economic output, local employment, and a lifestyle that can ensure more contact with nature while respecting it.

One of the most ambitious projects is to create a smart city in the Kyushu region,
10 Km from Oita airport that – with its 3.0Km long runaway – is not only a convenient hub for transportation but is also a candidate for the space industry with collaborations with Virgin and Sierra Space.

If interested you can watch this video: https://youtu.be/H3gfMfKrAiI

Please let me know if:
1) You have an interest in investing in smart real estate projects in Japan
2) You have a way to connect me to “Virgin Orbit” or “Sierra Space” companies

I know that this is not the most proper vehicle for this type of information but as my favorite motto says: “give life a chance”!

Have a wonderful summer and … I hope to meet you in NY (or in Japan)!

All the Best//iacopo

countdown to Komika summit 2022!

UPDATE: the data connection is very bad 💦
I am not sure I will be able to do the live streaming…
Please check the facebook page for the last minute updates:

in the morning from 8:00 to 9:00 JST I will try to make a guided tour of some old japanese houses in the area.

As anticipated last month, our participation at the Kominka Summit is confirmed!
And even more amazingly: here is a list of the other companies that will exhibit at the Minka mall !!

Toda Komuten
Midori Farm
Writer’s Booth Azby Brown & Alex Kerr
Kohachi Beerworks (Nobu & Jul)
Bartok design co.
山の家具工房 (local traditional wood furniture)
Sustainable Daisen (Giant Salamander NPO)
Heart Country Stove
Daimon Brewery
Permaculture Center Kamimomi
Somokusha (Japanese Natural Herbal Tea)
Hanase-Hirogawa Booth
Shimamura Yoshi Shoten
Iju House Project
Kyoto Prefectural Agricultural Council
Hanase Recycle Shop (Ohki-san)
Association of Traditional Reconstruction Professionals
A・UN Ambience Lamps 
The Kominka Collective
The Kominka Japan Association’s U.S. Office
Kominka Forum
Japan Minka Revival Association
ARK Animal Refuge Kansai
Miyama Thatched Roof Co., Ltd
Suikoushya International Craft School in Kyoto 
Nantan City Regional Promotion
Alex Kerr Antiques
Miyama Wood Engineer

But Kominka Summit 2022 is not only the Minka mall exhibition.
If the management approves, I will try to sneak into the seminar room and bring you to your homes the wisdom of our top-batters:

Keynote speaker for the event is author and lifelong minka and inaka advocate Alex Kerr, whose 300-year-old minka in the Iya Valley, Chiiori, is one of the best-known in all of Japan.

Other speakers include Azby Brown, acclaimed author of seminal books including The Genius of Japanese Carpentry and Lessons in Living Green from Traditional Japan; traditional plasterer Kyle Holzhueter (the first westerner to pass the level one Japanese National Plastering Exam); traditional architects Jonathan Stollenmeyer and partner Kohei Yamamoto (1st class licensed architect and carpenter); organic farmer and educator Chuck Keyser; and Jaya Thursfield, whose YouTube channel (under the name “Tokyo Llama”) documents his traditional home’s renovation and has more than 15 million views. 

(If I cannot sneak in, I will try to interview them after the events)

I am planning to stay connected with zoom and facebook-live during the event and provide a virtual tour to all of you who cannot participate in person.

Topic: kominka summit 2022 through iacopo`s eyes
Time: Apr 22, 2022 03:00 PM Osaka, Sapporo, Tokyo
Join Zoom Meeting


Meeting ID: 819 3878 4994 Passcode: 777

Last but definitely not least, a big thank you to Stuart Galbraith IV who gave the breath of life to the Summit \(^o^)/
I am looking forward to it!

Komika summit 2022!

It seems too good to be true !!

But apparently, it is true !!!

We have been invited to participate at the ”Minka Summit 2022” (22-24 April 2022) in Hanase (Kyoto)

There will be some 50 exhibition booths related to traditional crafts, restoration of folk houses etc.
Bartok design will have a small exhibition booth featuring at least one ofuro and our best smiles!

Experts in Japanese culture such as Alex Kerr and many other amazing keynote speakers will also be at the event.

It is really a dream come true. Absolutely awestriking!!

Check the homepage, SNS pages for more info: https://kominkajapan.org/

Tickets can be purchased here: https://peatix.com/event/3149245

I am planning to stay connected with zoom or facebook-live during the event and provide a virtual tour to all of you who cannot participate in person.

Come back to this page for updates \(^o^)/

unbelievable! gorgeous temple looking for adoption

I am not sure if it is sad news or happy news,
…but yes! we can definitely turn it into a 100%  happy news!

