Toby commuted to/from Fukagawa the last two days to help Sakai-san with the shaving of logs (see pic's). It was an 80-90 minute bicycle ride each way with most of the riding being on an amazing "cycling road" next to the Ishikari River and through the Kamui Kotan area of Asahikawa. After arriving at Sakai's place in Fukagawa, Toby would then team up with Takasa and shave as many logs as possible with a few breaks to escape the heat or get some food in our bellies. The logs they were shaving are for a house that is going up down near Otaru (an old port town west of Sapporo, but north of Niseko) and this house will require about 70 logs as it will be a typical log house with the logs being used for the walls, as well as the support beams. With that said, it is still unknown how many logs we will require for our future house/cafe as we are hoping to use some alternative options and some more Eco-friendly building materials. These logs are domestically produced from Yamagata-ken and the area they are taken from is reforested. However, Maiko and Toby are hoping to use as many "recycled" beams as possible and are also still clinging to the hopes of using straw bale walls.
This last week, we had forward progress on both of these fronts. First of all, when Toby was in the middle of shaving his 3rd log two days ago, he looked up and saw a stack of recycled beams nearby. His mouth dropped as he asked about them. Sure enough, Sakai-san had found a building that was demolished and secured the beams for our house!! Woo-hooo! Toby finished shaving the log he was working on and then went over and checked out the beams (see picture to the left). There are 3-4 really good ones and many others that can be used after getting cleaned up or shortened a bit. The "cleaning up' can be done fairly easily as you can see by the recycled beam in the right picture. And if this wasn't enough, Sakai secured three more nice beams from a local apple farmer and politician named Higashide-san. Yesterday, Toby went to Higashide's house and saw those beams and they are indeed very nice. Woo-hoo!!!
The other forward progress was with the continued dream of using straw bale and earth plasters for the (insulating) walls of the house/cafe. Last week, Toby spent a few days with an extremely knowledgeable builder who has lead many workshops on both building with straw and the plastering after the straw bales are put up. His name is Stefan Bell and it's a very interesting story on how we even found this dude. First of all, Toby bought the DVD, "Building With Awareness" about a year ago and Stefan was the "host" on both straw bale and earth plaster in it. Then, while Toby's friend, Nick, saw that "The Great Ballini" who was featured in an Outdoor Japan article was the same Stefan Bell in the DVD, he mentioned it to Toby. "What?? He's in Hokkaido?!? You have to be kidding me?" were the first words out Toby's mouth when Nick pointed out the amazing coincidence (or was it fate or.....). Toby then met a friend of Stefan's down in Niseko who had Stefan's phone number. We had to wait, though, for we couldn't call him until after he moved back here from New Mexico where he has been spending his winter's (building a house near Taos). Two weeks ago, after a few emails, we called him and set up a meeting down at Cafe Bennu that he helps run on the weekend with his wife, Kate. Maiko and Toby hopped on the train on Saturday morning and were at the cafe shortly after it opened. Maiko, Toby & Stefan then talked for about 2 hours before Maiko and Toby had to hop on another train to get back before getting stuck in the middle of Hokkaido. Toby had two pages of questions to ask Stefan and for every question Toby asked, Stefan would then answer about half a dozen other questions with one answer. It was amazing to just see the knowledge on sustainable building pour out of his brain and into our laps. Unfortunately, it doesn't go straight into our brains for then we would be 100% ready to build right now after 2 hours spent with this amazing guy. However, we did leave with two wonderful things. One, a strong interest from Stefan to help us with our project and, two, an invite to come down to Stefan's 60th birthday party the following Thursday. So Toby went down last Thursday (Maiko had to work) and helped Stefan celebrate his kanreki with many good people which included the dude, Rod, whom Toby had met in Niseko. It was more of a two day retreat where Toby spent a lot of time talking about sustainable building with Stefan and a few of his friends, but more of just enjoying the good company.
Toby then went to Sapporo for a Mamachari Relay (click to see You Tube video Toby created) and when he returned to Asahikawa, Maiko had found a website of an architect down on Honshu (the main island of Japan) that is working with both straw bales and old/used tatami mats. Maiko and Toby had been recently discussing the tricky subject of having an architect who had experience with straw for they both believe that this would be a huge advantage in the design and, more importantly, the approval (to build a straw bale house) process. This architect, Sugiyama-san, could be their answer and Toby sent him an email 3 days ago and received a response that night. It took us weeks and months to get any response out of The JSBA (Japan Straw Bale Association) and the responses usually weren't of the very helpful kind. Therefore, we were thrilled to get such a quick response from Mr. Sugiyama. He seems to agree that working with a local builder for the post and beam is a good idea and liked our idea of house/cafe using straw bales in Hokkaido. The two pictures here were taken from Sugiyama's website. The one to the left is how straw bales work together with post and beam construction. The one to the right is what the walls would/could look like after the plastering is completed. Is that beautiful or what?!?
Maiko and Toby also looked into how to financially build the house/cafe and made some very good forward progress there, as well. In short, the last couple weeks were filled with some amazingly big steps toward the dream. We are anticipating some more big steps in the upcoming weeks, as well, and will keep you all posted.