Tag Archive: Kamiooka

Feb 04

The Next Phase

I haven’t written about the Kamiooka Tea House in a while.


We finished unpacking most of the boxes by mid-October, after which I got buried in the rehearsals for Tartuffe.  Despite being crazy busy, and the house remaining messy for several months as we slowly started getting ride of things we didn’t need any more (an ongoing process), we settled in almost immediately, and we love the place.


The interior renovations were not a waste of money.  I’m sure we could have endured and lived in the house as it was (minus a few hundred thousand to change the disgusting first floor Tatami mats), the changes we’ve made were relatively inexpensive, and have made the house feel much more like it’s tailored just to us.  Oh yeah, and it’s safer, too.


We saved money by deciding to do the exterior work ourselves (myself).  My friend Dave was going to do the lion’s share himself while I was on tour in Canada over the summer, but he ended up getting too busy with other projects, so none of the the outside work got done.  I tried a couple of times to make a start on it before realizing that I was in way over my head.


So, in December, we called URBAN back in and got a few quotations for the exterior.


This is about way more than making the house look good.  Frankly, the way it looks now, it’s far less of an eyesore than a lot of Japanese houses that are half its age.  But we need this building to last at least another decade (preferably two) so that we can save up again to either rebuild or to sell and move.


We did the metal bit at the front right away.  You remember… the rusting metal monstrosity holding up about 30% of our yard?



Kamiooka Tea House

Yeah, that one.


Well, it needed the rust scraped off and some holes filled in and a fresh coat of paint to continue to resist the elements.  So we got that done right away.


Next, we spent a couple of weeks negotiating the cost of the rest of renovations.  They key elements being:


  • All exterior wooden hardware to be stripped and repainted to prevent rotting and wicking moisture into the walls and posts.
  • All metal exterior hardware to have rust sanded off and then be repainted to prevent rusting
  • Eastern balcony struts to be properly bolted to the metal deck (they aren’t right now!)
  • Roof de-moulded and repainted to avoid leaking through to the tin roof underneath
  • Cracks in the wall and hardware mounting sealed to prevent leaks and rotting wood on the windowsills inside the house.

The problem is that in Japan, you can’t have any work done to the second floor of a house without erecting scaffolding.  That’s right.  An extra 120,000 Yen or more tacked on to any job.  Why?  Ostensibly safety.


According to those in the know, these regulations are not National.  They are municipal.  And the scaffolding companies lobby hard for them.


Which is why we’d resisted doing the exterior renovations when we did the interior over the summer.


So, getting back to December: we asked URBAN for a quotation.  It included some additional things, one of which was painting the exterior walls.




Our wall aren’t currently painted.  They are some kind of pressboard nailed on to the house exterior.  To wit:




Why paint?


Well, since we’re dropping that money on bringing in the scaffold, and paint will help protect the building exterior (and might be a necessity later on in the house’s lifetime), it would make sense to do that now as well.


Also, we were told, if we went for the whole shebang, it would give the workers leeway as part of the painting prep, to fix little problems that might crop up without charging it back to us.  Not sure how true that is, and I guess only time will tell.


This did bring up the issue of colour.  After two days of agonizing deliberations over a very limited palette (since we were going as cheap as possible), we chose a light blue/grey for the walls, bright Chinese red for the hardware, and a reflective silver for the roof.


We had to choose from tiny swatches that were in a book (so we couldn’t even put them beside each other), so hopefully we didn’t cock that up.  If all goes well, we’ll have to live with these colours until the early 2030s.


Since I’m around this time, I will try to post photos and updates as the build progresses.

Sep 26

The Move

On September 19, we moved house.  We still haven’t said goodbye completely to the Kamiooka Rental House; we do that today when we go back to find out how much of our 180,000 yen deposit we get back.  But more on that in a later entry.


In the days before we moved, we told Tsukide-san from URBAN about the problems I wrote about earlier.  We got some of them fixed (the painting, more or less; the cut marks around the kitchen outlets, the holes in the side of the house), and some of them excused with a “sho ga nai” (a lot of the non-level issues has to do with the walls and floors not being quite level).


