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A lesson for the Architects

Soma Cousha

Lesson for the Architects

This past Sunday we had the opportunity to meet with a group of architects from the ‘Registered Architect club’ and show them some of the carpentry trade as well as have them try their hand at cutting a tenon and the appropriate hole for the tenon.  It is a task that for us seems terrifically ‘normal’ or ‘simple’ but when teaching a lay person one really starts to realize all of the lessons that one has learned to make that task a simple one.  The thing that occurred to me the most was really the use of the geometry of the body in carpentry as opposed to strength.  A simple task becomes simple because unnecessary energy is not spent.  The geometry of the body alone allows this and can even help a beginner to really start to grasp the basics from cut number one.  It was a fun day with a lot of great folks.

We also cut a few of the joints that we use most often in our work that are tried and true over centuries.

Feast your eyes!

HonRenJi temple

Soma Cousha


Several weekends ago I was able to take a Sunday off and headed with my wife to the nearby town of UshiMado.  She has researched some of the beautiful villages in the area we live and is always up for a trip, so we packed up some snacks and made the hour plus drive to this seaside town for a pottery exhibition and touring.  The afternoon was spent in an old home that used to receive the court of Korea during a period in Japanese history when Korea was considered by the Japanese to be a pinnacle of culture and sophistication.  After a light dinner we were getting ready to make the drive home when our eyes were led to a beautiful temple across from the restaurant where we had dined.  We decided to watch the sunset from the higher ground of the temple’s garden, and to our surprise it was not an ordinary temple but a large and exquisite grounds deemed a special cultural heritage site.  I think perhaps it is the most beautiful grounds I have seen in Japan to date.


Enjoy the pics!

The first 5 are of the home where the pottery exhibition was held, the rest are of HonRenJi temple grounds. 

A festival jinriki

Soma Cousha

We were approached by the Priest of a large shrine near my home in Kurashiki about remaking the over one-hundred year old wheeled cart that carried the float for their festival each year.  In Japan, the notion of the festival is two-fold.  The word itself (祭る, matsuru) means to feast and celebrate, but first and foremost to offer prayer, deify, and worship.  As far as I can tell this is a tradition that most countries in the world have had and/or still have but here in Japan many people's live are quite founded in the festival that their small village, or perhaps large city holds each year.  It is a staggeringly large event in either case, and people work diligently together to make it memorable for children and adults alike.

This (台, dai) that we have had the opportunity to work on has been an interesting study.  Albeit a small piece compared to many architectural projects we work on everything has to work in tandem with two different sets of wheels, and the springs and axles that accompany them.  It is an ingenious device that can travel through large and small streets with flexibility.  That said the wood had to be considered, milled and juxtaposed in a way that was suitable for such a little buggy.

The top boards and the handle are an oak for sturdiness under the wear and tear of having the large float ride on them.  The framework is a chestnut in following with the older existing jinriki.  The rest of the float is done in a local Japanese cypress to be rot resistant, be long lasting, and have a lovely smell.

Soon we should have the new bronze work for the corners, just a bit more and she's ready to go home!

Great fun!  Thanks to Ashitaka Shrine for the opportunity!

Handle for an architecture office

Soma Cousha

This week between projects we have taken a few hours each day to work with Tony Schonhardt of HEW making the front door handle for a Shanghai architecture office.  We are using two beautiful pieces of reclaimed chestnut for each side with the exterior piece being chosen for the character of a large crack in the wood.  This crack is rare in the it is the result of what in Japan is known as 入り皮 (i ri ka wa).  This is where the tree has begun to form bark but then has more growth rings around that bark as it continues to grow larger.  This detail is expressed with a traditional bowtie inlay that one often sees in large tabletops for use in keeping them from spreading with the expansion/contraction of the wood over time.  In this case the bowtie (or butterfly as they refer to it in Japan) joint becomes a main structural support in the exterior piece and we have chosen to make it out of brass rather than the common hardwoods that are typically used in this joinery.  The brass design is harder and more time consuming to fashion but holds the piece together nicely and should serve to patina beautifully over time with the handle and its use.  As people grab or push the handle to enter the office they will be greeted with an excellent example of materials that age beautifully, and the oil from their very hands will do the work of polishing the piece.