Monday, 5 December 2011

Cleaning out the Kura

There is an old clay walled storehouse just outside my front door packed full of generations of semi-precious and semi-discarded belongings. Parking in front of it for 19 years and nothing changes except that more and more chunks of clay fall off and the twisted rice straw ropes and bamboo slats woven ingeniously into the heavy walnut pillars peak through..... like my own receding hairline. The covering is going to be shot sooner than later. Grin and bear it and think of eventual future options. A hat or some boards framed up the sides.

Last September the effort started by grappling and hauling out ten large wooden grain holders. Stepping on a rotten floorboard that whacked the resident Aodasho in head at the back musty dark corner I was lucky enough to have it wrap around my leg and bite me. Sheeeeesh.

The grain boxes have been sanded, oiled and outfitted and are being put to good use throughout the house as book cases, cupboards, tool cabinets.

The door has been left open since then hoping the snake would leave on it's own. He wasn't there when a small army of buddies helped rip out the floorboards two weekends ago . There was a collection of bottles of home made moonshine coveted away by someone. I heard from a neighbor that the great grandfather had fallen near the Snoopy-fall-in-river, broken a leg and then died from the injury just after the war. His secret stash lying there to be unearthed almost 70 years later. It was impossible not to ponder the changes that have taken place in the village and in the last century. Digging through the contents of the storehouse satisfied my inner archeologist. Old crumbling festival decorations to a kitchy 80's ceramic vase shaped like the Waikiki Hilton. Keeping an eye and an ear on the others to get a glimpse of what they were thinking and feeling I didn't register much. To them it seemed to be just a dirty old barn with the potential of being turned into a funky studio. They were probably keeping an eye and ear on me to see what I was planning to do with the space. (I am toying with a deadly cool bedroom/library/drawing room years down the road.)

There was plenty to think about as we hauled a mountain of everything out into the sunlight. Much of it hadn't seen the sunlight in a hundred years or so. And much of it smelled like it.
There were plenty of old saws and wooden buckets, barrels and tools whose functions are almost forgotten. A small horse saddle. (Visions of a poor miserable horsey in the cold up here where there was barely enough food for the people and plenty of back breaking work for him.) There were some poor looking loom parts and silk farming tools which I callously threw in the keep-warm fire without even closely examining them.

There were several broken down dressers with moth eaten piles of clothes. The older drawers contained kimono. A few hand woven men's silk kimono. Some badly deterioraed school uniforms from the 30s and the war period. The transition took place to western clothing in a single dresser. A heavy wool formal suit jacket and trousers. Neatly folded.

The clothing was spared the fire but thrown in the washing machine. Anything that survived the spin cycle would be considered keeping. A few items made it through.

One is this pilgrimage silk/linen jacket from before the war. It has been inked with a wood block of people climbing the mountain to reach some Buddhist figures and stamped with red ink. Beautifully galligraphed with the wearer's name, date, purpose and route of the pilgrimage. (The great-grandpa who had tripped and passed away three days later in 1946.) He had gone on a pilgrimage to a holy mountain and visited a Shinto shrine and Buddhist temple at the peak.

The owners of most of the stuff are long gone. They are in the family graveyard in the bamboo grove just above the house. It feels invasive to be rummaging through their belongings. It had to be done and decisiveness seemed to be the best defense against being creeped out. In the fire. In the garbage. In the washing machine. Re-boxed and put back.


  1. Great post Bryan, hard work for you but what discoveries too. That pilgrimage jacket looks interesting, I hope it survives the spin cycle! You sound as if you're being quite ruthless with the "rubbish", difficult to do I know but it's good that you can find some background information about the goodies (and ghastlies). Has the moonshine matured well?

  2. Amazing Bryan, I will have to stop by again for a hello.

  3. when i cleaned out my old barn i found treasures and a huge amount of porcupine manure. sigh. the nature of old buildings.

  4. A messy job but finding all those old things must have got the heart racing.
    I love reading your "stories"

  5. Amazing--like unearthing treasure. I love the pilgrimage jacket. You might want to consider letting the snake come back once the cleaning and sorting is done so he can patrol for mice.

  6. There was a temptation to sample the vintage moonshine. I realized just a few days ago that the larger bottle had a semi decomposed mamushi viper in it. The locals still do this. They capture a mamushi (the most poisonous land snake in Honshu) and put it in a bottle of potato-based moonshine and let it slither for months trying to keep it's head in the airspace at the top. The snake finally dies. I find it disgusting and have really suppressed my anger to smash the bottles and let the snakes free when I see this. The moonshine is used as medicine. I have sampled some and in minutes after taking a small sip my entire body was toasty warm and glowing.

    The Kura clean up was truly a memorable day. It is great fun to think of the possibilities of the building now that it is somewhat clean.

  7. Snake wrapped around your leg must have been memorable as well! Love the pilgrimage jacket.

  8. What an amazing story and what FUN.....except for the snake bite. Wish I could have been there to assist. Textiles are my passion so love seeing their photos and hearing their stories.

    Keep your fantastic stories and photos coming. Thank you for keeping up your blog.