We were up all night on the 18th, finishing our packing.  We slept for about two hours, and then woke up an hour before the movers were due to arrive.  When they did, I hopped on my bike and cycled over to the Kamiooka Tea House to await the first load.


We were told that the house could be done in three loads and that they would be finished by 12:00.  In actuality, it took four loads (they called in an extra crew to help), and they weren’t finished until 16;15.  They didn’t charge us extra.


So, the house was filled with boxes, and we have spent the last week unpacking them.  I’ve done the bulk of it, and I’ve managed to whittle down the boxes to about ten or fifteen remaining, spread through the Tatami room upstairs and about seven still downstairs (a couple of those are empty: we’re using them to block off the part of the living room window that the curtain is too short to cover.


I cleaned out my office first: I desperately needed that set up so I could attend to the myriad of tasks I had fallen behind on (and couldn’t do comfortably on my tablet PC while sitting on a bunch of boxes).


The unpacking method has been this: pick a room, and take everything out of the boxes, putting everything in a temporary location at least.  Anything that doesn’t belong in that room then must get shifted to another room.  I used this method on my office, the kitchen, and I’ve almost finished the living room (the biggest problem there being the sheer amount of papers my wife has).

Sep 18

Builders are worse than Actors

Holy crap, the renovators are really superstitious.


I think I wrote earlier about how they chose the day to make the contract and start work based on good luck days of the religious calendar (I think it’s the Buddhist calendar that chooses them, but I could be wrong).  Well, apparently the conclusion of the contract was also important… as was the day we were going to move.  Which is weird, because it doesn’t really affect the renovators at all.


Tsukide-san told us that our selected moving date (this coming Monday) was okay, but that Friday would be a much better date.  Because of that, we’d thought about sleeping at the house last night.  But we didn’t.  In that case, he suggested, we should bring an item to the house that we use every day (he gave the example of a kettle) so that the house would think we had moved in.  So I carried over our big frying pan yesterday.


Oh, and then on Wednesday, we also did the house blessing thing: salt and sake at each corner of the house (careful! don’t go clockwise!).


Why did we play along?  I considered doing my eye rolling no-fucking-way bit, but the part of me that has learned to ‘preserve harmony’ ruled that out.  Also, I had this vision of Tsukide-san and the builders being kept up at night with remorse after my wife and I were crushed in an earthquake because they hadn’t made sure the gods were on our side.


A good reason to go along with superstition?  I don’t know.  But there it is.

Sep 18

Good God

Okay, we didn’t end up sleeping at the house last night, but we did pop over to take another look.


And we found more crap wrong… almost all the new crap the fault of the idiot electrician.


  • The outlets in the kitchen have visible cut marks!  They weren’t puttied before they were painted!
  • The control unit for the bath is more crooked than a politician!
  • Three out of the five air conditioners are mounted crookedly (all of them are crooked, actually, but only three are obviously, visibly so).
  • The holes from the old air conditions on the outside of the house have not been filled in!
  • The holes from the old bathtub pipes on the outside of the house have not been filled in!
  • There is a miscut on one of the wall panels, making a gap above the living room window frame.

I think there was more, but that’s all I can remember.  With all the electrically-related issues that are visible, I’m really worried about the electrical work inside the walls.


God damn, it’s just one thing after another!

Sep 17

House Update – Paint and Damn Drains

I’ve been posting a lot about the show recently, and not much about the house because I was in Canada and relatively removed from the process.


The good news: it’s almost done.  Everything is installed (the air conditioners went in today), put up, and painted.


The bad news: the electrician is obviously either an idiot, lazy, or just doesn’t listen.  He didn’t install any of the electrical outlets in the office the way I requested (earthed, with twistlock-style 3-prong plugs).  One outlet I’d requested at 40cm off the ground and he installed it at what must be 140cm off the ground.  Even a couple things he suggested himself (four outlets on the one behind my computer desk for one) didn’t get done.


