From 2000

watermelon place

As a complement to the Bus Shelter extension, which is a winter facility, the team decided to build a cooling place for the summer season. Diagonally across the street from the Bus Shelter is an unused pond for spring water. It is the only remaining feature of Michi’s house, which was relocated for road-widening. Our objective was to reopen this forgotten reservoir for public use, as a site for the picture-frame bench, and to reestablish links with the other ponds.

There is a small corner in the village where the main road forks into two paths, one leading up to the vegetable fields, the other to the valley.This is the spot where elderly women stop for a break on the way home from their fields – a place where they can put down their laden baskets and rest.This usually takes place around 4 pm.

An overgrown edge of the hill was reshaped into a stepped topography, using sandstone as retaining walls. This established a direct connection to the reservoir 2.5 m above the main road level. A platform placed 20 cm above the reservoir allows people to sit and dip their feet. An extended part of the platform became the roof that covers the corner where the elderly women place their vegetable baskets. The new plumbing for the forgotten reservoir also provided a water supply for this extension, feeding a deep wooden sink for watermelon. The team recognised that watermelon, a fruit often to be shared, plays an important part in summer socialising. While the villagers are working in the field, this renewed and extended pond keeps the watermelon cool – a refreshing treat for the workers after a long day in the fields. It also operates as a drinking tap for passers-by.

extension (shared facilities)

In Koshirakura there appears to be no clear line that divides communal and private places, no material borders that define and organise the community as a whole. When paying a visit to the villagers, it is common to walk straight into their house without any warning or calling out of names.You just enter through the sliding doors, take off your shoes and go into the living room and kitchen. If no one is there, you continue upstairs to see if they are taking a nap. Bewildered by this absence of borders, we set out to learn more about how this community is nonetheless so well ordered.

Embedded within Koshirakura we found a few clear organising structures that subdivide the inhabitants into groups.The most important of these is the family group, but the locals also identify each other by yogou – the house name rather than the family name. Moreover, the sharing of communal responsibilities and coordination of seasonal activities is organised according to age groups. For example, the elderly group (over 65) is responsible for grass-cutting twice a year, for rope-making during the winter and for the croquet team that represents the village. The senior group (over 40) undertakes snow removal and maintenance works, organises the festival and other events, and handles public affairs outside the community. The position of chief rotates on a yearly basis.

And then there are the various committees: the Fire Security Committee, Rice Harvesting and Planting Committee, Festival Organisation Committee, Biggest Pumpkin Competition Committee, Grass-Cutting Committee, Maple Tree Selection Committee, and so on. These informal groups are very effective at addressing essential issues. A by-product of these collective activities is a series of migratory spaces based on activities rather than permanent divisions marking property boundaries.

We investigated further by looking at the organisation of chores and responsibilities within several families. Every household has an intricate allocation of time for particular tasks, often cyclical in nature, some weekly or daily, others spread over a year. While undertaking several communal jobs, each household continues to grow rice and vegetables. The use of domestic objects, tools and equipment rotates seasonally according to the cycle of rice production, rope-making and other local micro-industries.

To better define these interwoven activities of a domestic and a communal nature, we identified various forms of gathering within the community in terms of their timing and location.The procedures for removing snow, the water networks connecting horizontal wells to each house, pond and rice field and the shared routine maintenance works were all carefully studied. We tried to identify shifting patterns in the way territories of activities are formed along the shared facilities as a network of relations between families, landscape and production. We made maps that indicate changing patterns of locations where people gather informally. For instance, every third Sunday in August since 1997 the elderly group has organised a party with us at the end of the grass-cutting day.This particular event takes place beside the cherry tree at the school entrance defined by a rectangular space made of eight blue tarpaulins. Following the initial research, our main projects attempted to provide new places for social gathering by extending existing shared facilities and communal duties in the village.