Welcome to Our Place!

Yes, we decided.  It’s May and Sydney is getting cold.  It is time we migrate to Hiroshima again.

 

I am unusually excited because this time, 7 whole months – longest ever.

I am determined to use this old house for either cultural events or Air BnB now that we are staying for long.  We’ve spent enough money.  Time to recoup some.  Still have loads to do but first up, I made up a floor plan and a map of the Nakao House so we can take those to the council for approval, get permits, make necessary arrangements to open this old house for business.
What can we do here?

I am thinking hands on experience on Japanese plastering (Shikkui), kimono or tea ceremony, music, cooking…  Invite Japanese experts and conduct events bilingually.  Maybe a small group of 10?  With coffee, tea and cake?

 

Make “Kura” cool again!

It is the coolest part of the house. No point in hiding it.  Air BnB.  Interested in sleeping in Kura, anyone?  Our street used to be full of great “Kura” storehouses but they are disappearing fast.  Maybe because it costs so much to maintain.  I understand as we too spent over $10,000 fixing but we have less and less tradesmen which is alarming.  I want to change this somehow.  We have to keep giving jobs to these people, putting some money in, keeping the culture alive.

 

Why should you stay with us?

Kura (Storehouse), disappearing from our streets.

Well, there aren’t many interesting accommodation options around Hiroshima.  Not like Kyoto.  This one is full of characters.  We are not right in the centre but still pretty accessible and it is rare to find traditional accommodation like this.

 

Hot spring, views, the “Carp” Love, all here

I also think it is about time travelers to Hiroshima explored a little more South.  We are at the skirt of Ohgon-zan (Golden Mountain), only 15-20 min bike ride from JR Hiroshima Station, walking distance from Mazda Museum (I wish they’d do something about those robot-like lady guides, pretty but they are awful), and our beloved Zoom-Zoom Mazda Stadium is near by.

Love of the local baseball team is everywhere!

It is gateway to Kure,  you can’t say you’ve come to Hiroshima until you see the beautiful coastlines and floating islands in the region.

Kure has many beautiful beaches. Hardly any waves. Great for kids

So much fun to be had yet I think this area is quite under rated or badly promoted.  It has to change.

The Nakaos favorite lunch @ Coquette

The Nakao house is located in a very quiet residential area.  In fact, you hardly see tourists or foreigners.  But isn’t that an attraction for people who want to have glimpse of what sort of life locals lead?  There are also a few interesting shops and quirky cafes that are totally off the radar of posh guidebooks.

Ohioan-zan (Golden Mountain) at twilight. Locals’ popular venue for fireworks viewing.

And Ohgon-zan (Golden Mountain) has an awesome lookout, offering breathtaking 360 degrees panoramic views day and night, a must visit.  Another nature spot is Hijiyama which gets enough visitors due to close proximity to the city as well as their awesome museums.  We even have a perfect family entertainment venue that offers a hot spring, Japanese gardens and restaurants all in one place, walking distance from us – Hanbe, love it.

 

Experience life like a local

Did I make you at least a bit curious about our house or the area? Sure,  you can stay in Miyajima, I’d allow it.  But don’t stay in the CBD hotels (unless you want to party all night.  You can’t do that here).  Stay over our way, ride a bike everywhere (we have a few to rent) and live like a local.  Be original.

明治大正からやってきた新入りさん。

やっと古民家らしくなってきた。やっぱり木材はいいな。
古材屋さんから古い蔵戸を購入し、玄関用に鍵などをはめ込んだ。やっぱり木材は温かい。
Bought from an online antique shop, circa mid 1800
Bought from an online antique shop, circa mid 1800

(English blog to follow)

この家にはチグハグしたところが多々ある。四代の家主を経て、時代時代の改装を積み重ね、明治、大正、昭和の建築様式やトレンドが散りばめられている。

修復するにあたり、①なるべくオリジナルに戻す。②必要または許せる範囲の近代化は認める。③予算、材料の無駄を意識する。そんなゆるーいルールを頭に進めてきた。

 

patterned-glass-doors
昭和の香りプンプンの笹柄ガラス戸。すでにレトロ価値ありという大工さんのアドバイスを尊重し残すことに。
これも昭和の香り濃厚だけど、醜すぎでキープならず。
以前のアルミドア、昭和の香り濃厚。しかし、あまりにも醜すぎてキープならず。

