Kanekosan’s ‘Sunflowers’

Image Courtesy: Mr. Kaneko

In Kiwanosato’s ageing community, it has become a challenge to keep all of the village’s land productive, with many rice paddies remaining unused.

Mr. Kaneko was born and brought up in Kiwanosato. He has lived in various areas of Japan during his working life but returned to the village in 2008 to look after his father at home. After his retirement in 2014, he took up many hobbies to fill his time including Japanese beekeeping, cooking and growing many varieties of plants throughout the year.

Last year, he planted sunflowers as a part of the village’s rice paddy land reuse project which he actively supports. The land he used (pictured above) had been left disused for many years since the family who owned it left the village, and it is anticipated that more land will follow a simialar fate as the landowners age and the younger generations have no interest in taking over. Mr. Keneko explains:

“Unfortunately, none of my children are interested in working in the field… It is a difficult issue to tackle. We can not leave the fields as they are but I think the land can be useful in some way, like companies’ recreations, for example.”

Enjoying life back in his home village, Mr. Keneko gets up early and works in the field at his own pace growing a variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the year and consuming them seasonally. Last summer he treated the attendees of Grizedale Arts’ Architecture School to his super sweet watermelons, Japanese bee honey and ice candies and has since closely monitored the progress of the bee house and garden’s construction.

Over autumn, he will plant rape blossoms after he harvests his sunflowers – its none stop planting for Mr. Keneko.

The Bee House The Mud Wall Technique Built

During our architecture school last summer when we constructed the bee house in Kiwanosato village, Mr. Fukuda, a trained plasterer, ran a series of workshops to demonstrate the traditional Japanese building technique called Hanchiku (rammed earth). Constructing the foundations and structure of the building from locally sourced bamboo, the plaster applied to the walls was made from a mix of clay and rice straw combined by the feet of the attendees.

Mr. Fukuda was part of the technical team that built Anyooji 安養寺 (Kengo Kuma and Associates) in Toyora, Shimonoseki City, Japan and made many of the building’s 60cm x 30cm sized mud bricks in his home workhouse. When allowed to air dry, these bricks provide the structure with a natural aeration, protecting the 12th century wooden seated statue of Amida Buddha without the need of air conditioners. When laid into the structure, the gaps between the bricks, as designed by the architect Mr. Kengo Kuma, introduce natural light into the building.

During a recent conversation, Mr. Fukuda mentioned how busy he has been over the past few months as the Hanchiku technique has become more popular. He has a number of building sites he is now working on and he has been asked to demonstrate the method to local architects and architectural students since our school last year.

“Is everything positive around you, then? ”, I asked.

“Oh yes, I am back on the truck!”, he said.

Practicing the Hanchiku technique during the 2019 Kiwanosato Architecture School.

Hanchiku applied to Kiwanosato’s bee house.