A couple of years ago I went to Japan with my good friend and woodworking mentor Brain Newell. Brian was developing a tour of Japan for woodworkers and asked if I would join him and his old friend Garry to be Guniea pigs, I commited immediately. Brian has lived, worked and raised a family in Japan for 15 years or so and knows the language, the places and some really great people there.
The main event was Japan’s annual hand plane competition. Here in the U.S. people don’t even know what a hand plane is. In Japan hand planes and the people that use them are well respected as being a part of their heritage and an important part craft. Much if not all of the wood paneling on the gates and buildings I photographed has only a hand planed finish. No polyurethane or lacquer just a smooth sliced hand planed finish. How can that be? Well first of all they use a lot of cedar which is a soft wood and it is not porous, like oak. Secondly they get away with it because when you hand plane a board (correctly) it leaves a polished surface. It is so extremely smooth it lacks all the microscopic surface area that a finely sanded piece of wood has. It has a burnished polished feel and lacks all the tiny grooves dirt lodges itself into when sanded. Crazy huh?
Well anyway, we went to the hand plane competition and I was signed up to take part in the hand saw completion and I picked Brian as my partner. Well when the time came Brian was no where to be found, erghh. So being that i’m an a’Merican, I decide to go it alone. Well I asked some British guy to sit on my log. I went ahead and won my round and was then put into the finals. This time Brian was there but I didn’t ask him to take turns sawing like the rest of the teams, I go it alone, a’Merican style. I won second place Hand Saw Champion of all Matzeama Japan. Not bad really, I got this nice certificate written in Katakana (the Cool Japanese writing) and it was given to me by the Mayor of the city, that’s right, oh ya.
A few days after the competition we were taken as guests to a wood auction (watch the video). Normally it’s only Japanese there but Brian knew a guy, Maseto. Maseto told his cohorts that Brian was importing wood to the U.S., which he was. But not to the extent as I think one person at least thought. Later that night we were to meet with a business man for traditional Japanese business treatment. The president of a major shipping company began the courting. He took us (Brian, his wife Mari, Maseto, two of Brian’s friends and I) to a restaurant, got us loaded on sake’ and paid the bill. He then hired a taxi and took us (Brian, Mari, Maseto and I) to a very fancy bar. Inside the bar we found only two people. The two women sitting happily behind the bar, one very attractive and the other, probably use to be attractive, I have a suspicion that they may have been prostitutes, I didn’t find out. Japan has these bars where woman are employed to just have drinks with men before they go home to their wives. Basically it’s a cultural thing that allows a man to go decompress and whine about his life and work to someone other than his wife. It’s sorta like a modern day Geisha, without the makeup and the wooden shoes. It could work here, maybe.
Within an hour the Honcho spent over $100 on watered down drinks . We bid farewell to the Honcho and very friendly ladies and made our way back to the Hotel, laughing all the way through next morning’s hangover. Brian has not contacted the Honcho for any business as of yet.
While in japan I took a lot of photos of the compound curve roof lines. I think they are an extraordinary sight, a engineering and sculptural wonder. We were able to tour a prestigious architect’s shop who still makes traditional roofs just like they did hundreds of years ago. Learned about the traditional Urushi lacquer and even brought some back. I also learned how incredibly polite and respectful Japanese people are to each other. It’s a wonderful place where every home and convenience store has a toilet seat that is warmed and will spray water on your bottom side, of different temperatures, intensity, pattern and angle. I recommend the visit.
Jason Straw Wood Worker
Bathroom Cabinets, Furniture, Kitchen Cabinets, Mirrors, Richlite Counter Tops, Tables, Brain Matter & Wall Carvings, Wall Panels & Head Boards, Z Chair
518 NW 2ND STREET
GAINESVILLE, FL 32601
Phone: (352) 371-3571
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