Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Monday, February 26, 2007

Different Strains

I'm in pain.
I mean, I'm in serious pain.

Usually my weekend schedule looks something like this:
Saturday - Sleep in till ten, catch up on a few things around the house, go to Ye Olde AcademyTM to work with the music club, do some shopping in town, come home, make a serious effort to do absolutely nothing except perhaps write or practice one or more musical instruments.
Sunday - Sleep till nine, split the weekly housecleaning with the wife and kids, spend the afternoon at a shopping mall somewhere, eat out, come home, do some writing and/or practice one or more musical instruments.

And now for something completely different: a weekend while construction is in progress on my house. I'm referring to the weekend that just ended. I spent all day Saturday and all day Sunday helping with our "little" home improvement project.

Last year we got the foundation laid. (Alright, knock it off!) Now the actual building is taking place. The man in charge is one of my wife's uncles, a carpenter who lives in Hokkaido. He will be staying over at the in-laws' place until either the work is finished or summer arrives, whichever comes first. Another uncle, who lives in Iwate Prefecture, has also come down to help. All last week the two of them plus my father-in-law and a neighbor or two worked on it, but I had no idea what they were doing as I was away at Ye Olde Academy all day every day. I could only look at the results when I came home each evening. The work was definitely progressing, but I had no idea how much or how quickly.

Well, I finally got one full weekend free, so I was able to help out a bit. It was actually kind of a masochistic sort of way. I mainly just hauled things around, leveled a small hill, and dug out part of the garden. Ceramic roof tiles can be heavy, especially after lugging several dozen of them. Small trees are MUCH heavier. As someone whose daily exercise consists of running up and down stairs, I wasn't exactly accustomed to doing hard, physical labor. It wasn't really so bad at the time, but on Sunday morning my legs (ironically) were already complaining after Saturday's workout. Sunday's was much harder, so you can pretty much guess what condition I'm in right now (Monday morning). Half the muscles from the neck down are saying, "Damn you! Damn you to HELL!!!"

I only wish I could do it every day. I definitely need the workout, and I'm enjoying it.

Watching my uncle-in-law in action was interesting. I don't know if the big construction companies use the same techniques he does (probably not judging from their reputation), but he certainly puts some serious craftsmanship into it. American carpenters I watched in my school days generally just nailed everything together, quite often assembling a wall frame on the ground and raising it into position. My uncle-in-law actually cuts pegs and notches into the main 6" x 6" beams so that they fit together like Tinkertoys, attaches them together, and bolts them so that there's just a tiny bit of give...apparently an earthquake-proofing measure.

Most of the wood my uncle-in-law is using is high-quality hardwood that was cut from the woods on the old family homestead up in Iwate. As the siding and roofing on the front of the house have been cleared away, the old beams and frame have revealed themselves to be the same kind of wood, and they still look beautiful. It's definitely better than the cheap lumber the large companies tend to use.

Even with my extra two arms, the project proceeds at a leisurely pace. It's not that the others work slowly; far from it. It mainly has to do with the traditional Japanese work ethic. The Japanese are known to be industrious. However, a study conducted in the '90s by a Japanese university showed that American workers are actually a lot more productive on average within the same time period. It all comes down to the difference in work ethic. In Western culture we would consider an "ideal worker" to be one that produced good results quickly and efficiently. The Japanese, on the other hand, would (and do) consider such a person a jerk. They tend to judge the quality of a worker based on his loyalty rather than his productivity. Even a person who wastes a lot of time and gets very little accomplished can be considered an ideal employee as long as he gives his time and effort to his work group. I saw this tradition in action over the weekend, particularly since my father-in-law seems to take it more seriously than most. We'd work for scarcely an hour before he'd start saying, "Time for tea! Time for tea! Enough work! Time for tea!" Then we'd retire to the rest station set up in the greenhouse and spend at least half an hour drinking tea, eating snacks, and talking. After that we'd work for another hour, and father-in-law would start saying, "Time for lunch! Time for lunch! Enough work! Time for lunch!" We'd spend an hour eating lunch, and then they'd take an hour "meal break" (i.e. a nap) before we'd start again. In other words, they spent almost as much time resting as they did working.

I actually had a problem with that. Once I get into the groove I hate to stop, because then it's hard to find the pace again afterward. I also can't stand sitting around wasting time when there's something left unfinished. I wound up working by myself through the "meal break" yesterday, which meant more got done...and I got less rest than everybody else. (The others reacted by shaking their heads and sharing a knowing grin. My muscles are still giving me their reaction! Small trees are MUCH heavier than they look...)

When all the work is done our house will be about two meters longer. My son will have a bedroom of his own, and both the kitchen and bathroom will be bigger. The living room will be more than twice as big as before, and it will have both a skylight and a big picture window facing the garden (which now, sadly, is a bit smaller than before...because I dug it out...ouch...). We'll have our own utility room and a real front door (with a genkan) for the first time ever. In other words, it'll be a much nicer place to live...but getting there will probably take a bit. Hopefully it'll all go without a hitch...or serious family problems...

By the way, on a totally unrelated note, did you know that in the U.K. the rutabaga is known as a "swede"?


  • Be patient! Your house will be totally new SOON!

    Even with a little bit serious family problems which won’t so seriously, I guess.

    Perhaps carpenters are your uncle-in-laws, that’s why your FIL treats them well (tea-break, lunch break and meal break). ;-)

    I remember my neighbors who recruited three carpenters for helping construct their house which needed 3 months to floor all rooms with oak, walls and doors were new painted with on new color.

    By Anonymous L.C_D, at 5:37 PM  

  • I totally understand what you mean; when I get started on something, I want to go all the way until I finish it.

    If I don't, I get interuppted or stop for some reason, usually it ends up turning into a 3-6 month project. "Veird"

    Sounds like your house will be much more comfortable when it's all done however!

    By Blogger ladybug, at 2:28 AM  

  • EEK! HARD WORK! No no, just kidding. I enjoy building things. Lord knows I have done enough of it myself. I hope you enjoy your new addition. Sounds like it will be well built, not something I could have said about my house when I had it.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 3:42 AM  

  • Yes, Swedes are icky. Well, not the tall blonde ones of course... :P

    I get into a groove with work too. It's a psychological phenomenon. It takes too much time to get BACK into that groove if I break it at the wrong time, and that is when I end up not finishing a project.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 7:32 AM  

  • Yup... time flies very fast... no need to worry, ok :)

    By Blogger Selba, at 11:29 AM  

  • Keep on working, yes. But set yourself a pace that won't kill you. And eat plenty of of rutabaga's.

    At least you have something to show for your aches and pains. I managed to screw up one shoulder and one knee for the whole last week just by falling down.

    Sounds like a nice addition to your home in any case.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 7:19 PM  

  • wow..

    isthis part of community work or community punishment.

    By Blogger Robin, at 6:25 PM  

  • Sounds like a big reward at the end of it. Labor on, my dear man, labor on.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 5:03 PM  

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