My Japanese Nata (鉈) – pride, joy and pain

One of the things that impressed me most during the first weeks in Japan was how my co-workers treated their tools. Every morning each gardener carried his or her heavy tool bags from our company’s garage and placed them carefully on the back of the truck. Garden tools, scissors, shears, knives, wood-working tools, heavy masonry and stone working tools. Levels, steel squares, strings. You name it. In the evening, after work when we waited for the last team to come back, everyone would clean their tools, sharpen them if necessary, repair them. Some built their own tools, or their own handles and grips for hammers, mallets, etc.

Often I was asked: Do you have a Nata? Do you have a bamboo saw? At first I had to reply “No”. Even if I owned them, there is no way I would have taken them on the plane since they are simply too heavy. Then someone would lend me his or her tool OR I was given another work. At that time I learned that in order to be trusted with a task, you need to have the right tools. Even if you are still learning, you need to have the tools in order to learn. Thankfully my senpai Laura, a lady from Lithuania who is very experienced in Japanese garden techniques, lent me her tools after she returned to Europe for the summer. From that moment on, I could say: Yes, I have a nata. Yes, I have a security belt to climb trees. Yes, I have mallet. Yes, I have a bamboo saw. And I was trusted with more and more work and was able to learn a lot more. 

I bought my own nata after a while. It is my whole pride and joy: It is super-sharp and simply beautiful. Also dangerous, apparently, since I cut my thumb and index finger last week. I still need to get more working experience with this tool. These are my pin-up pictures 😉

Ryouba Moroha 両刃

両刃 can be pronounced Moroha or Ryouba and means double-edged blade. The 165 refers to the length of the blade, 16.5 cm

The nata hachet and sheath

The nata hatchet and sheath in all their beauty

I love how the blade is fixed to the handle。The ridge of the blade is 6 mm or 1/4 of an inch wide.

I love how the blade is fixed to the handle。The ridge of the blade is 6 mm or 1/4 of an inch wide.

The inscription reads 鋼付 or hagane-tsuke.

The inscription reads 鋼付 or hagane-tsuke. Hagane means steel, tsuke means to attach. See explanation in text below.

As you can see in the last picture, this nata is made using the Hagane-Tsuke (鋼付) technique. That means that mild steel (low carbon steel, relatively cheap and soft steel) is used for the body of the blade. The cutting edge however is made of steel, which makes it strong enough to withstand abrasion, yet easy enough to sharpen.

After using a nata it is best to clean the blade with a little bit of water and dry it with newsprint paper. Sharpen the blade only if needed. If you put away the nata for a longer period, use a soft cotton cloth to apply a thin coat of oil to the blade. 

Back in San Francisco – Continuing my Japanese training (self-conducted)

I have returned safely to San Francisco and settled back in to my so-called normal life.
To continue my Japanese garden training here, I volunteer at the Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, the oldest Japanese garden & estate in the western hemisphere. It has an incredible authentic feel to it. When I visit Hakone, I feel as if I am in Japan.

I currently have a small screening fence project. I chose this site to practice my fence building technique as it is inconspicuous. When I am finished with this, I want move on to a more prominent fence near the tea garden.

The idea is to screen off the storage area under this wooden building with a Kennin-ji gaki style fence (建仁寺垣).

Screening of the storage area for ladders with a Kenninji-gaki-style fence

Screening of the storage area for ladders with a Kenninji-gaki-style fence

I designed the setup and built the framework in the last 1.5 days. Instead of the traditional round Maruta (丸太) fence posts, I use pressure treated 4x4s (4 inch x 4 inch timber) posts. I used concrete as a foundation for the longest post. Since the existing post of the building has a concrete foundation, I couldn’t dig past it, which would have been necessary to securely plant the post in the ground (1/3 rule, one third of the post should be below ground).

The framework: Three 8x8 inch timber blocks are securely  fastened to the foundation structure of the building. Each of these has a 4x4 inch post attached.

The framework: Three 8×8 inch timber blocks are securely fastened to the foundation structure of the building. Each of these has a 4×4 inch post attached.

I also attached five horizontal rails to which the bamboo slats will be nailed (no picture). After finishing this, the head gardener Jacob Kellner and I split bamboo to make bamboo slats. I used my new Nata (鉈), a square hatchet used by Japanese gardeners and fence builders. The bamboo I cut was very thick. My nata must have slipped off the bamboo and I cut my left thumb and index finger. At first, it looked pretty bad, but I think it will heal in a couple of days.

 

Day 89 – Kyoto has a new garden

The last day of my trip.

On Sunday night we finished the tsuboniwa at the Mamezen Ramen shop in Kyoto (豆禅). I woke up early this morning to take some pictures of the garden – here is one of them, there are more to come:

Japanese tsuboniwa garden in Kyoto

 

Mamezen owner and Yuba-Ramen chef Minoru Yonekawa:

With Mamezen owner Minoru Yonekawa (実米川)

With Mamezen owner Minoru Yonekawa (実米川)

 

The Mamezen garden team: Tatsuhiko Kobayashi (小林達彦), Tatsuomi Ikeda (池田辰臣) and Jenny Feuerpeil (伊恵弐 フォイヤーパイル):

From left to right: Tatsuhiko Kobayashi (小林達彦), Tatsuomi Ikeda (池田辰臣) and Jenny Feuerpeil (伊恵弐 フォイヤーパイル)

From left to right: Tatsuhiko Kobayashi (小林達彦), Tatsuomi Ikeda (池田辰臣) and Jenny Feuerpeil (伊恵弐 フォイヤーパイル)

 

Day 38 – The cutest bamboo fence I have ever seen – Yotsumegaki (よツ目垣)

Everything in Japan has a kawaii version, I guess.

Kawaii Yotsumegaki bamboo fence in Kyoto (可愛い四ツ目垣)

Kawaii Yotsumegaki bamboo fence in Kyoto (可愛い四ツ目垣)

This is a miniature version of the popular Yotsume-gaki bamboo fence and it is used to mark a water faucet.

I have to add this to our Real Japanese garden e-Book about bamboo fences.

Day 25 – Planting moss and the mountains of Kyoto

After a day of working in heavy rain, a colleague and I climbed up the mountain behind the temple, just above the tea houses Kasa-tei (傘亭) and Shigure-tei (時雨亭). Kasa means umbrella and shigure means drizzle or autumn rain and is written with the kanji for “time” and “rain”. Very poetic, I find. Both tea houses were designed buy Sen-no-Rikyu, Japan’s most famous tea master.

We had a great view from the mountain, which is unfortunately closed for visitors. Some clouds still hang in the valleys of the distant Northern Mountains. My colleague explained that this is how we should plant moss – like soft mountain ranges, with valleys and hills, reaching out and retreating here and there. The mountains are our teachers.

The Kitayama mountains in Kyoto

The Kitayama mountains in Kyoto

Day 26 – Building a itabei

The head gardener and I built the frame for a wooden fence (itabei – 板塀) in a restaurant.

The existing dobei (土塀), the traditional earthen wall has gotten weak and is crumbling, which gives us a great view into the construction of it. A frame is built with wooden posts and a grid of slices of bamboo. Strings made of rice straw (kainawa – 櫂縄) fix the frames to each other. The mud is then thrown into the mesh.

A dobei (土塀), a traditional mud wall in Japan

A dobei (土塀), a traditional mud wall in Japan