1 December 2019, I moved to Koyasan. But perhaps the journey had truly begun many years prior.
Why Koyasan? Of course, the choices are not entirely our own. I found myself the owner of an old haberdashery store, without quite knowing how. The extensive renovation and repairs took over three years. The garden too was entirely transformed, all the soil replaced and the many stones removed or re-positioned.
A series of volunteers took up the work after the main craftsmen left. There was still a great deal to do. Our many kind helpers will be remembered always.
The house is of slender timber construction with metal sidings. The front was once a typical Japanese store with a long array of aluminium doors, a tobacco kiosk and the ubiquitous vending machine. All was replaced with new, solid Japanese Cypress (Cryptomeria japonica) on the exterior and the interior too. "Japanese Cypress" denotes several species, in this case, it is the common timber tree in these parts, called "sugi" in Japanese.
The three massive, antique wooden doors are made of prestigious "keyaki" (Zelkova serrata). These "kurado" are taken from "kura" or storehouses in the Kyoto area; consequently, they are robust, with strong bolts and metal reinforcements. Their purpose was to protect the valuables stored in the kura. One of our doors has a particularly beautiful old lock in the shape of the congratulatory or good luck kanji "kotobuki" 壽.
The foundations consisted merely of damp earth, and these were replaced, naturally, with reinforced concrete. The layout of the house was changed, new walls put in place, and the surfaces finished with new wooden panels, washi wallpaper or Japanese tiles from old kilns. The tiles are especially striking in the kitchen and bathrooms.
If you have read this far, perhaps you are as intrigued by Japanese aesthetics as I am? Then, allow me to tell you about a few more important features of a traditional Japanese architecture: The decorative open wood panels known as "ranma," are traditional transom panels that are placed above sliding doors (fusuma) or screens (shoji). Their intricate and artistic designs, depict natural motifs, landscapes, or geometric patterns, and they serve both functional and aesthetic purposes, allowing for the circulation of air and light between rooms while still providing for privacy. In this house, you will see some high-quality examples of each type of ranma.
The fusuma and shoji are entirely new. The fusuma being the work of Osaka master craftsman, Uchimura. The most nerve-wracking aspect of traditional Japanese homes is that they abound in delightful items that are destroyed in an instant. The paper screens really are made of paper, the fine carvings can be snapped between two fingers, and the mildew bides its time, waiting to alight at a moment's notice, on tatami, textiles, books . . . everything. It is beautiful and precarious.
You may notice that the tatami arrangement differs between the two guest rooms? This was the concept of Osaka tatami specialist, Fujiwara Hiromasa. The two rooms function as a "suite", with the asymmetric design serving as a sleeping room, and the other dedicated to genteel activities such as tea ceremony, calligraphy or traditional music.
Tatami mats are woven from reeds, (Juncus effusus), known as "igusa", and the best, longest reeds hail from Yatsushiro, western Kumamoto Prefecture. The edging or "heri" 縁 is elegant black, and made of pure linen.
Please see our collection of antique porcelains and tiny incense boxes. All the finest and most alluring details, structural and otherwise, exist in relation to meditative practices such as tea ceremony or moon viewing. The loveliest items have left the mundane world behind; exhibiting an other-wordly fascination that is entirely impractical . . . and delightful.