An old temple (called Josen-ji) located in Kameyama (Aichi prefecture) will be demolished in early 2024.
The building is said to be at least 150 years old (but judging from the photos I think even more)

The elegant noyane (double roof) slanted iri-moya roof (a mix between hip roof and gable roof) is finished with the “hongawara” roof tiles which means that there are 2 separate parts, one for the concave and one for the convex components.

The size of the hon-do (main hall) is about 11m x 11m + external corridor.

It seems unbelievable, but they are also going to demolish and dump the gorgeous gold plated altar and massive scuptured ranma panels (;゚Д゚)!

See photos below. Also you can access the google drive below for more photos. https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1AEYzGB0nBRIv74tMXFIy2VUOA7bb_Nux?usp=sharing

I still haven`t been on site. It seems like there is still plenty of time (before january 2024) to evaluate the possibility of transfering the building to save it.
Said that, the owner already has a quotation from a local demolition company (to just tear it down and clear the lot) and I am afraid that some penny-wise local interests may dictate the destiny of the precious building.

For this reason, (also considering past bitter experiences) I intend to proactively plan ahead a solution to carefully dismantle, transport and rebuild the temple in a location where it can be appreciated.

I would be grateful for any insight you may have.
Please do not contact me for picking up just some materials or spare parts: I am looking for a party who is willing to adopt the building in its entirety.

I asked a specialized company to visit the site and provide a quotation for the disasembling work and I will post here updates as soon as available.
It will be a rough evaluation, but I will also try to estimate how many containers are needed.

The idea is that for the rebuilding work, my carpenter can go on-site (also if overseas) to coordinate the reconstruction and instruct local craftsmen. In any case, the “foster family” needs to have clear ideas about how to finance the project, clear local building department filings, and supply the land and local construction company to handle the nitty-gritty of the project.

Or course, I remain available for any question or comment.




google map location PIN is here:

UPDATE 2022.march.28

Cost of demolition of the temple:
12 million Yen + 10% VAT
This quotation does not consider reusing of roof tiles.
I think reusing is better (also considering that for relocation out of Japan, it would be necessary to import roof tiles anyway) so the cost would increase (rough estimate = +2.5 million JPY)

Cost of rebuilding in Japan (as a reference):
scaffolding and temp. const. 500,000 JPY
foundations 2,500,000 JPY
timber frame (including new material 22,500,000 JPY
roof 15,000,000 JPY
plasterworks 3,000,000 JPY
paintworks 700,000 JPY
electricity and various 1,300,000 JPY

-> total 45,500,000 JPY + sales tax 10%
Of course, in the case of rebuilding overseas, the cost will need to be re-estimated.
We would be able to supply craftsmen to instruct local companies as needed.

Cost of transportation, import procedures, etc. to be determined.

Please let me know if you are interested so I can look into the feasibility of the project.

S.O.S. 100year young “ko-minka” traditional house looking for adoption

I received this SOS from a friend living in Hofu City, Yamaguchi prefecture.

Her 300 m2 traditional house with a beautiful roof and the refined interior are going to be demolished to make space for a new condominium.😢

I still have to obtain details. but it seems like the site must be cleared by the beginning of March 2022 so the dismantling work should start at the beginning of February.

Time is very tight and just to obtain a quotation (for the dismantling work) I will need to invest time and money to go on-site with a carpenter to evaluate the costs.

Anyway, If some of the “japan lovers” within the Bartok design community show interest in this option, I will teleport myself on site asap.

Please let me know.

Judging from the pictures, roof tiles are really stunning and very well preserved same as the tatami rooms with all the high quality details such as “ajiro” ceiling, hand blown glass, yukimi shoji, tokonoma details etc.

The kitchen area is quite spartan and the stainless steel sink are of course not original.
In case of a reconstruction, it would be nice to implement a “kamado” type of kitchen!

and maybe an “irori” to sit around the fire and during tea or maybe “atsukan” sake!

The bathroom also does not look very comfortable and the materials do not belong to the original plant.
Perfect space for a new hinoki bathtub + plenty of room for every other amenity you could wish for fitness or wellbeing.

The cost of the building itself is zero (free) for the art lover willing to help preserve the memory of glorious japanese residential architecture.

The cost for dismantling would be somewhere around 60-70,000 USD (ballpark value) and 30-40,000 USD for shipping (depends where). Cost of rebuilding depends on local conditions and how local craftsmen can be supportive. Of course we can supply carpenters that can coordinate reconstruction and train local workers.

I can obtain quotes but it takes time so I decided to start with the announcement.

google map location PIN is here:


and 50 photos are here:


Please contact me asap if interested.

UPDATE 1/11:

Thank you everybody for your lovely emails!

