By Dee Williams
Last month, I flew to Japan to participate in a Tiny House Building Workshop hosted by my friend Yuichi, one of PAD’s former students and a master tree house builder. He worked for almost a year to bring students and teachers together for several weekends to teach the group how to engineer a tiny house on wheels, use tools and integrate permaculture and other “green building” concepts into the end product. Since it was the Japanese version of the Shelterwise Salsa Box, we started calling the “Bento Box.” As I understand it, an organization called Peace Winds Japan had commissioned the Bento Box to be used as a kind of soup kitchen. They plan to primarily use it to serve their local community, but also to roll it out to help others after a disaster, like a tsunami or typhoon. They’re hoping to be up and running by early 2015.
It was one of the most inspiring trips I’ve taken, from the exotic placarding in the bathrooms, to the realization that Yuichi’s rotary saw ran opposite of mind, spinning counter-clockwise instead of my usual clockwise. The workshop agenda was action packed, including a typhoon that stormed in my last night. Doing something you’re used to (in my case, teaching people to build tiny) in unfamiliar circumstances (in my case, Japan!) always holds unexpected surprises, and shows you your normal life in a new light. It was an amazing experience, and I want to share some of my favorite moments with you.
Walking into my bedroom late at night, in an old ryokan (a hostel) in Tokyo. It was set up with a thin futon, a small, low-slung table and chair set on the floor nearby. The grass tatami mats and simple lay-out immediately made me relax – much needed after surviving a 10-hour flight and racing through Tokyo with Yuichi. And as if that wasn’t good enough already, I padded down the hall to use the loo and discovered that the toilet seats were magically heated! It set a whole new bar for hospitality that was repeated throughout my stay.
Sleeping in a tree house 20-feet off the ground, suspended between two trees. Yuichi and his friends built it, and I was pretty humbled by the craftsmanship, engineering, and by the jaw-dropping beauty that surrounded me.
Hanging out in a rural area just east of Mt. Fuji, using power tools, eating amazing, locally grown food, and meeting some of the kindest, funniest and most inspiring people I know. We spent evening meals together around a bonfire, telling Japanese ghost stories that (according to my interpreter) mostly involved being chased by an old woman without teeth…or maybe the sake was doing the talking for my interpreter.
I was bummed to say goodbye to everyone, but got to hang out for longer than I planned when a typhoon poured buckets of water across our work site and overflowed the stormwater drains in the streets. We stood around giggling, and finally double-dog-dared ourselves to try to drive home before things got worse. The real storm moved in later that night at Yuichi’s house, rattling and bellowing against the windows. I thought it was awesome and freaky, and meanwhile, Yuichi and his family slept through it all.
After breakfast the next morning, I decided to take a neighborhood walk before getting on my plane. Yuichi was worried that I’d get lost, so he hired a tour guide for me: his 5-year old daughter. She held my hand and led me through the city, stopping to point at giant spiders and collecting little flowers for her mom. It was among the most precious hours I’ve ever spent, and I’ll forever be in debt to her for keeping me from making at least a dozen miss-steps along the way!
I owe Yuichi, his family, my fellow instructors and the class humble thanks. I got to experience a whole new approach to design and to the comforts of home, and learned a lot about teaching – to pause more, to listen intently in hopes of understanding what someone is saying, and to laugh easy and often because we can. Cheers to my new friends for teaching me those lessons that I got to take home with me, and I hope I can someday return the favor!