The bad news: Japanese painters apparently are used to painting exteriors only.  The paintjob inside the house looks like it was done by me,  I think there are maybe 5 straight lines on the entire first floor!  One of the walls in the living room is painted so thinly you can see the roller strokes.  Plus there are lots of little brush mishaps, which Tsukide-san was going around fixing on his own (we’re lucky we ended up with such a conscientious guy as our main renovator) on Wednesday.


The bad news: remember that drain I mentioned in my last post?  The trough-like thing that runs around the west side of the house and drains all our first floor grey water?  Well, it was plugged.  Good and plugged.  We ran a test by emptying the bathtub (it had been filled by the gas company to check that the water heater was working properly) and it absolutely backed up.

We started cleaning it by pulling off the concrete covers and shovelling out the silt and other junk that had built up over the years.  That worked until we realized that a bunch of the concrete blocks on the west side of the house wouldn’t come up… and that’s where the pipe was good and plugged, with debris almost touching the top of the concrete slabs.


I was thinking we’d need to call in a company with a rooter, but I went over this morning and while I was futzing, Ichikawa-san joined me.  He had a couple of crowbars with which we were able to raise several of the slabs that we’d previously though were unmoveable.  There were still a few that were wedged in place thanks to a proliferation of roots from the tree planter on the west side of the house.  We also managed to pull up the four concrete blocks in front of the main door, which I’d also though were not moveable (I thought that the drain became a pipe under them).


In Ichikawa-san style, though, while he saved me time, he also took a few scenic routes.  To get to the slabs at the front, we had to shovel out the white stones and earth in front of the door.  We then spent about an hour WASHING the stones!


Just as we were getting ready to do a final flush, at about 11:15, Ichikawa calls a halt to work.  “Tea-time.” is all he says, and we proceed up to his house where we take more than an hour’s “tea time”.  It was very nice of him and his wife, and on a day on which I didn’t have to be in Tokyo and running auditions at 16:00, it would have been great.  At some point, an English-speaking neighbour (who lived in England for quite a while, and whose son is there still) was invited over.  At 12:40 or so, I had to apologize for my rudeness (oh, if only I could have kept talking!) and go back to the house and finish.


I had been hoping originally to go back to the old house (where we’re still living until Monday) by 12:00 or 12:30.  My goal now was 13:00.   Yeah, right.  After running the bath and letting it drain, there was still a lot of silt and gunk in the moat.  Ichikawa-san and I flushed the whole length again with the house and realized that the level of the moat wasn’t perfect, meaning that it didn’t consistently tilt downwards enough, meaning that the water will pool and there was nothing we could do about it today.  After that, we had to put the cleaned stones back in the front (actually, I’m very happy now that he did this: the front area is now all concrete, which is much easier to deal with).  I think I was on my bike and out of there by 13:40.


I won’t even write a big thing about how I had to go back again, after I was ready to leave for Tokyo, because I realized that I’d left the automatic bath thingy on and wasn’t sure whether it would try to make a bath while I was out (and the drain was open).


Well, that’s the update.  Not the most well-written one so far, but I felt it was important to get it posted.


Oh, and moving day is Monday, but we’re starting to sleep in the house as of tonight.  More in the next post.

Aug 03

I Hate DIY

Dust in my clothes, dust in my hair, dust in my eyes..


I spent a good chunk of Sunday working on the rustwork holding up our deck, particularly the decayed side piece.  I was using some kind of catalytic putty (think BONDO) to fill in gaping holes, and then grinding it down with a grinder tool.  Every time I did that, the air would fill with a fine white dust that would get in everything.  What I wouldn’t do for the facemask I wear in 39.


I took care of a fair amount of the roof last Wednesday, but only the lower roof, over the kitchen and bathroom.  I haven’t yet been able to climb up and deal with the upper roof.  It will probably have to wait until I get back from my Canadian tour.


The contractors have already started work on the place.  They’ve ripped out the woodwork that runs along the side of each room, Japanese style.  They’ve also done the primary demolition, ripping out the kitchen counters and shelves, the closet interiors, and the tatami floors.


