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. 

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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 90 – A very long day of gratitude – 感謝

Travelling from one end of the time zone (Japan, GMT +9 hours) via the other end (Hawaii, GMT -10 hours) to arrive in San Francisco (GMT -7 hours) has given me with the longest 1st of July ever: 42 hours! A lot of time to think about the last 89 days.

After spending the morning at the Kamogawa River sleeping and reading with my feet in the cool mountain water, I had the summer special (Tsukemen with Soy Milk Dashi) at Mamezen. Later, the chef Minoru Yonekawa and his wife Mitsue removed the two floor-to-ceiling windows and we enjoyed the garden from inside the tatami room. One of the moments I hope I will never forget.

Mamezen Summer Sukemen Set and Tsuboniwa Garden

 

ガマズミ - Viburnum dilatatum

ガマズミ – Viburnum dilatatum

How blessed I am to be able to have this experience, to be able to live this life, to have the support of family, friends and, most importantly, my husband Steffen who always supports me, pushes me further and challenges me in my adventures. 感謝です。

When the cab picked me up, I couldn’t believe I actually was leaving and that my 90 days in Kyoto were over. I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t happy – that was just the way it was. I had been here, given my everything and taken in as much as I could. There was nothing left to do – for the moment.

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 63 – Japanese tools: Jigote (地鏝 じごて)

買っちゃった。。。庭師にとって欠かすことのできない道具:地鏝。

One of the tools a japanese niwashi (gardener) cannot do without: A jigote (pronounce gee-go-te).

It is a tool used for digging in small spaces, forming landscapes, moving soil, scraping, cutting etc. Until now I have been borrowing one from a senpai who is abroad for the moment, and I found it extremely useful.

I bought my own and I am as proud as can be – handmade and not cheap (5500 yen, about 55 USD). It is also a commitment for my future as a gardener – designing gardens is not enough for me, I want to build them with my own hands.

A jigote, an indispensable japanese gardening tool (地鏝) used for planting moss, uprooting moss, leveling the ground, forming a landscape, digging holes, scraping...

A jigote, an indispensable japanese gardening tool (地鏝) used for planting moss, uprooting moss, leveling the ground, forming a landscape, digging holes, scraping…

 

Day 73 – Making decisions and building gardens

On the way back after a long afternoon and evening of setting stones Senpai K-San shared one of Oyakata’s wise words with me:

庭造りは決断の連続だ。 – Creating gardens is continuous decision making.

勇気が必要だと思いますね。枝を切る勇気。枝を残す勇気。石の設置を決める勇気。I think one needs courage to build gardens – to prune a tree, to set a stone, to skip cleaning a place in favor of another place.

Checking the stone setting from the guest's viewpoint at the low table inside the ramen shop.

Checking the stone setting from the guest’s viewpoint at the low table inside the ramen shop.

 

We are three young gardeners and we realized today how much time and boldness it takes to build a good garden in a reasonable amount of time. But what is most important is that is is a good garden. Speed comes with experience.

Day 73 – Off to the gardens

After 4 free days, its off to the gardens again! Senpai K-san and I are building a tsuboniwa garden the Mamezen Ramen Shop in Kyoto. The picture was taken behind my apartment, it is not the garden…  Although I see room for improvement.

Relaxed and ready to work again!

Relaxed and ready to go!