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february 2023 newsletter

happy Valentine from Japan!

Well, it is not the love that you think… (;゚Д゚) … anyway, for sure a feeling of profound respect and enthusiasm to work together blossomed among us…(⋈◍>◡<◍)。✧♡

And receiving the mandate to distribute Shinichi Murayama`s amazing KUMIKO shoji products WORLDWIDE is even better than a box of choccolate candy hearts!!!


Collaboration with Shinichi Murayama

A common friend introduced me to a genial wood craftsman from Western Kyoto…
And it was love at first sight!

Bartok design Japan Co. will be the official distributor for the products of Murayama Mokko worldwide!
-> to the shop page

Shinichi Maruyama is specialized in the “Kumiko” technique which is used to create shoji and other traditional interior items. (See below for more details)
But Maruyama-sensei pushed the technique towards new unimaginable horizons with curved kumiko, three-dimensional kumiko, and stunning interiors for leading hotels such as Ritz Carlton, Prince Hotel, ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel, FAUCHON L’Hotel, and others.


december 2022 newsletter

yoi o-toshi wo o-mukae kudasai!

The phrase above is used towards the end of the year to wish a “good approach to the new year”, while once entered in 2023, “shin-nen akemashite omedetou gozaimasu” is used, which means: “the new year started to shine, congratulations”
In any case, everything that has a start will also have an end.
But the end is also the launching pad for a new start!
And we wish that 2023, the year of the rabbit will make you jump into wonderful new stories, new experiences, and maybe also in a new ofuro!

(You can scroll towards the end of this email to see my rabbit-themed proposal for the “haiku-yu” model with ceramic plates made by Nanzan Itoh)


september 2022 newsletter

HAIKU-YU pre-release (for your eyes only!)

(use this link to open a zoomable version of this image)

Well,  it is my habit to weave the backstage stories into my messages to slowly add the strokes that complete the picture and provide you not only with the news but also with the process and the emotions behind it.
Anyway, this time is different.

I am impatient and overwhelmed to announce a new, ofuro model.
Simple, yet revolutionary!

As you can see from the image above, it originates from the collaboration between hinoki wood and the ceramic works of Itoh Nanzan, a 4th generation Kyoto ceramist.
You can see his skills in a video here (scroll down the page)

Nanzan-sensei will make limited series of ceramic plates to replace the copper “kugi-kakushi” of our Edo-style ofuros (with the copper plates detail)

To be honest I am wordless.
Why did it take me so long to come to this idea?!
It makes me feel ecstatic, thrilled, and also a little confused.
Is it an idea or more like a celestial download?

Let me explain more in detail why with the HAIKU-YU, the world will not be the same: the ceramic plates have a double magnet on the back side so they can be scrambled, mixed, or replaced to match a seasonal theme or a color scheme.This is probably the most fun thing that happened in my life!! and almost does not let me sleep at night! 

On top, consider that the HAIKU-YU ofuro comes with a hinoki tray and a sake set (one “tokkuri” pitcher and two “choko” cups or with matcha cups to savor the ofuro experience with the 5 senses.
But how about the 6th sense?
Please be patient, I am getting to it. As the name HAIKU-YU suggests,  all this is pure poetry. And you can also play with it!
A haiku is an impressionist type of short poem made by 17 syllables (5-7-5)
You probably heard the immortal Matsuo Basho verse:
“Furu ike ya – kawazu tobikomu – mizu no oto” – At the old pond, a frog junps in, sound of water. -As there are 18 ceramic plates, every composition can be read symbolically as a haiku poem which is completed by a plate with the monogram of Nanzan-sensei.As the tea ceremony master picks the decor and accessories to match the season, you can now choose the haiku that best fits the occasion – or your mood!

In the quest of the 7th sense…Well, sometimes less is more.
Some other times more is more!HAIKU-YU (YU stands both for “hot-water” and also for “you” – to remind you that – you – are empowered to customize your ofuro experience.
And as you can guess, the possibilities are limitless. 
A 12th-generation sake maker from Fushimi (Kyoto) already jumped into the project with a special formula, slightly sour sake that is like bread and butter with a steamy ofuro.
A ura-senke tea master and producer of rare “Kyo-Tanabe Gyokuro” tea is also excited to collaborate together. There is no rule that forbids to have a tea ceremony in a bathtub! 

Contact me by email if you want to know more about the HAIKU-YU.

I recommend a 1500mm long ofuro (fits 2) with thicker planks to avoid the need for the top frame border “kamachi” which would not fit well with the simple harmony of the colorful plates.

M-7) hinoki tub with 42mm planks: 970,000 JPY
 500L / 132 US gallon 1500L x 750W x 630H (D550) (59.1” x 29.5” x 24.8”)

hinoki tray: 30,000 JPY
one set of 18 plates: 220,000 JPY
one sake set with 2 cups: 110,000 JPY
one bottle of tsuki no katsura sake (since 1675): present

All the best and happy HAIKU-YU!
with love and enthusiasm//

from iacopo

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:

photo album: https://photos.app.goo.gl/q9kDS2pQ3GcqppxXA
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 2023.
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

or if it is easier, with google photos: https://photos.app.goo.gl/q9kDS2pQ3GcqppxXA (same pics)

I still haven`t been on site. It seems like there is still plenty of time (before january 2023) to evaluate the possibility of transferring the building to save it.
That said, 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 disassembling 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.

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