Although we were going to keep the living room floor in order to save money, we’ve decided that it will look really weird, since there are two areas of the room (bookcase nook and the old hallway), where we have to put in new flooring, and the colour is much darker.  So my wife has contacted URBAN to tell them we’ve changed our minds.  That’s another 十万 down the hole…


We’re trying to decide final room colours right now as well, which is difficult, because I have trouble visualizing a tiny sample of a colour on a card being on an entire wall and ceiling.  So we’re being very conservative, with a lot of whites and very light colours (bedroom is a super light blue).  We’re also a bit afraid that dark colours will make the rooms feel really small.


The living room was also going to be an off-white, but we’ve decided to gamble on a mustard colour.  Fingers crossed!

Jul 27


Yesterday was very productive.


My friend Dave, a man wise in the way of home repairs, drove me to HOMES, the home center, and helped me pick up the items I needed to do my home improvements (the ones I’m saving money on by doing myself).



  • Paint & brushes for the exterior wood, and metal deck
  • Stiff brush to brush the mould off the roof
  • Wire brush and sandpapery stuff for prepping for painting


So, Dave leant me a chisel, and showed me how to scrape the areas on the metal posts that were damaged by rust.  I did the entire lower structure of the deck before I quit last night.


I went back today with the instructions to attack those paintless areas with the wire brush and put a first coat of paint on in preparation for the full painting on Thursday or Friday.


I had almost finished one pole when the URBAN guy, our renovator, came and told me I was using the wrong paint.  WHAT?  We went inside and he looked at the tin, and concluded that it was indeed the correct paint.  But he still strongly recommended that I start with an anti-rust primer.  The difference is that if I use the primer, I won’t have to do this again for 10 years.  If I don’t, I’ll likely have to deal with the deck again in five.




So, stopped working on that until I can get the anti-rust primer.


I figured, well, I’ll go scrape the mould off the roof tiles.  So, I got my brush and climbed up to the roof.  Now, I knew the tiles weren’t traditional Japanese tiles, but I thought maybe brick (due to a shard of brick sitting on top of one of them), and my wife told me later that she was told they were metal… but they seem to be made out of paper!  Or rather, a compressed cardboard thing.  As I brushed the mould off, I was taking off the brick-like finish and exposing the fibres of whatever-the-hell material that is underneath.


So I stopped.


(I found out later that the tiles are indeed a cement/fibre product sitting on top of the tin roof.  Ugh.  Someone want to buy me a new roof?)

May 18

Renovations and Treasure Hunting – Pt. 2

Right, so we went back to the Kamiooka Tea House on Sunday, this time first thing in the morning to do treasure hunting.


This room, in particular, –>


In case you haven’t been following this blog, the story is this:


The previous inhabitant of the house died, and a lot of her stuff is still in the building.  The three brothers, who are now the owners of the place, told us that we could keep anything we wanted from it.  So we arranged to meet them and go through the stuff.


I didn’t want to appear too nosy while we were there with them, so I didn’t take any photos inside the house.


Some treasure hunting highlights:


  • a vintage 1960s or 1970s Sanyo toaster.  A few flecks of rust on the chrome, but otherwise remarkably intact.  Even the old-style electrical cable (fabric-style insulation) is meticulously preserved!  I plan to clean this up and at least put it on display, if not actually use it.
  • an ice shaver, for making shaved ice treats.  I have one of these at home, but this one is still in its great 1970s or 1980s vintage box.  Once I clean the box, it will also make a great display item to populate one of the several display shelves in the house.
  • antique carpenters’ tools.  I will need to clean these up at some point.  These might be a giveaway/sell item, though some of them may be useful for clearing brush in the yard.
  • three working A/C units, two of which are also heaters—this means that with the two we’re bringing with us from the current house, we don’t need to buy any, saving us around 300,000 Yen.
  • a beautiful kakemono, portraying Mt. Fuji, to hang in the upstairs tokonoma.
  • a 30-day wind-up clock that currently hangs in the living room.  Definitely mid-Show period-looking.
  • a whole whack of tea sets for Japanese tea ceremony
  • all the decorative items in the genkan.

<- Anyone want some pots?  I asked them to remove all the plastic ones and leave the clay ones.  This is just one of about three piles.  Anyone?









