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A Cross-Cultural Rethatching Experiment

I’ve been an unlikely yet inspired activist, completing projects and actions on a relatively small scale when I cannot stay still, because I sense a gap, a need, a possibility. Most definitely my father’s daughter, I live in the world of books and the mind, touching on the physical only under duress. The exception is my penchant for sculling and bicycling, both repetetive, meditative activities under the vast sky and in the wind and water, where I connect with my mother’s spirit, tied as it was to the natural world. In the late 1990s, when my family was living cheaply in a 100 year-old thatched farmhouse that was in terrible condition, I heard from a local Japanese thatcher, one who was singlehandedly saving the local art from dying out by apprenticing to an 80 year-old craftsman, that he’d visited England, where they used iron hooks to hold the thatch onto the rafters, rather than “sewing” them on with tarred twine, or, as in Japan, straw rope. The idea of a cross-cultural rethatching of our house was born. Two years later, it was accomplished, with handmade iron hooks, reed from Northern Japan, rather than the local miscanthus grass, and a window. The interior was reimagined and revitalized with materials we’d scavenged years earlier from the local grade school. The project was the subject of a documentary done by TV Tokyo, and it opened many windows for me into the workings of national and local bureaucracies as well as into the expansive spirit of craftsmen the world over. As part of the project, I had a portion of The Thatcher’s Craft, known colloquially in the UK as “the thatcher’s bible”, translated into Japanese. The original book, with a foreword by John Betjeman, was published by the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas in 1881, and updated in 1960. Among the media in which our project was featured are an INAX booklet, the Japan Times, Japan Quarterly, Kyoto Shimbun (Japanese), Sankei Shimbun (Japanese), Asahi Broadcasting (Japanese), Journal of Architecture and Building Science (Japanese) and Chilchinbito (Japanese).