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Experience the traditional techniques that Japan prides right on site. Woodworking camp in Hida where cutting-edge technology and tradition fusions

On July 17th, 2018, as part of the summer program at the School of Architecture and Planning, University at Buffalo (The State University of New York), 12 students led by an architectural designer and associate professor, Nicholas Bruscia (Nick) came to Hida, Gifu Prefecture for a camp!

The students stayed for five days at FabCafe Hida, a digital woodworking workshop in the city. They visited local carpenters and sites of furniture making and learned about traditional woodworking techniques. There were also two days of woodworking where students tried Kumiki (Joinery) with free inspirations. With the feedbacks from the craftsmen, they also evaluated it as a processing technology.

In this summer program, participating students stay for nine weeks in Tokyo as the base and also travel to other areas during the stay to joint workshops with other universities, Kyoto and Hiroshima during a week of travel, as well as woodworking camp in Hida. Through these experiences, students research Japanese architecture and also conduct urban research of Tokyo. Members are comprised of undergraduate and graduate school students, and participating students can earn credits. In the program, architectural programmer and designer, Junichiro Horikawa participated as a technical support member. Mr. Horikawa and Professor Nick made a jig with a sensor together using a 3D modeling technology and explored new ways of processing. Students combined these jigs and working by hand to make Kumiki. During the period, there was a severe heatwave every day that even the locals admitted was too much. In such a situation, students persevered against the heat with fantastic concentration. Here is a report of their passionate five days!

Schedule

DAY1

Arrival at Hida-Furukawa
Hidakuma and FabCafe Hida Orientation
Visiting the Takumikan Craft Museum

DAY2

Get on a minibus to head to Tanekura. Observation/making sketches
Construction of Itakura that has been disassembled/moved- a talk by a carpenter Mr. Watanabe
Observation of Yawaiya
Observation of the factory and showroom of Hida Sangyo

DAY3

A seminar on “How to use a chisel” taught by a carpenter
Taking a walk in the town of Hida-Furukawa
Disassemble/restoration challenge of a totem pole made by Kumiki!
Day 1 of the Kumiki making

DAY4

Observation of Nishino Lumber Co
Techniques of Takumi (Kumiki master) – demonstration of Kumiki making
Day 2 of the Kumiki making
The final presentation of works
Barbecue

DAY5

Depart to Takayama on a train
Visit Kusakabe Folk Museum and Yoshijima Heritage House
Visit Takayama (free time)
Go back to Tokyo by bus
Arrive at Shinjuku

DAY1

The camp starts! Welcome to Hida-Furukawa

The group arrived in Hida-Furukawa on a highway bus. First, they headed to their place of accommodation with a craft workshop, FabCafe Hida. The staff at FabCafe Hida gave a welcome speech and an orientation.

The Kumiki Techniques – Observation of Hida Crafts Museum

After a break, students observed Hida’s Craft Museum located a few minutes on foot away from FabCafe Hida.

In the times of the Yamato Imperial Court, many “Takumi” (woodworkers) excelled at making shrines and temples with outstanding techniques. In 1989, Hida Crafts Museum was built by 30 local carpenters to pass on the techniques of Takumi to future generations. The construction did not use any metal fittings such as nails, bolts, or clamps and used the Kumiki techniques only. Inside the museum, there are areas where you can try Kumiki puzzles, and there are exhibitions of carpenter’s tools and various samples of wood.

Students checked the complex structure of Kumiki and took sketches.

They then went back to FabCafe Hida to have dinner with everyone. (This day’s main dish was Katsu-don/ pork cutlet on rice!)

During the stay, the female master (a.k.a Mother) of the guesthouse nearby, “MOTHER’S HOUSE,” prepared breakfast and dinner.

Day2

Scenery of Tanekura

Students left in the morning and traveled on a minibus for about 30 minutes. They then arrived at Tanada to Itakura no Fukei (Tanekura).

Mr. Aratani, who lives in Tanekura, gave students a tour.

In the village, there are 20 Itakura (wooden storage built using a traditional method). There are more Itakura left than the current number occupied houses of 12 because of the saying, “even if you have to destroy the house you live in, you must protect the Kura. The Kura is a place where you store food and seeds and is something precious that protects the family.”

The oldest Itakura in the village was about 260 years old and had sturdy double doors. Inside, there was a space to store harvest, farming equipment, and household goods. On the second floor, they used to raise silkworms.

Professor Nick and students took notice of the type of wood Itakura used, the direction of grain patterns, and the structures. They explored the area, enjoying a conversation with Mr. Aratani. Nearby, they saw Tanada (rice terrace), stacked rocks, Japanese ginger fields, aqueducts, shrines, and coal-burning houses. Visiting Tanekura was a chance to feel the people’s lives and history in the area.

After eating lunch that they brought and before heading to the next destination, they went to Bokuseisha.

There, they had a break with some superbly delicious ice cream.

