Yasushi Ozeki is a slightly intimidating but very passionate Japanese craftsman and building designer. After school Ozeki studied engineering at college but before finishing he left study and started working as a system engineer. As a system engineer, Ozeki became an extreme version of a ‘Japanese Salary-man’, working up to 20 hours a day in Tokyo. But about twenty years ago, he left Tokyo and began a new life in the small village of Miyama as a traditional carpenter. He now runs his own traditional building business, employing four full-time carpenters as well as running the nonprofit organisation- Satoyamasha.
What brought you to Miyama and traditional carpentry?
There is beautiful water here… but it was more fate and destiny that brought me here. I was also interested in becoming a traditional carpenter which was possible in Miyama.
I was interested in carpentry because when I was working as a system engineer, I was using my head all day but my body was stuck in a chair staring at a computer. A carpenter must use his body, and I believe that happiness comes from movement and it is important to keep moving until you die. Also as a system engineer, I was working with software which only had a 6month timespan. Whereas a house, especially how I make it with traditional carpentry will last a long time, hopefully two hundred years or more. Computer software at its very basic level only runs on one and zero. One and zero are not enough for me, architecture offers me more diversity.
Also traditional carpentry does not lie. Modern architects/builders/designers are cheating themselves and their clients. They use so many chemical filled materials and their houses only last half a century. Traditional houses use local and sustainable materials such as wood, mud and stones as well as building techniques which history has already proved. These techniques work, this style of building is the best- no modern technology, hand constructed. These houses are also rooted to the ground, rooted to history. Created by hand with century old techniques. This is the best way of building houses and the best types of houses to live in.
How do you decide the wood and what skills do you need to be a carpenter?
Woods are used according to what they are best at. For example matsu (pine) is used in horizontal beams where it is the strongest, whilst Hinoki (Japanese cypress) is used as vertical supports. The carpenter has to follow his instinct as to what is the best joint, wood etc. Flexibility is important when working with natural materials. Also a carpenter must have a good eye for straight lines, it is said that when a carpenter reaches the age of 50-55 he should stop working as his eyes will begin to fail him, carpenters at this age normally become building managers anyway.
What is your design process?
Follow the rules of nature, the materials decide the end result. This kind of architecture is also a bit like an orchestra. The designer is like the conductor, they have to attract the best musicians, the best people to fulfill the tasks needed to construct the house. For this type of construction you must be able to attract carpenters who become charmed by the traditional style work.
What is your design process?
When designing, I begin with hand drawing to explore an initial idea but I move to a simple CAD program fairly quickly. Most of the design is in my head, including all the joints. On site, carpenters usually have one big board which has the building plan written in ink. It is only plan though, no elevation or section, all the 3D layers remain in the carpenters head. Inspirations from the site and the materials impact the design at all stages. It is important for Japanese architecture not to control nature but to instead get along with it.
Where do you get the major beams/large trees for a house?
There is a best season for cutting trees and at that time, many timbers are collected and taken to a market. The carpenters then go to this market to choose the wood.
In the old times, clients used to own their own forests and the carpenters and clients would work together to find and decide which timbers to use. Also about half a century ago, there were many people whose job it was to take care of the forest, they were called soma or forester. These people would know the detail of each tree in their area and carpenters would request the exact type of wood they wanted and the soma would choose and cut the tree needed.
What to you makes good architecture?
No futility in construction or design.
Everyone has a good heart inside himself, if a man can find and follow this inner goodness/heart all the time, doing his best work, his best living, this world would be much better. Now there is always someone who tries to persuade people and pull them away from this heart, but if they find this heart, they will see that they do not need to be controlled and the world would be better.