I did receive a lot of feedback (23 emails) and kudos, out of which 3 people are making some practical considerations about this possibility.

Here are some replies to common questions:

1) There is no restriction to export the construction material of the house (artistic properties preservation etc.).
Actually, the toughest filing at the time of export is to prove that we are not sending industrial waste to some other country for landfill… but it is actually construction material (even if second hand…).
This gives you a hint of the consideration that is given to historical buildings in Japan…

2) It will be necessary to verify the building standards in the place of reconstruction because the building is timber frame and not fireproof.

3) The roof tiles are quite recent (maybe 30-40 years old) but are nicely hand made

4) I do not have a dimensioned drawing but you can scale the plan above considering that one tatami is roughly 6′ x 3′. Also as a reference, the present site (which does not have much of room for the garden) is about 43 x 21m. See below:

Update 1/25:

The story had an unexpected development.

A contractor from Fukuoka who had been in touch in the past with the owner, suddenly come back and offered to dismantle the house and rebuild it in Fukuoka prefecture.

This came out of the blue while a person from NZ that was introduced to me was considering it very seriously the project. My contact had experience with this type of project as already transferred minka from Gifu prefecture to Hawai years ago.

After all this effort and “crying wolf” and mobilizing people all over the world, I have to confess that this epilogue was quite irritating. And I know that Japanese companies tend to dump the roof tiles, ceiling materials, flooring, and tatami.

On the other hand, the schedule is really very tight and if my plan could not be deployed for some reason (financial, permits, timing etc.) the house would have been lost completely.

For this reason, re-thinking this story from a different angle, I think that the fact that the Hofu kominka is going to remain in existence is the most important point. How and where is kind of secondary.

Of course, it is ideal that those buildings stay in their environment (also considering in many cases they have beautiful retaining walls, gardens etc. that cannot be moved)

But if they have to be demolished or transferred, I think that moving them abroad – besides being a way to preserve and valorize them – would also have a greater impact on the public opinion and contribute to raising public awareness on the traditional buildings conservation issue.

let`s think brighter in 2022!

How are you? I trust you are enjoying a serene holiday season.
I wish you a very happy year-end, in the warmth of your family, and a shining beginning of the New Year. \(^o^)/
2021 has been a challenging one.
But “challenges” have always been part of our lives and always will be: as the hatred examinations when we were in school, every challenge helps us to improve and become stronger and wiser.

The trick is to maintain a positive attitude and remember that “thoughts create reality”: even in this long Covid parentheses, I trust you will treasure the positive facets of this situation and continue to keep an eye towards a brighter future and what we can do on a daily basis to make it happen.

I am wondering when we will be able to break free from the compulsory habit to wear a mask all the time.


bathing ri***ls and Wabisabi 2.0 !

Do you remember last year in the “mid-summer greetings” newsletter I shared the appeal from the owners of the Wabisabi ryokan (S. Ginesio – Italy)?
They wanted to create a rock garden (kare-san-sui) to complete their new outdoor deck to be used for events, tea ceremony, meditation etc. and they were looking for ideas on where and how to obtain the racks and tools to create and maintain the rock garden.

Well, God heard their appeal and nothing less than “T”he Guru of Wabi sabi, the great designer philosopher Leonard Koren come from San Francisco to San Ginesio and participated as a special guest at the official inauguration of the “Jirinkongou Uchū” !!!
The new project could not begin under a a more auspicious star!

I am extremely proud of them! and would like to share some photos of their success story. Definitely, these images and video are worth a thousand words! Wabisabi has been in existence for more than 15 years now: anyway with the passing of every year it is becoming even more miryoku-teki! (= attractive, fascinating, enchanting, delightful, irresistible, etc.!)

and you can see more on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wabisabiculture/

Also inspired by this story, I would like to tap into the wisdom of the community of Japanese bath lovers for a project I am considering.
The project is to write a guide on “bath rituals”.

I have to confess that I have been asked and exhorted to write a book on the subject for more than 10 years now, but I always hit my nose on two walls:

  • The first being the fact that I am not an expert in bathing. Many of Bartok design clients have visited more onsen than I have and are much more literate than me in other aspects of mindfulness that take shape through traditional disciplines: from ikebana to archery, from tea ceremony to martial arts, from bonsai to calligraphy.

  • The second is that I do not like the word “ritual”. I am a free spirit and anything that becomes a structured “procedure” smells of bureaucracy, boring repetition, and fetishism to me.
    I developed a strong allergy to formalities, meaningless rules, dogmatic creeds, and religions.
    How can I write a guide or a book on “rituals”? Impossible.