Construction of Itakura that has been disassembled/moved- a talk by a carpenter, Satoru Watanabe

From the afternoon, the students went to see a carpenter, Mr. Watanabe. Last year, he heard that a 120-year-old Itakura next town was about to be demolished. Hearing this, he cooperated with the current owner and few others to disassemble, restore then relocate the Itakura on their own. Now, the Itakura is used as a cottage.

Mr. Watanabe said, “it was easy to disassemble the building as it didn’t use any bolts. Still, disassembly made the wood bend and warp, so it was hard to rebuild it again.” He told us about his experience of numbering the parts of disassembled parts to for identification during assembly and how the wooden pins to fixate the Kumiki couldn’t be removed without a drill, etc. Inside the building, it used old materials but was modern, and students seemed to like that.

After that, students visited the Yawaiya nearby. Yawaiya is a house that relocated and renovated a 150-year-old house, and sells new and old household items, such as folkcraft plates, mainly. Mr. Watanabe was involved in the relocation of this house as well.

Mr. and Ms. Asakura, who runs Yawaiya, served some cold tea. Everyone enjoyed talking to Mr. Watanabe and relaxed, looking at the rural landscape from the 2nd floor.

Observation of the factory and showroom of Hida Sangyo, a furniture manufacturer

Students visited the factory of Hida Sangyo, a furniture manufacturer that was established in 1920, making chairs and tables.

Hida Sangyo has five factories and showrooms in major cities throughout Japan. Students visited their biggest factory with 200 employees. Hida Sangyo is made-to-order only and only makes furniture after an order. Every day, they make about 160 chairs and 60 tables. Students observed the manufacturing process in order where people’s handcraft processes and machine processed lines coexisted.

At the factory, students saw up-close how the wood was softened using steam, how pressing made curves on the wood, polishing, painting, until the packaging.

Also, students learned about the different roles of craftsmen in terms of made-to-order and customized furniture production, as well as management systems such as stocking on parts to avoid inefficiency in the manufacturing processes.

After visiting the factory, they went to a Hida Sangyo showroom and saw many completed furniture.

DAY3

A seminar on “How to use a chisel” taught by a woodworker, Mr. Katada

Day 3 started with a seminar on “how to use a chisel” at the FabCafe Hida given by a local woodworker, Mr. Katada.

In the seminar, Mr. Katada taught how to use tools, how to cut wood and about “Aigaki,” a technique to join beams on a roof. Aigaki is a process where two connecting parts of materials are curved out by half each and joined. Nowadays, machines do this process, but this time, students tried the old style by hand. Mr. Katada gave detailed tips on how to make the wood not crack when cutting with a saw and curving with a chisel, as well as how to make two pieces of wood fit perfectly.

“I can tell the skill by the sound of the saw cutting wood,” said Mr. Katada. Students handled wood and tools and concentrated on completing the Aigaki.

Taking a walk in the town of Hida-Furukawa

At noon, students took a walk in the town of Hida-Furukawa with beautiful scenery, visiting stone-made white wall storehouses and temples by the Setogawa river. A carpenter, Mr. Naoi, took students on a detailed tour. According to Mr. Naoi, there was a saying in the area, “don’t change the market price,” which means you should not try to do something very different and try to cherish the perfect balance of the cityscape.

Mr. Naoi taught students about the town’s history, the structure of old buildings, how they were built, and Kumo designs (signature of carpenters who build the house) that were on lattice doors and eaves.

Disassemble/restoration challenge of a totem pole made by Kumiki!

In the courtyard of FabCafe Hida, a totem pole made with various joining techniques appeared. Mr. Hara made the totem pole for local primary school students to tell them about the traditional woodwork techniques in Hida. He brought it to FabCafe Hida to explain about it to the University of Buffalo students this time.

First, he told the students, “I’m going to disassemble all of it and build it again, so please watch very carefully. I will have everyone give it a try after.” He disassembled the totem pole using a wooden hammer skillfully then built it back to the way it was. As there were many intricate parts, the students observed carefully. In the past, the fastest record of primary school students disassembling and building it again was 2 minutes and 20 seconds. Then, the University of Buffalo students gave it a try. The record was an astonishing 49.7 seconds! They were able to build it in an instant. They had breathtaking teamwork than even Mr. Hara was surprised to see!

Mr. Hara said to students at the end, “precuts are not made looking at the wood materials. It’s cheaper to use precuts, but only carpenters can see which direction wood curves to and create while looking at each piece of wood. I want to pass this technique to future generations.”

Day 1 of the Kumiki making

Twelve students were divided up into three teams to make joinery/joints with free angles. By the following day’s presentation, the students made a diagram and a model.

DAY4

Observation of Nishino Lumber Co

On this day, students walked to Nishino Lumber Co from the morning, which took about 15 minutes on foot from FabCafe Hida. President Nishino gave a tour there. This lumbermill uses lumber specialized in hardwood, and the processed lumber is mainly used for making furniture.