昭和の模様入りガラスがはめ込まれた建具は、今や希少価値、という大工さんのアドバイスもあり、まだまだ使えるしオリジナルでなくても残すことに。でも家の顔に当たる玄関のアルミ戸は見るに耐え難かった。今までは家を崩さないことを優先しなければならず、戸の付け替えは後回しになったが、今回思い切って明治大正時代の蔵戸をヤフオクで購入(崩壊の危機を脱した証?)、鍵やガラスをはめ込み玄関戸として使えるように改造することにした。

結果、長い間指に刺さっていた棘を抜いたくらいスッキリした。

 

自転車通勤、86歳の大工さん

工事を受けてくれたのは近所の『スーリール』というNPO(聴覚障害者団体)。ひょんなことから彼らの存在を知り、腕のいい聾唖の大工さんがいることが分かり、一年近く気になっていた。なんと大工のボスは86歳。それも毎日、自転車で片道40分通勤しているという。手話通訳兼営業を担当するアルゼンチン人のダブル(ハーフ)大内氏に相談するとすぐ来てくれて話はまとまった。

mr-ohuchi-in-action
手話で会話する大内氏。日本家屋に対する思い入れにも共感できる。頼もしい助っ人だ。
鍵などをはめ込み、蔵戸から玄関のドアへ変身。
鍵などをはめ込み、蔵戸から玄関のドアへ変身。

玄関周りにはドアの他にも気になる箇所がたくさんあった。柱の痛み。朽ちた板床をはがした後にさらけ出された土間。母屋の床下の風通しの悪さ…。

そんな頼んでいないところも気にかけてくれて適切なアドバイスに感動した。夫がやるつもりだった土間の板張りも、驚くほど良心的な見積もりに後押しされ、結局、お願いすることに。

板の間 VS 土間

Original Earthen Floor
Before shot – Original Earthen Floor 土間にしておきたかった気持ちもあるけど…新リビングスペースの可能性に期待。

土間はオリジナルだし、板の間にするか、かなり迷った。でも最近は家族や友達が頻繁に泊まりに来るようになったし、板の間にしてリビングスペースを広げられるメリットは大きい。そして無償で荒れ果てた中尾家の空家を修復する夫は、畳に長く座っていられない(オーストラリア人だからね、胡座さえかけない)。そんな彼のためにもソファなどが置ける板張りスペースを設けることにした。

できたてのフロアは、夫が広島の会社が出しているベンガラ塗料を塗って、きれいに仕上がりました。

Timber floor completed and painted
Timber floor completed and painted

『健常』とは。

しかし真夏の作業は大変だ。大工の皆さん、本当にご苦労さまでした(それもほとんどが70歳以上)。

手話のできない私でも意思の疎通に問題がないどころか、ものすごくスムーズだった。仲介者である大内さんの人柄と努力も大きい(日本の建築文化を分かりやすく説明する頼もしさ。ウチの息子たちもこんな青年になってくれるといいな)。黙々と仕事にかかる大工さんたちに頭が下がった。私は80になっても社会に貢献できるのか、到底自信がない。どちらが『健常』か。深い感銘を受けた出会いでもあった。

 

 

Circa mid/late 19 centuries – our “new” door

Bought from an online antique shop, circa mid 1800
Bought from an online antique shop, circa mid-late 1800

This old house features various styles and architectural trends through past 200 years.  While some are fascinating and valuable, others are simply ugly and do not decorate the house in any positive way.

 

We have a few loose rules that we keep in mind when renovating this house;

1. Keep the original features where we can

2. Due to necessity or convenience, modernisation is allowed to a certain extent

3. To be budget conscious and minimise material waste

 

One of the things we kept that was not original was sliding doors with patterned glass panels.  It feels very 70s but according to one of our builders apparently we cannot reproduce them so we took his advise to keep them.  Besides, while they do not look the best, they are close to a century old which is old enough.

One thing we have been dying to replace, however, was the ugly aluminum entrance door.  But our priority has been to NOT let the house collapse.  So up to now beautification gave way to structural enhancement.  In our 6th year of renovation, I think we can finally put more money and time in making the house look beautiful.

Sorry Grandpa but that door just had to go...
Sorry Grandpa but that door just had to go…

So buying this “new” door made me feel like we have come a long way.  Very satisfying.