On the other hand, I acknowledge the power of HABITS in bringing a positive change into our lives.
As we are bombarded by manipulated news, negative role models, addicted to customs that undermine our health and immune system, maybe sharing the benefits of bathing would help some people find a way out of the vicious circle.
The word “ritual” makes my skin itch … but “the end justifies the means” – as Machiavelli said.

Maybe the word “ritual” scares me because of its absolute meaning: “this is the Right way. All other ways are Wrong” – is the underlying concept.
Or am I overthinking?
In any case, if a ritual is useful to establish a (healthy) habit… how about making a guide on “Bathing habits”?

Yes! This is much better!!
“Bathing Habits” !
Everybody has their way of bathing, every way is legitimate and beautiful.
As I am typing, I just had an epiphany! Yes, this is the way to go.
I would like to write a guide sharing what I enjoy about bathing.
But… I need your help!
Yes, this guide would only be useful if it was sharing different points of view, tips, hacks, suggestions, experiments about bathing.

Will you share with the world your recommendations about bathing?
When do you bathe? How long? What do you do before? After? What is the purpose? the benefit you seek when bathing? Do you use a wooden tub? An acryl/FRP/metal/ceramic tub? Do you use bathroom accessories? salts? Essential oils? Our “pocket onsen”?

If the guide is published, I will share all the credits and any profit from the sales of the book in equal quotas with all of you who participated with your stories and photos. I cannot promise the guide will become an editorial success… but if it will see the light as a book I promise I will provide full credits and share the proceeds with the contributors, to the penny.

With the Covid craze inexorably permeating every aspect of our lives, (and I wonder for how many more years…) I really think that people need some help to break free from the negative news additiction and find again positivity and hope. Relaxation, meditation, letting go maybe very useful practices and deep soaking “habits” may be one of the gateways to a more meaningful and mindful lifestyle.

Please share with me your thoughts and bathing habits!
Let`s join forces and save the world together! \(^o^)/

I wish you a pleasant August and dedicate you a few relaxing seconds from “Saki no yu” onsen in Shirahama (Wakayama pref.) … enjoy the hot water!

Please send your entries to japan<AT>bartokdesign<DOT>com
writing “bathing habits” or similar in the subject line!
I am looking forward to it!!

ofuro-jiman contest!

“Jiman” means “pride”. So the title translate in “bathroom-pride”…

Well, after a long period of hibernation, I decided to restart actively posting to the bartok design Instagram account.

And this can only be done … with a little help from my friends!

Especially all those who purchased an ofuro or bathroom accessories: please send me your photo and a short testimonial so I can post it to on the instagram page!
Alternatively, if you posted some photos on your instagram account, let me know the link so I can re-post it!

And this can only be done … with a little help from my friends!

Especially all those who purchased an ofuro or bathroom accessories: please send me your photo and your story so I can post them to on the instagram page!

Alternatively, if you already posted your “ofuro jiman” photos on your instagram account, let me know the link so I can re-post it!

as a token of gratitude, I will send a 10ml bottle of hinoki essential oil “young trees” for free to the first 10 testimonials to reach my mailbox!

Additionally, I will present 10 “special reserve” hinoki essential oil for the 10 best photos!

I hope that the aroma of hinoki and its bactericidal properties will keep you healthy in the body and spirit, through these uncertain times!

Please send your entries to japan<AT>bartokdesign<DOT>com
and of course don`t forget to enter “ofuro jiman!” in the subject line!
I am looking forward to it!!

moving to japan? Rica is here to help you!

FOR RENT: A famous traditional noodle shop in a stunning pre-war building is for rent. If you were dreaming to leave everything and move to Japan to start your own udon restaurant, this is an unmissable opportunity!

The Covid may not be making so many victims in Japan as in other more impacted countries but the economy (especially anything related to tourism, food, and hospitality) received a huge blow.

Anyway, it is important to look at the “silver lining” of this cloudy situation.
As the Japanese saying “The flowers of Edo” is implying that the “flowers of Tokyo” are actually fires and street quarrels…
Yes, sometimes the destruction of the city or the social structure as we know it, is the pre-condition to create a new and – in some cases – even better world.

This is what my friend Rica – a bilingual real estate agent – is trying to do.
She has been running for more than 10 years a successful homepage and community making accessible real estate information to international clients.

And now, as usual, forerunner when it comes to new challenges, Rica started a new homepage called “move to japan”: a one-stop information hub for japan-loving foreigners that are considering the option of moving to socially, economically, and sanitary safe Japan and start a new life!

So, if you are really considering taking over the udon restaurant in the photos above, or some of the hundreds of gems shining from hot springs towns to traditional shopping streets, you do not have excuses, NO-MORE! Contact Rica and go for it!

Back to top