• camp
Kumiki Study Camp Program for Ngee Ann Polytechnic Students of Singapore


Four-night and five-day education program experiencing traditional architecture and wood craftsmanship while staying in the Hida region

In September 2019, Hidakuma had an opportunity to have Ngee Ann Polytechnic students of Singapore who major in architecture and product design. Total of 31 students and teachers stayed on site for our four day program. The program we had planned and operated for the students focused on wood craftsmanship, and exposing local lifestyle and cultures while based in FabCafe Hida.

This study trip was a week long including the visit to our site for four days and three day visit to museums and tourist destinations in Tokyo. The goal of this study trip is to experience traditional Japan including the architecture, designing, language, food, and social practice.

Hidakuma offered full support for the participants. We made sure that they have an experience of “living” here even though for most of them this trip was their first visit to Japan. To make it happen, who do they meet? How do they spend time? In this article, we share the highlights of their experiences with the local community.

Project Overview

  • Details
    Designing, planning, and operating four-day camp program in Hida
    Offering FabCafe Hida as a hub of the clients’ stay, including the accommodation, food catering and cafe space.
  • Period
    9/15-19/2019:14 undergraduate students and 2 Instructors from Architecture Department
    9/22-26/2019:13 undergraduate students and 2 instructors from Product Design Department
  • Staff and Associates
    Clients:Design and Environment Department of Ngee Ann Polytechnic
    Program Designing and Operation:Hidakuma Inc.,
    Thanks to:Reiko Sasaki(216WORKS), Mother’s House, Kiyoo Tanaka(Tanaka Architecture Company), Ryuji Naoi, Hisatoshi Katada (calm), Taketo Suzuki (KOIVU), Eva Gardet, Akane Ito, Nishino Sawmill, Takumikan Crafts Museum, Hida Sangyo Co.,Ltd., Shirakawa-Go Guide Service, Gassho-zukuri Minkaen, and Hida City etc.


Mr. Raja from Architect Department

Mr. Terence from Product Design Department(right)

Mr. Terence, a teacher of Product Design, and Mr. Raja, a teacher of Architecture, both from Ngee Ann Polytechnic were the leaders of this study trip. The first encounter with them was when Raja contacted us in September 2018 after he came across an online article on a Hidakuma workshop, while he was looking for a hands-on learning experience for students. Soon after that, the product design group decided to join the camp along with the architecture group. In April 2019, we had an honor to welcome Mr. Terence, who came to pay our site a pre-tour visit, having a look around FabCafe Hida and the facilities in the Furukawa area.


Learn from Furniture Maker - Kumiki Joinery Making Workshop

Mr. Suzuki, a furniture maker, shows how to use chisel.

We had a workshop to make “three-piece kumiki joinery” using hand tools such as saw and chisel. “Three-piece kumiki joinery” uses three different types of materials joining them at right angles. A group of three students with different material each worked on one joinery together. The materials we used are square lumber of hard wood including walnut and chestnut.

Mr. Katada, a furniture maker, explains how to layout materials.

Eva, a furniture maker, supports kumiki joinery.

Tools used for workshop

Each person makes a joint in a group of three people.

Each joint will be combined together at the end of the workshop, which tests their teamwork.

Everyone shares their outcome and comments on each other’s work.

Three pieces of kumiki joinery are complete!

“The great thing about this workshop of kumiki joinery is that we do not focus on learning out of textbooks, but rather doing the actual work and being taught by craftsmen”, commented Mr. Terence. The average amount of time spent on making the piece was 3 hours. Some students even tried to spend more time to perfect the product till the last minute. We think it was a good opportunity for the students to have to think and discover through the hands-on experience with actual materials and tools, while asking themselves “how best can I shave the lumber?” or “why is it difficult to join the pieces perfectly?”


Making Cutlery with Hida Hardwood

In their spare time whilst staying with us, the students made their own cutlery using FabCafe Hida’s original kit and local hardwood. They used rough sandpaper to shape the cutlery into their own likes, and finer sandpaper to polish, and then finish with natural oil to cover. While it may have been their first time using saw and chisel, the students enjoyed the workshop in a more relaxed way as it was a relatively easy project.

A student shapes the cutlery with sandpaper.

He is making a butterknife, and about to finish the product with natural oil.

Mr. Terence worked on a spatula for okonomiyaki, Japanese savory pancake.

Up Close to the Carpentry Skills - Master Tanaka’s Kumiki Demonstration

Carpenter Tanaka works on kumiki joinery.

Carpenter Tanaka demonstrated one of the complex kumiki joineries, Kanawatsugi, that is used in Japanese wooden architecture. Kanawatsugi is a traditional kumiki with strong force to connect wood pieces, and often used in pillars and beams.

Tanaka lays out with a string.

Tanaka chisels the wood.

Mr. Tanaka started his work with laying-out, then shapes up the wood with saw, chisel and plainer. The students could see and feel how skillful Tanaka was with his tools, as they had just finished their three-piece kumiki joiner project. The students had a chance to talk with Tanaka about the tools and how to treat them, as well as the difference between digital processing and manual work. The students also had an opportunity to plain wood with a plainer.

Tanaka shows the materials processed through a digital machine, sharing the pros and cons of each material.