 

It’s an old storehouse (kura) door circa mid 1800. It was designed for indoor use so we needed to make a few modifications such as putting glass panels behind the grid and incorporating a few locks.

 

87 years old builder who rides push bike to work

We found this group of NPO builders near us and it was totally a coincidence.

The builders were lead by 87 years old boss, Mr. Nakagawa, and his apprentices were in their 7os.  All with hearing difficulties.  Mr Ohuchi is the only person who can hear and speak, and he manages the organisation as well as serves as a sign interpreter.  Mr. Ohuchi also has sound Japanese building knowledge and thanks to him we had no communication problems.

Our excellent team of builders. Despite their hearing difficulties, no communication problems.
Our excellent team of builders. Despite their hearing difficulties, no communication problems.

In fact they were all so nice to deal with, their quote was more than reasonable,  I was so happy to make the decision of asking them to help with our house.

 

Earthen Floor vs Timber Floor

While we were changing the door, we looked at the earthen floor of the entrance area.  It was a timber floor when I was a little girl.  My grandma often had a nap there in summer as that was the coolest spot in the house.  When we returned to this house 6 years ago after nearly 30 years, the floor boards were so damaged we had to rip them and the original earthen floor was revealed.  I had never seen it like that before and a part of me really wanted to keep it that way.   But putting shoes on every time we wanted to go from bathroom to bedroom was nuisance.

My husband smashing the concrete tiles to reveal the original earthen floor.
My husband smashing the concrete and tiles to reveal the original earthen floor.

Besides, having a timber floor there again meant gaining an extra living space which was too good an idea to dismiss.  I also wanted a space where we could put a sofa so my poor hardworking husband can sit and relax.   He is Australian and it i

s not so comfortable for him to be sitting on the floor all the time…

 

It took 5 days and our builders have done a beautiful job on the floor.

Timber floor completed and painted
Timber floor completed and painted

We painted the timber with this special brown paint (made locally) which is designed to give the ancient persimmon brown colour.  The entrance area has really transformed.

 

Inspiring People

This bit of renovation was really memorable for me.  It was so cool to see Mr. Ohuchi communicate with his team of builders in sign language.

Meeting these polite, energetic and skilled people with hearing difficulties really inspired me.  Would I be able to contribute to society like they do when I am 80?  Who will be disabled then?  I am so in awe of them.

やっとお風呂に入れる。

水周りは古民家にとっては要注意スポットだ。ウチも洗面台や風呂場の古いパイプが朽ちて、水漏れに気づかずに使い続けた結果、床下の木材などが腐り床が沈下、全てやり直すことに。

 

Dramatically transformed bathroom
Dramatically transformed bathroom

一つの長細いエリアを、洗面所、ランドリー兼脱衣所、バスルームと三分割。結果、劇的に変身した。仕切りはプラスター板、枠の木材には古色を付けて、壁は漆喰で仕上げ。

Changing knobs is a very easy and effective way of achieving the looks you want
Changing knobs is a very easy and effective way of achieving the looks you want

自分達で作った洗面台もビンテージ風な取手に替えたら落ち着いた。
次は玄関ドア

70年代の妙なアルミ製のドアを、古材屋さんから取り寄せて蔵戸にしようと検討中。

This door doesn't quite go with the 250 years old house.
This door doesn’t quite go with the 250 years old house.

今日、近所の聴覚障害団体の大工さん達に話を持って行き、ただいま見積もり待ち。手話の通訳付きだ。上手くいくといいな。

Finally we can soak in the bathtub and relax…

You have to be careful with wet areas like bathroom and kitchen when you are dealing with traditional Japanese houses.  Rusty old pipes and dampness ruined timber structure under the floor of our house and we had to get the entire bathroom area gutted.

We’ve separated one long area into 3 small rooms; wash basin, change room/laundry and bathroom with tub and shower.  The wash basin was put together by my handy husband and I replaced boring white cabinet knobs with those with more vintage look which came from my favourite vintage hardware supplier from Queensland, Australia.

 

Next – the entrance door

The ugly 70s aluminum door just has to go. Currently waiting for a quote from a group of very skilled builders with hearing disability that I found near us. We communicate through a sign language interpreter.

We plan to purchase an old storehouse wooden door and get a modern lock fitted to it. Fingers crossed for good outcome.

