Satoyamasha is a nonprofit organisation based in Miyama about an hour and half from Kyoto. Started by a traditional carpenter, Yasushi Ozeki, the organisation promotes sustainable living through encouraging the use of natural and local materials. Satoyamasha concentrates on three main material usages. These include; traditionally constructed houses using local materials, use of wood biomass for cooking/heating/bathing, and the use of water to power a pico (small) hydro-electric generator.
Traditionally Constructed Houses
The Japanese government does not actively encourage traditional houses but instead makes it quite difficult to build them. The government has the view that more chemically active materials are more fire proof and thermally effective. It is a strange view, considering that traditional houses have already proved their effectiveness over the last few hundred years.
Houses in this area face a few problems, the climate is extreme with summer being very hot and humid while in the winter the valley receives a lot of snow. Earthquakes are also common and the building structure must be able to survive a bit of shaking.
Traditional houses are mostly built to help residents survive the stifling humidity of summer, these houses must be able to breathe. Being built of the locally abundant wood, humidity inside the house is something that must be avoided for the health of the wood as well as the residents. The houses survive in a number of ways. Firstly, they are diagonal with the river so as to receive the breeze, secondly the mud walls help maintain the humidity whilst the many doors and windows when opened provide good cross ventilation.
The architecture at Satoyamasha is not quite traditional but it is traditionally built. Before the invention of nails, the Japanese became incredibly skilled at connecting pieces of wood through joinery alone. The way the wood is all connected means that in an earthquake the whole house moves as a whole, with no parts jolting against others and fracturing or breaking. There are houses constructed this way nearby which are over two hundred years old, so clearly this technique works.
Japan has a problem with its forests. During the war, Japan was so desperate for fuels that reckless deforestation was promoted. After the war, like most of Japan the forests had suffered and tree planting of mostly cedar trees was encouraged. Now, sixty years on the cedar trees have all grown but aren’t being used. This is causing several problems, the most concerning is that cedar trees do not hold the soil on the mountains well and severe landslides are occurring as a result. The trees growing to great height also prevent the lower part of the forest receiving any light.
Most of the trees are in steep areas and difficult and expensive to reach, so they are left to continue growing. Enter, wood biomass which can be defined as a timber-derived product which is capable of being converted to energy. Satoyamasha encourages the use of wood stoves which convert wood into heat for warmth, cooking, water heating and Japanese baths. Providing information, selling stoves and attending local markets with display stoves, Satoyamasha hopes to encourage a more sustainable local forestry industry.
The pico (small) hydro-electric generator at Satoyamasha provides a free wifi spot for the community and visitors. Using constantly flowing water through irrigation canals, the generator spins away generating about 50kw of energy. Enough to keep the wifi working and charge a mobile phone.
The main role Satoyamasha staff fill is that of promoters, lecturing at universities and providing workshops. A small cafe is also operated out of the Satoyamasha house, it works well as a display house for traditional construction whilst the many wood stoves heat the cafe and are used for cooking the cafe pizzas. It is an easy place to introduce and educate patrons on the topics of traditional construction and wood biomass.
Not the usual steps to a sustainable lifestyle but just as crucial and with a strong emphasis on using what is available locally. Living in this type of house with the glow of a wood stove, the smell of freshly baked bread/biscuits/pie, is not a bad lifestyle in itself, the fact that its sustainable is just a bonus.