A student tries out a plainer while receiving tips on how to use it.

What is Design? Finding the Answer for It While Learning the Process from lumbering to production

How does a tree from a forest become a product? In order to better understand the whole process, the students had visit to on-site manufacturers and a chance to listen to lectures on them.

Mr. Nishino, the owner of Nishino Sawmill, talks about his business on hardwood lumbering.

He shows how to strip the barks off a log.

The first place we visited was Nishino Sawmill, where the owner of the company, Mr Nishino, showed the students the process of a fresh log turning into a wood material used for furniture.

A visit to Hida Sangyo manufacturer

The students got to see the process of furniture manufacturing starting from a lumbering at furniture maker and plant in Hida. Also they listened to a talk by a local person working in the industry on the details of the process, and various aspects of the industry including design, productivity, efficiency, and safety. They also had a chance to see how the professional bent the wood up close. “Hida no Kagukan Takayama” showroom of Hida Sangyo was the next stop, where the students appreciated the completed form of the wooden furniture.

Aside from the visit to sites related to productions, Hidakuma offered a talk to the students on the history of the Hida forestry, current issues and challenges that Japanese forestry industry has, and the attractive aspects of Hida hardwood trees. While Japanese hardwood is known for its limited usage, Hidakuma shared its efforts trying to transform its image into more positive and valuable one, showing furniture and space use that architects and designers, both domestic and international, had produced with us using Hida trees. 

“How do you produce a product through what process?” It has been a precious time for us all to think about it.

An Encounter with a UNESCO Registered World Heritage - Gassho Construction of Shirakawa-Go of Hida Takamaya

Thatched roofs

A student is looking at cylindrical thatch that is used as roof materials.

Shirakawa-go boasts a 1995 UNESCO registered world heritage village of Gassho construction, a house with a steep rafter roof. We offered a tour around the village to learn the traditional architecture and the wisdom of the local people.

We visited the Kanda family residential building, once a sake brewery, renowned for its almost-perfect shape of its Gassho construction. Kanda, the local tour guide, covered the topics from the architectural structures, thatched roofs, and the lifestyle now and then.

Students enjoy a stroll around the beautiful town of Shirakawa-go.

Explaining Komajiri, an earthquake-proof kumiki joinery.

Underneath Irori, a traditional Japanese sunken hearth, used to be a place to produce nitre, the ingredient of gunpowder.

Experience the Traditional Japanese and Hida’s Local Lifestyle and Learn from the Experience

Former carpenter and architect, Mr. Naoi, shows the complex kumiki joinery to students.

Traditional white walls go along the Seto river, where you find koi carps.

Hida Furukawa has a charm of traditional Japanese wooden architecture throughout the village. A temple gate which uses kumiki technique, an old traditional shop of Japanese candles, a storage to place festival’s portable shrine, Mikoshi – all these give you the feel of traditional cultures. In this walking tour, we hoped that the students would be exposed to the history and cultures of the Hida artisan and their high level carpentry works. The students also paid a visit to Takumikan Crafts Museum, where they enjoyed playing kumiki puzzles including a houndstooth check, and seeing various complex kumiki joineries. Another nice touch was Naoi’s talk, a former carpenter and architect, who covered the topics from the rituals of visiting temples through the underneath historical intention of the house instructions in the area.

Enjoying lunch at FabCafe Hida

FabCafe Hida is a 100+ year old renovated old traditional house residing cafe, guesthouse, and woodwork studio. Unlike big cities, the facility is located in a quiet place and this is where the students spent time together. “Peace and Quiet was great for students so they can focus. Also it was a huge experience to be able to spend time n a Japanese house”, commented Mr. Boey of the Product Design department. In Singapore most people live in apartments. Taking off shoes at home, living on a tatami mat house with doors and windows made out of paper, and sleeping in futon instead of bed – all these Japanese experiences turned out to be precious moments for students. By the final day, the students were so used to the Japanese cultural practices including putting shoes in order once taking them off. Instructors and Hidakuma staff were most impressed, needless to say.

Dinner is catered by Mother’s House.

Hearty delicious meals.

During the camp, we offered Halal meals for the students. Meals consisted of Japanese hearty meals using the local ingredients with lots of vegetables. Mr. Raja was most impressed saying “I have never seen this many types of fruits and vegetables. All meals are healthy and delicious. It was a great opportunity to get to know the Japanese diet.

Special thanks!!

It was a true pleasure to see the students from Singapore enjoyed themselves during their four-day visit. Big thanks to all those who came all the way to Hida from Singapore.

Architect Group at Shirakawa-go

Product Design Group members at FabCafe Hida

More Details on Camp Programs

Hidakuma offers camp programs of many kinds including research and development, hands-on workshops and seminars aiming to study about history, culture, and industry of the area. This is arranged in such a way that the visitors learn through the rich hardwood forestry of Hida and encounters with the local people.
We are happy to design and operate the program that suits your needs. The suggestions of programs include educational programs for schools and universities, residence programs for architects and designers, designing programs for product/material research and development, and corporate training sessions for team building, to name a few.

Details on Camp Program in Hida
Any enquiry/Questions?

The wonderful messages from students.