おかえり。長眠から醒めた食器。

蔵から出てきた漆器。多分100年くらいは経っているはず。使える状態じゃなかったので福井の漆器専門店に直してもらった。素晴らしい復活ぶりに感動。

おかえり、美しい食器。
おかえり、美しい食器。

費用は¥7000くらいだった。迅速、丁寧な対応で嬉しかった。蓋の古い模様や色付けにも気を遣ってくださった。まだまだ蔵に痛んだ漆器類が眠っている。少しずつでも、いつか全部使えるようにしてあげたい。こういう素晴らしい日本の技術を継承していくには、まず客が受注し続けなければ。

 

しかし、恥ずかしながら3ヶ月も修復にかかるとは知らなかった。そして理想的な乾燥状態で使うには、6ヶ月から1年かかるとは。でもこうして使えば100年保つのだから3ヶ月くらいのお別れは短いもの。

 

出来上がって返送されてから約半年経った今。広島だし、穴子のチラシ寿司かなんかを入れて楽しむのもいいな。そんな日が待ち遠しい。

 

Are we crazy?

I try not to think about the fact that I am not to inherit this old house. Because I’m not the oldest male of my family.  A lot of people think we are crazy spending so much money and time into this house when we are told constantly that it’s never going to be ours. But if we don’t, no one else will and it was a matter of time before the house collapsed.

 

So we stopped trying to pursade my parents it’s worth saving and that the rightful owner should fix it.  It was wasting our precious time.  We just had to save it. At least try our best. Doesn’t matter whose house it is anymore.  We owe it to our ancestors to keep the house alive and pass it on to the next generation. I know our actions will be proven worthy some day, even if we might not be alive then.

 

It’s so sad that majority of Japanese don’t see much value in such traditional old houses.  Local people would come around and tell us we should bulldose it and make a car park which is in high demand around this area. “What!? Bulldose this 250 years old house? Car park?” Cried my husband in disbelief.  We think THEY are crazy!

 

I wonder if I would be the same if I never left Japan.  I don’t know if I would have really appreciated the beauty of this country as I do now if I always lived here.  I wonder if the true reason why I came to live away from my own country was to see Japan from outside and realise    the importance of respecting our culture and appreciating what we have here.  I do that through restoring this house.  It just feels so right.  No matter how many people think we are crazy.  This is my avocation.  This is my life project.

 

Japanese DIY materials – Part 1, Shikkui

In restoring our house, we try to stick to the original look or method where we can.  It often takes more time and money, but it was important to us.  This allowed us to learn about many old tricks and how ecological traditional Japanese houses are.

 

"Modern" Shikkui applied on plaster boards. Made this area look much brighter
“Modern” Shikkui applied on plaster boards. Made this area look much brighter

When we ripped the ugly veneer panels from the 70s in our doma (compacted dirt floor, traditionally kitchen and/or entry point) area, many parts revealed water damages and white ant problems.   We had to use modern materials like concrete or paster boards but finally got to a stage where we could beautify a little.  This was fun.  In stead of being covered by dust, clean or assist my husband with chores, I got to do some plaster work.

 

Ancient sandy wall was much harder to apply Shikkui on. Traditional Shikkui was used here
Ancient sandy wall was much harder to apply Shikkui on. It was dry and crumbly. Traditional Shikkui was used here

We went to a hardware shop called “Kohnan” and got two types of Shikkui for wall coating.  The traditional Shikkui is lime plaster mainly made out of hydrated lime and calcium carbonate which is extracted from reprocessed eggshells, some with seaweed extract.  Fully recyclable and decomposable.  It’S effective against moisture, biggest enemy of traditional Japanese architecture.  The other type of Shikkui is a newly modified product for DIY plaster novice and it contains some gluing agent and doesn’t dry as fast so it gives you a bit of margin for error.  This type of Shikkui costs 5 times more than the traditional one.

 

I first tried the modern version of Shikkui and I choose the smoothest surface;  plaster boards.  This was suggested by our rendering master, Mr Ishida.  I thought I was pretty good but I did’t realise how hard it really was until I used the traditional Shikkui on the traditional sandy walls.  With this new product, you don’t need to add water, it’s already mixed and ready to use. With the traditional one, however, you need to mix it preferably a day in advance and if it’s not the right consistency, you will pay for it.

