It’s been a long time since I saw my friend Takaya, since he lives in Kyoto, but last week he visited and we drank and ate and talked and walked as we do at all our meetings. Right now Takaya is making a garden path. He is slowly putting this together from stones he collects on his 5 mile daily walk on Omuro – the little hill behind his house which has 88 shrines. Each shrine is a little hut in itself, dedicated to buddhas (inside each is a seated buddha, or sometimes the founder of Ninnaji), and the whole walk along these shrines is in the grounds of Ninnaji temple. The course of the walk echoes the 88 temples’ pilgrimage of Shikoku Island south of Hiroshima.
Takaya walks this route in all weathers and is bringing his stones back one or two at a time to cobble his garden path.
In 2005, Takaya, with his friend Kitizou Kawasaki took two months in summer heat to build a traditional Japanese style small hut. They built this hut – called Chuusan ann - in the woods next to Kawasaki’s home. I visited the following winter & wrote this at that time:
“Chuusan ann is in the mountains, at a place called Miyama, an hour`s drive from Takaya`s house, north, along a twisting mountain road, at first good, then on back roads with uncleared snow.
My first sight of Chuusan ann was in deep snow – more than three feet, though it was just beginning to thaw a little. There was a path from Mr Kawasaki`s house shoveled through, just wide enough for one person to walk.
To call this a hut is literally the case – it is too small to be a house; but as huts go, it is truly beautiful. Built in the traditional Japanese manner – as for, say, a tea house - of only wood and plaster, it belies those materials to become something else. That something else is actually a work of art. It joins materials with intention, ignoring any debate about what is craft and what is art – such a distinction does not exist here. It`s a three dimensional art work in which it`s possible to sit and just to be. This last is, for me, the most important aspect of the work. Of course the site and situation help, but a space to simply be, rather than twenty-first century doing is very rare and could not be achieved in the grandest store-bought mansion.
I was able to sit by myself as I had hoped when Takaya and Kawasaki went for a walk in the snow, leaving me comfortable and warm next to the little charcoal fire-pit, even though both door and unglazed window were open wide for good views of the snow and hills.”
Takaya builds things slowly, too. He has visited this Carbeth hut and appreciates the time spent arriving at solutions for the habitation of a hut – by which I mean the dwelling, repairing, gardening and active thought that happens in any little wooden hut, here, Japan or elsewhere.
He understood the impulses that made me collect bricks from a demolished railway arch entrance to lay a red brick path from garden gate to hut door. These (some of them with curved tops) were laid in square or rounded blocks as stepping stones, to leave plants to grow up in between.
I had collected two red bricks in a yellow shopping bag every time I walked past the demolition site, over a period of weeks.
The original huts at Carbeth, including ours, are laid on brick piers, with timbers laid onto these so that the wind blows under the hut, reducing the risk of winter damp creeping in. These bricks were as often as not brought to Carbeth on the rattling 1930s buses in a shopping bag along with bread and milk, a couple at a time until enough bricks were accumulated to start laying the foundations of habitation.
My path doesn't quite reach the gate yet; bricks can be elusive.