Since the beginning of November we have held our first two cleaning events at our vacant house in Tokyo. Roughly a dozen people came to help on November 3. In addition to several friends mainly interested in renovation, we also had half a dozen collaborators from a group called Matsuri Japan, which is partnering with us on the project. The group has several dozen members and its goal is to promote and bring youthful energy and passion to all sorts of festivals in Japan. It is said that there are over 300,000 festivals in all of Japan, from shrine festivals to local street festivals to music festivals, and yearly events such as these form the core of community life in Japanese society. With their involvement, we’re planning to eventually utilize the house not only as a community space and location for small events, but also as a platform to interact with the community and participate in many of the local events on the nearby shopping street.
The house started out in a rather severe state of decay, with a collapsing ceiling, rotting floorboards, and other issues. Our first day was mainly focused on dealing with the major problems. We started out my clearing out debris from the collapse of a closet floor upstairs, which was falling through the ceiling into the first floor living room. Among the items that came crashing down: a bowling ball! The small hole to the second floor already lets some light in, but we’re also thinking about enlarging it to make the living room a nice two-story space.
The bathroom floor was unfortunately too damaged to save. We will need to build a new floor, but luckily the toilet still seems to work. For the major renovations, we are planning to host a series of workshop events where a carpenter or expert will guide volunteers through the process. After making a great deal of progress on our first day, we called it quits and gathered in the most usable room in the house, on the second floor, for fresh coffee and snacks. Each person offered a reflection on the day and thoughts about how to use the house going forward. Several common themes emerged in the discussion, including 1) a desire to keep the definition of the space as flexible as possible and to host a very broad range of events of different genres for different audiences, 2) a feeling that more than the “final product” of the space that will emerge from the renovations, the project’s value lies in the process of working together and building a network of collaborators, and 3) awareness that the situation of the house and the nearby shopping street are widespread across the city and country. It would be great if the group could become a platform for supporters to help work on projects developing community solutions to these issues everywhere.
On our second cleaning day of November 8, we covered up the rotting floor with wooden boards given to us by the shopping street and a nearby shrine and sanded down the splintered edges of wooden pillars and beams. In the second floor room, we lay down a carpet and hosted our first small event, a two-hour gathering by a reading circle. In just two short days, the house has been transformed from a dark and unwelcoming place into a semi-usable space that is showing more and more potential. More than anything, its been greatly rewarding to make connections with people each bringing ideas and enthusiasm for creating a community.
Cold weather is likely to limit the frequency of our events during the winter, but our hope is to have most of the renovation done before the spring in order to get the maximum use out of the space during the one-year project. I’ll keep posting on our progress!