Gift from Mr Ishida. Having good tools does help...
Gift from Mr Ishida. Having good tools does help… Another tool proven handy is water spray for finishing touch.

After about half a day of practice, I think I got the hang of it.  Still, nothing like my rendering masters work though.  I could not go back to the new product, partly because I wanted to use the traditional material and largely because I could not afford to pay over $120 a bucket when I had the entire house to coat.

 

I only covered two areas of the house; doma and bathroom, after a week of plastering, applying about 26kgs of Shikkui.  In the end I could not raise my arm but the result was very satisfying.  The entrance/doma looks so much brighter now!

This place will make you feel special

With all that scrubbing and cleaning that we do in restoring our house, sometimes we need a treat.  I’ve had an eye on this place for nearly 10 years since I read an article in the magazine, “100 Hot Spring Retreats in Japan”.

Sekitei with beautiful stone garden
Sekitei with beautiful stone garden
Carps - such loved creatures in Hiroshima
Carps – such loved creatures in Hiroshima

Sekitei (Stone Residence)” was just over an hour from us and you could see Miyajima across the sea.  If we didn’t have kids, we would have stayed over night but I like how these places often offer shorter stay packages like lunch at affordable prices.

We arrived there around 11am.  We first looked around the garden and the library.  So beautiful.

image
Tea house in the garden
Lunch looked and tasted fantastic.
Lunch looked and tasted fantastic.

I wish we could have our old house looking like this.  They recommended that we have bath first in our room and then have lunch which will also be served in our room. Then we move to the public outside baths.

Love the earthy interior
Love the earthy interior
Relaxing in our room in Yukata (casual summer kimono)

I was going to write details of our experience but might let the photos speak.  It is not exactly cheap but for the food, architecture, landscapes, relaxation and hospitality, I would recommend highly.  We left the retreat around 2.30pm feeling totally relaxed and inspired. My husband talked about booking again straightaway.  If our restoration does not cost so much…

We could stay all day… Library / Lounge with lots of books and music

Hello, original features

Hello, high ceiling! Lighting has also transformed this area.

Like many traditional Japanese houses, this house went through some ugly cosmetic changes in the 70s.  Walls and ceilings covered by cheap veneer panels.  When an electrician came to check on outdated illigal wiring work and opened a small part of ceiling above the entrance, we could see the beautiful high ceiling with gorgeous old beams, all covered by ugly veneer.

My father, traumatised by his childhood memories of hearing snakes slithering above his head, quickly tried to dismiss our idea of opening up the ceiling.  Besides, he said, it would be freezing in winter.

image
Ceiling covered with ugly veneer panels.

It is quite handy that my Australian husband and my Japanese father do not understand each other perfectly.  My husband gently assured my father it would look 100 times better and started tearing the veneer off.  He was covered with a century of dust and it took forever to clean the area (sadly my job) but the result was well worth the effort.

My Avocation

imageIt’s been 6 years since my husband and I decided to restore our old family house in Hiroshima.  It was our grandparents house, 250 years old at least.  No one lived in it for nearly 30 years since my grandfather past away and it was just a matter of time before this poor old girl collapsed.  We knew it was going to take loads of money and time to fix it.  And there were loads of problems.  To pick a few:

  1. It is not mine.  My brother, being the oldest male sibling, is expected to inherit.
  2. Expect for me, no one in the family sees the value in fixing it.
  3. Some of the damages of the house are just too far gone.
  4. We live in Australia!

It wasn’t just my family.  Even our neighbours in Hiroshima thought we were crazy.  Some suggested we bulldose it and make a car park.  What a horrifying idea…

I have lived away from Japan for decades to realise one of the great things about this country is its unique culture and history.  This house has plenty of that and that alone is worth saving.  I also have precious childhood memories of this house.  I was raised and grew up in Tokyo but spent many summer holidays here in Hiroshima.  This small town was known to have lots of “Kura“, traditional warehouse/storage.  Sadly, they are disappearing.  Why? Luck of appreciation, tradesmen are hard to find, cost too much to maintain.

My big thanks to my beloved husband who made me see the value of this historical architecture and the importance of passing it onto future generations, not to mention actually doing all the “dirty” work.

I am determined to restore this house, no matter what anyone says.   This is probably my life time project.  One day maybe we can turn it into accommodation or cafe or event space.  Who knows.  So watch this space.