In 1996 Shin Egashira held the first architectural summer workshop in Koshirakura village, Japan. This soon became an annual event in the local calendar and coincided with Koshirakura’s traditional Maple Cutting Festival. Participants are drawn from the AA and other schools around the world -not only architectural. The workshop uses the facilities of the disused local elementary school, filling a void in the shrinking community with visiting students. Our wish has been to contribute to changes in this community through the application of architectural knowledge and by making buildings as a continuous form of communication.

Koshirakura village lies in Niigata Prefecture some 200 km north of Tokyo and is one of 13 villages scattered along complex terrains carved out by the Shibumi River. A rural, mountainous region still recovering from a powerful earthquake in 2004, it is distinguished by overgrown forests and abundant rice fields. Koshirakura has less than 100 inhabitants (a third of its total population in 1980) and the average age is over 60.

In the 20+ years of its existence, the workshop has brought together 400 participants from 52 countries, who have worked on a total of a number of built projects so far (including a bus shelter, two summer pavilions, a movie screen and a viewing platform), and have made artefacts, films, maps and photographs. The workshop as a  project hopes to serve as an infrastructure for its social sustainability. It wishes to continue documenting a post-agricultural community in transition and to portray Koshirakura’s people and the terrain they continue to cultivate.

The intercultural exchange has been a significant part of the workshops, and it is important that participants are accepted as temporary residents rather than just visitors. Students assume some of the duties of residents, most significantly by taking part in the traditional autumn Maple Cutting Festival /Momijihiki. The festival, which is particular to Koshirakura, begins with the selection and cutting of a sacred tree in the mountains and carried to the village for a night of singing and dancing. The following day the tree is carried and drugged from house to house to commemorate and celebrate significant events of the previous year, whether a birth or marriage, a special birthday, the extension of a house, or successes in business and studies. Inhabitants with a special reason to offer thanks provide foods for all, endless toasting of sake, water throwing and singing lend the festival an additional intensity. The journey through the village includes a stop at the former schoolhouse, where the workshop activities are based, to celebrate the increasing size of the Maple tree every year.

The workshop is directed by Shin Egashira and coordinated by Carolina Vallejo. We regularly count with Shintaro Tsuruoka and Yuko Odaira as tutors and have the invaluable support from the Koshirakura Village International Committee, Maeda Corporation and Iwaga Corporation.