My wife pulled out a whole bunch of dishes.  We have too many dishes already, but we don’t actually have any complete sets.


The sellers’ agent was on hand as well.  She’d asked permission from Hirasawa-san if she could also put in a quotation for renovations (apparently, the po-dunk real estate company she works for/owns/whatever also does renovations), so she was there with her contractor.


That company apparently specializes in plumbing, so we were able to get some interesting information out of them.  For instance, the downstairs toilet is not tied in at all to the waterworks on the second floor.  And the dark stains on the wallpaper around that toilet are not water stains, but urine stains (there is evidence in the form of a poop-chair and the handrails throughout the first floor that the woman who lived there was in physical decline for quite some time).  I’m glad that tidbit was revealed while the owners were elsewhere in the house.


At one point, I was looking in the sideboard in the future office, while my wife was sorting things upstairs.  After pulling out a cocktail shaker and some cool-looking cards that I couldn’t identify, I decided to leave the room until my wife could check it.


I noticed moments after I left the room that the sellers’ agent had asked for and removed the best looking china tea set from the sideboard and spirited it away.  I know that this stuff isn’t ours yet, and the owners are free to give away any of it that they like, but it would have just been courteous to have asked first.  Honestly, even though it was the best set, we probably would have just let it go to preserve harmony.


At the end of the day, Hirasawa-san also was able to take home a tea set, his complete with pot, but he had at least waited until the very end.


We’re definitely keeping more than we need anyway, and even thought it was the nicest set the sellers’ agent took, we still ended up with an okay set for ourselves (as opposed to the mish-mash we have now).


In any case, it was a lot of fun, and the agent behaving that way was more of a laugh than anything else.


We forgot a couple of things that we’ll have to email them about (in particular, the old kitchen door, which is sitting loose in the future office room—reusing that will save us 60,000 Yen), but yet another task is complete.


Next… insurance…

May 17

Renovations and Treasure Hunting – Pt. 1


This weekend we were at the Kamiooka Tea House not once, but twice.


We decided to get quotations from multiple renovation companies for the work we want done on the house, so on Saturday we visited the house with another renovation rep and a guy who seemed to be her head carpenter or contractor or something (evidenced by the fact that he wore coveralls instead of a suit and seemed to know what he was talking about, structurally speaking).  This was a change from the last time, when it was only the designer/advisor or whoever it was, though we will let them make another bid as well.


We have made some tweaks to the original ideas we had for renovations:


  • We’ve asked them to price out how much it will cost to move the patio-door-style windows in the living up the wall in order to allow more light in and make them not doors anymore.
  • We’ve asked them to extend the balcony off the Tea Room in order to make it big enough for a small table with chairs (I envision breakfast there in the autumn and spring.
  • I noted that the power to the house is only 40 Amps!  (Our current house is 60 Amps, and we still manage to trip the breaker now and then, especially in the kitchen). We definitely need to fix that.
  • We’ve asked them to price out the cost of double-glazing all the windows (we can get some of the money back from the government for that).  Even though the wall insulation is sure to be terrible, double-glazed windows will really make a difference to heating the rooms.
  • Adding a plaster-type coating over the sand-based traditional Japanese walls on the first floor.  Will reduce dust and can be painted in case we want to change colours later.  (The contractor this weekend was, like me, really adamant that we should keep the Japanese woodwork on the walls as much as possible.)
  • We’ll move the TV to the 6-mat Tatami room on the second floor
  • My mother-in-law, who was there with us convinced me to ask them to install bars in front of one of the windows in the 6-mat Tatami room on the second floor because it was low and dropped straight off and was therefore dangerous for kids.
  • My mother-in-law also tried to convince me that the window on the south side of the house was similarly dangerous, but that one opens onto a roof, and my feeling is that a kid wouldn’t fall out of that one by accident.  Yes, it’s conceivable that someone could get hurt by crawling out onto the roof and falling off, but then I might as well put foam rubber on every sharp corner in the house.  So we’re not blocking off that beautiful window from the inside as she had suggested.

Well, I think that was it.  Part two coming soon: the treasure hunt!

Apr 21

Tick Tock, Tick Tock

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