Thursday, June 23, 2011

Shonan Coast

After spending the day at the woodworking studio, I head home on my bike, just in time to watch the sunset along the coast!

Kamakura Beach!

Currently carpenters are building a bunch of temporary buildings along the beach, which in a few weeks will become shops, restaurants, bars, and arcades just in time for Summer!

New Workshop

I recently started a new apprenticeship at a woodworking studio near Kamakura.

The workshop is about an hour bike ride from my apartment, I ride along the coast every morning for a few miles, then make a turn inland and head straight uphill through rice fields and winding back roads for the remainder of the way.

The shop is well stocked and covered completely in sawdust!

The studio is known for, in addition to a very high standard of quality, a few interesting techniques: laquerware and a process that involves torching the entire exterior of a piece to blacken it.

Part of the day I spent sanding and finishing this soon-to-be table, whose top is the cross section of a 500 year old tree that was buried underwater for over 1000 years.


After oil finish is applied.

As a testament to the tree's incredible journey and age, while I was cleaning out sawdust from the cracks along the wood's raw edge with compressed air, this tiny sooth pebble fell out from inside. My sensei explained how the rock must have gotten lodged in the tree while it was submerged. Amazing!

The shop's extensive stock of wood.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Friday, June 17, 2011

Enoshima Island

The other day, I rode my bike from my apartment along the coast to Enoshima, a small island of with a 4km circumference in Sagami Bay. The island is a popular resort in the summer time.

It was drizzling the whole day, but it definitely added to the experience.

Enoshima as seen from the south.

The island is connected to the mainland by a 600 meter long bridge.

Near the center of the island is a large shrine complex that snakes its way up the through the island and to the back side, where there is a network of caves. Here is the view of the mainland from the center of the island.

One of my favorite sites on the island was this dragon shrine. It was a small space composed of stacked rocks.

The entrance to the caves comes after a dramatic walk along rocky cliffs.

Observations in Kamakura

To Kamakura!

My last and final relocation throughout my year in Japan has brought me to the historic and beautiful city of Kamakura. Kamakura, situated about an hour outside of Tokyo on Japan's Shonan Coast, is what my landlord while driving me and my belongings from Shinjuku to my new summer sublet, described as the Venice Beach of Japan. 

Kamakura was once the capital of Japan, as the seat of the Shogunate during the Kamakura Period (1185–1333). Today, Kamakura has a population of 174,016. However, Kamakura was the 4th largest city in the world in 1250 AD, with about 200,000 people. It was also Japan's largest city by 1200 AD. It is currently the middle of Japan's rainy season, so these photos might look a bit gray, hopefully within another week or so the sun will come back out!

The Daibutsu, Kamakura's only national treasure, is an enormous cast bronze Buddha statue. When it was first constructed in 1252 , it was covered completely in gold leaf! 

The current happening in town is Hydrangea viewing at Meigetsuin Temple, which is high on a hill over looking the ocean.

Though I managed to crop them out of this photo, currently all along the beach there is construction going on of makeshift temporary storefronts. In the summer these beach shacks become stores, restaurants, bars, and arcades. The town also gets entirely inundated with tourists, I am told.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


An observation:
Here is an interesting (and strangely straightforward) approach to impede the affects of aging and transience: these natural "wooden" forms are made of not wood, but concrete. The aesthetic of natural wood is imitated in an (arguably) more permanent material. The problem is, real wood left outside can age naturally, and when it has reached the end of it's useful life, can be recycled and replaced easily. It also is honest to the context. A wooden bridge in a park makes sense conceptually. Concrete, obviously artificial, seems to be a bit of an overkill in this context and completely out of place.
There have been some pretty unusual and unnecessary applications I have seen in Japan employing the use of concrete. According to Alex Kerr in his book, Dogs and Demons: in a year, Japan pours 30 times more concrete than the world average.
Looking through the lens of these few examples, as characteristic to a larger trend in modern Japanese design, the celebration of transience that has permeated traditional japanese art, culture, and philosophy so vividly in the past can, in the present day, be seen in a new light: as a complete rejection of transience, a constant struggle to curtail its affects and come to terms with change. The symbolic Cherry Blossom can also be seen in this way. Originally as a melancholy celebration and appreciation of the passage of time, to now: a dire fear of missing the fleeting spectacle before it passes. 

Required Reading (part 3)

More books!!

"Designing Design" by Kenya Hara. Design from a very Japanese point of view, written with an occasionally humorous colloquial spin. This book, I have discovered, is nearly impossible to find in the US for under a few hundred dollars. But thanks to eBay Japan, I found a copy for a lot cheaper, and signed by Kenya himself!

"Discovering Design", a collection of essays edited by Richard Buchanan and Victor Margolin.

"Objects of Desire" by Adrian Forty.
Almost finished with this one. The perfect concise history of industrial design since the Industrial Revolution.

"The Sense of Order" by E.H. Gombrich. The next book on my list, which I'll finally crack open really soon. Amazing cover!