Students observed the tree bark peeling process. The process prevents wood cutting blades from getting damaged from hitting rocks on the trees and also prevents insects from landing on the trees.

After peeling the tree bark from trees, there was a staff inspecting the wood using a tool you often see at the airport. It was a process to look for nails and barbed wire inside the wood using a metal detector. President Nishino said sometimes nails were buried in trees when people made fences for cattle.

Next, President Nishino explained about the drying technique to remove moisture from the wood. After peeling the tree bark from trees and cutting them, they are dried naturally and artificially to make the water content in trees to 10%. They then become materials that furniture makers can use right away and are shipped. Finally, President Nishino showed a specially kept tree to the students. It was an amazing, approximately 250-year-old sakura tree. The core of the tree couldn’t be used, but even without it, it was such a large size. President Nishino said, “I don’t think I will ever find such a large tree again.” Students learned from President Nishino that finding a special tree was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Techniques of Takumi (Kumiki master) – demonstration of Kumiki making

From the afternoon, students watched up close the veteran carpenter, Mr. Tanaka, make joinery in the courtyard of FabCafe Hida. Mr. Tanaka used an ink pad and a bamboo pen to put marks for processing wood and used tools like a saw, a plane, a chisel, and a metal hammer to proceed with his work skillfully.

Mr. Tanaka hasn’t been active on-site for over 20 years, but he changed the position of his body as if his body remembered when to move. He touched wood to check the surface, and used his hand like a metal hammer to make small adjustments and worked so that two materials fit perfectly. After completion, all the students cheered him.

Day 2 of the Kumiki making

The final presentation of works

The students presented the free-angle Kumiki models and diagrams they made on their own for the past two days. Mr. Katada, a woodworker who taught students how to use a chisel, was invited and staff in charge of designing and making Hidakuma also joined to see the presentations.

Many ideas were presented: making the pinnacle of three square lumber pieces into a variety of shapes, exploring the methods to join six directions using core materials, joining three directions, and considering making the cross-section flat, etc. The jig with a sensor that Professor Nick and Mr. Horikawa developed together was used in the creation as well. Sensors estimated complex cut ends and made cuts with sawing machines. Hidakuma staff also provided support, and students used the jig in combination with working by hand.

In the short creation period, students started to use tools better more and more. They exercised high concentration to think about the shapes of the pinnacle, surfaces, and corners, and each team actualized their idea of Kumiki into form. Mr. Katada commented, “All of the ideas are unique and interesting. From a decorative perspective, how about making the concealed part hidden at the back show, rather than seeing just the surface?” In the end, Professor Nick praised all the students, and everyone exchanged opinions looking at the many models placed on the table.

DAY5

Observing the old town of Takayama, and visit the Yoshijima Heritage House/Kusakabe Folk Museum

In the morning, students bade farewell to FabCafe Hida, which they stayed for five days and departed. They headed to Takayama station, about 15 minutes by train from Hida-Furukawa Station.

They headed to the Yoshijima Heritage House and Kusakabe Folk Museum that were built in 1907. They are splendid merchant houses that still have the appearance of a sake brewery, and was built by the master craftsman, Isaburo Nishida. The 7th master, Tadao Yoshijima, gave a tour. Mr. Yoshijima was an architect until he was 60. When he was in the 20s, he worked for the architectural design office of Kenzo Tange, where he worked on the redevelopment plan of Tsukiji. After, he was involved in the project of Japan’s first skyscraper that was over 100 meters tall, the “Kasumigaseki Building,” and the construction team leader at the time was the architect, Kaku Mo-Rin. He gave students a technical explanation about the space and structure.

Yoshijima Heritage House had a central pillar in the middle. Around it, there was a three-dimensional lattice composed by beams and bundles spreading to the atrium of the dirt floor area. The Kusakabe house next door appeared to have the same build at first, but only the Yoshijima house had a central pillar. The Kusakabe house had a single Japanese red pine penetrate a broad beam, with free joinery underneath it.

After taking the time to observe the two houses thoroughly, students had some free time. They explored the town of Takayama. In the evening, they got on a bus heading to Tokyo and left Hida.

The camp is complete/head back to Tokyo

The Hida camp for students from the School of Architecture and Planning, University at Buffalo (The State University of New York) finished successfully. Through woodwork, they met many people, and the time was filled with traditions, technology, and creativity. The five days went by like a great wave. We would like to thank the students and Professor Nick. Please be sure to revisit Hida.

Camp Program Information

Hidakuma provides programs where you can focus on making/creation. At the same time, you can enjoy rich nature, cityscapes of traditional houses with a craftsmen spirit, delicious food, local alcohol, and meeting locals. There are programs like forest walks, chopsticks/furniture making workshop for woodwork beginners, community contribution residence program for designers and architects, and camp programs for companies and groups. For details on facilities and prices, please check the website below.

Details on Camp Program in Hida
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