Ryo Shimizu is in a constantly happy mood and has created a life for himself which many people dream of having themselves. From early beginnings as a factory worker to a fisherman to working for an agriculture corporation, Ryo found his happiness on Chichijima in the Ogasawara Group. Ryo now owns and runs a small eco-resort, Pelan Village as well as running a kayak tour company. Pelan Village has grown and now consists of many small houses all of which Ryo has built himself. Ryo now seems to be in the constant state of building, as termites destroy old buildings or needs change. Many people dream of self building their own house, but often can’t imagine where to start. This is Ryo’s self building story…
Twenty five years ago, I was working for the Agriculture Corporation and my boss offered to sell me land. When we came out to see the land, it was almost all jungle and there was no ocean view. When I moved to Chichijima, my image was of an island and me watching an ocean view every day. I had decided not to buy any land which did not have an ocean view and here was only jungle… I thought for a long time. When I returned to my apartment in town, I found a map of the island and where the land offered was. I saw that the ocean was actually quite close and the land was on a high slope, so maybe there was a view. I returned to the land once more at sunset and climbed a tree to watch the west sky. I saw such a beautiful sunset over the ocean, I decided then to buy the land.
Why did you start self building?
At first I did not think to build myself and I began consulting with a construction company. But at that time, I met one old man, who had built his own house at a nearby beach. He was a sailor and had owned a large company but had sold it to move to the island. He was a nice guy and I liked him. He was the first person to recommend self building to me. He had used wooden electricity poles to build his own log house, as all wooden electricity poles on the island were being replaced with concrete and steel. He promised he would help me self build and would lend me his machines, he pushed me and said, ‘please build by yourself’. So I decided then that I would. I had no experience to build and I couldn’t imagine building a house. I borrowed many self builder magazines from him and read them many times. I then found a Japanese log kit from Shizuoka prefecture, the Harona Log Home (Harona- spring field). The company used a Japanese tree, Hinoki or Japanese cypress. It is a very famous tree in Japan, and is good for construction. Many famous temples in Japan are made using Hinoki. I decided to buy the kit.
What was it like building your first house?
Before the kit came, I prepared the land and I had to build a concrete basement for the house to sit on. I didn’t think I could make it and I asked a professional company first, but they were very expensive. I was surprised at how expensive, so I asked a friend who was mostly an amateur as well but he would help me build it for half price. In those days many people didn’t believe in building by wood, because there are so many termites on Chichijima. But I studied about termites and learnt about their characteristics. Termites need soil and water, and usually termites eat a house by building a soil road to the wood. In one night they can build a soil road about one meter high. In three nights, two meters high. So I think, if I build a two meter plus basement then I can check every third day and save my house. Termites also don’t usually like Hinoki. The kit company said it would take maybe four people six days to build the house! The kit was to come by ship, and I took a week off work to build the house. My friends from the kayak/canoe club, maybe three or four guys were also going to help for the week. I rented a truck from work to bring the kit to the site. When it arrived I was surprised at how much there was! So much wood! I had asked the company to mark the wood, so it could be separated into different piles. It took four people plus myself three days to unload and organise all the wood! Leaving me with only four days of my week holiday to build the kit.
There was no manual and it was difficult to build for me. For example, stacking the logs for the walls looked easy but it kept leaning to one side, so the bolts to hold it together would not go through. I telephoned the kit company, and I talked to an old architect. He sent a fax with illustrations and instructions drawn by hand but it was difficult to understand as he used old difficult building words. I telephoned him back to ask what his instructions meant, many many times. It was a difficult house to build.
After six months I had almost finished, and only had the roof left (not included in the kit). I called the kit company again to ask what I should do next? They replied saying that I should ask the roof company on my island! This island has no roof company. So I then researched a roof maker and finally ordered the roof. Again, I did not know what to do, so I asked the roof company to please teach me how to make a roof? They told me build scaffolding around the house. But I could not reason building scaffolding for just the roof now, so I used ropes and a harness to build the roof. Building the roof was the nicest part, as every day working on it I had a nice view of the ocean with whales swimming past.
After about one year it was pretty much finished. Although, I had never planned a kitchen or bathroom so had to build those later as an extension. I had worked on the house every weekend and day off and was very tired and ready for a holiday!
How many buildings have you built now?
I have now built 11 small houses. Five have been from kits and two houses have had to be brought down already because of termites.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to self build?
I have made many mistakes . But I would recommend people to live on the land planned for the house for one year. This enables them to see it in all it’s seasons.
I also recommend making a small house for the minimum need. Recently there are too many maximum houses, no kids yet but still build a house with four rooms. This is not clever behaviour. You should build for the current minimum needs. If you have children, then at that time you can extend or build a seperate house for them!
What makes a good building?
If I build for family, I build for family. If I build for friends, I build for friends. You should build a house for the needs of the occupants. For example, this kitchen, Chika (wife) wanted a convenient and special kitchen room, so I built it to her needs. Now, my eldest daughter needs a home (the Jungle House extension) and I will build again for her needs.
What is your guide to a happy life?
People should live to be happy and enjoy all things. For example, people watching a movie, they watch funny, romantic, sad and scary movies. But they watch for the enjoyment of seeing a movie. It is the same in life, I think people come to this earth to enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy life and are unhappy, please smile. Please laugh, even when you are by yourself. You only get this opportunity of living once and it is up to you to change your thinking and enjoy the movie that is life.