Connecting To Nature In Japanese Countryside

We share some articles from the second issue of our magazine, now available. Far from his studio in eastern Tokyo, Ryo Kashiwazaki escapes to the quiet countryside, where his traditional Japanese mansion is secluded among the rice fields. Ryo, the founder of the Scheme, a leather brand best known for its handcrafted leather interpretations of classic sneaker designs, reflects on the quiet simplicity of life in his country bolthole.

Ryo: “In 2018 I bought this house to spend a holiday with my wife and two young children. It is about an hour’s drive from East Tokyo, where my studio and my family home have been located since the founding of the Scheme in 2010.

“There are many reasons why I decided to buy a house in the countryside. First of all, I wanted to offer my two boys an environment to explore and play in nature without restrictions – which is difficult in Tokyo.

“The other reason was that 2020 marked the tenth anniversary of my label. For this important step, I wanted to work out a new lifestyle for myself in a place where I could escape the work week in Tokyo. I think I was looking for a lifestyle with a body, external aspect, as opposed to the convenience of living in the city.

“I was born in Tokyo, but my family moved to rural Ibaraki until my freshman year of elementary school. I remember it as a time in my life when I felt more connected to nature, and I think that memory led me to this home. When I first showed it to my parents, they said it looked like the old house we lived in.

“I am not so attracted to new houses, because they are too light and often not made with the same care as in the past – today it is always about production efficiency. I love the older architecture, which makes my imagination wonder why these buildings were built this way. In the old days, these traditional houses were just ordinary dwellings, but today they require the skill of a specialized craftsman. It is difficult and expensive to find people who can repair these houses now – this is a skill that is lost in Japan.

“The house is 130 years old and was originally built with a thatched roof. It was changed when the previous owners renovated it 20 years ago. They invited the first-class carpenter from Fukushima Prefecture to live here and repair this house in winter. The exterior remains the same as it was. When I came to live here, I just cleaned the interior a little and replaced the heating and air conditioning.

“I completely followed my instincts and bought this house at first sight. The previous owners were an elderly couple who moved into a nursing home and I had a great time with them here before they moved. We sat chatting on the porch and they explained things about the house and the neighborhood.

“The veranda is one of the charms of a traditional Japanese house. It is a luxury to spend time on the long L-shaped wooden porch that we have here, in the beautiful sunlight flowing through the trees, drinking tea or having lunch while looking at the garden.

“Another charm for me is the high quality of the craftsmanship with which this house was built, especially the beauty of the details such as the sliding doors, the wooden frame and the joinery that has stood here for more than 100 years.

“I haven’t touched anything to that extent. If I tweak it too much, it will look dummy and the House would lose what makes it special. It is important to maintain a good balance between convenience and disadvantages – it is comfortable, but has some difficult features at the same time, which I appreciate.

“I bought furniture especially for this house because my family’s House in Tokyo is a new building and the rooms would not fit into the atmosphere of this traditional house. Some of the art is from my friends; some I bought at Antique Markets. I just buy what I like – everything is ok if I feel something about it, or if I react in a certain way.

“The sunniest place in the house is the room with an alcove, or tokonoma. I arrange things by relying only on my own sense of what looks good and I ignore the formal rules of Japanese style rooms. This also applies to art and furniture; I think there is a pure sense of joy that comes from not knowing the rules.

“Because I was used to Tokyo nights, it took me a while to adjust to the total darkness here. The evenings seemed scary at first. There is no one except us and the noise of insects in the surrounding rice fields.

“Every time we come here, I can’t wait to see the impression that the seasons have left on the garden. The contrast between summer and winter is dramatic – full of insects and grass in summer, and completely empty in winter.

“The children are delighted with this old folk house, because it reminds them of those they see in anime films, especially when I open and close the shutters. They are always in a good mood here and have a lot of fun finding wild frogs and beetles. We wake up in the morning incredibly refreshed, and I love to spend time relaxing on the veranda – the hours go differently than in the city.

“I recently thought that houses and leather might be similar. The leather with which we work on this scheme changes over time, and this is the most interesting aspect of the material. Houses also change, depending on who lives and how. But in both matter, one element of tradition-the unchanged-is good.

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