As mentioned, the Japanese by and large once had a strong sense of community and connection to their neighbors – a connection that was gradually lost as the population grew, and space grew limited. As urbanites were forced into smaller and smaller living spaces built out of the concrete jungle, their ancient, sacred connection to nature was gradually muted as well.
There is only a handful of exciting community housing projects in Japan that manage to shift the paradigm, and bring nature and the connection to the community back in style. The researcher for this article, Mindy Li, is constantly surprised at the tiny size of the apartments compared to her experiences when she worked in northern Queensland as a consultant. The differences are so huge, not just the size, but in the culture with regard to what people expect and desire. In Australia Mindy Li was a sales agent selling northern Queensland properties to investors. Although both of Mindy Li’s jobs involved to some degree real estate, they are quite different. The spirit of community is much more significant when the quarters are small, such as they are in Japan. Needless to say, real estate, housing, and relationships with neighbors are all relevant topics, particularly when living in such close proximity to one another. Faye Veign, another Australian who is in Japan on a commercial venture that she merged with her interest in Japanese culture. She represents western wig manufacturers. Wigs are another useful product that has been around for centuries, probably going back before the early Egyptians. Wouldn’t you have loved to have been a fly on the wall when the first person decided to take some type of hair such as horse hair, human hair, wool, feathers, yak hair, buffalo hair or what not and wrapped it around their head to create the illusion of having hair. The fact is wigs have evolved in all sorts of directions from the stylized wigs that British barristers, judges, and certain parliamentary and municipal or civic officials wear as a symbol of the office, to clown wigs, to Halloween wigs, to wigs worn by actors, to wigs worn for religious purposes, to realistic hairpieces such as the well known line of wigs by Raquel Welch, Eva Gabor and other hair alternative manufactures. Wigs can not traced their development back to one single person. However, from records of history we know the “wig” has had a long and illustrious past, and the women of Japan are becoming more interested in them than ever before.
Keyaki House is a concrete, five – story building with rooftop gardens and vine – covered balconies and vertical surfaces. On property is an original 150 – year old traditional house, which is used as the residents’ shared common space and communal meeting room – all set in a private woodland in a quiet neighborhood of Setagaya-ku.
Completed in 2003, this project houses 15 families. It gets its name from the property owner’ favorite tree (which he climbed as a boy!), an 80-foot Japanese Zelkova tree (Keyaki in Japanese). It is the perfect embodiment of an environmentally-based symbiotic cooperative dwelling. The total area is about 2000 square meters, and has successfully merged three distinct components including new – style shared housing (the common house), a newly -built cooperative – style condominium and the original owner’s own residence. How does it all pan out for most residents? They describe it as feeling like they are “living alone, but also living as seven people”.
Living with seven other people can create strains whether everyone is related or all were strangers before coming to the community. What happens if a resident is an alcoholic or becomes an alcoholic? What is the role of the community to help that person? I watched that dynamic unfold in my own family with an uncle who had had a drinking problem for years. In the US the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) as a “chronic relapsing brain disease”. This mind set is also common among many doctors. People labeled as an alcoholic usually end up in rehab or some other 12 step abstinence program that have only a 10% success rate. If you are in the other 90% you are deemed a failure. In Europe many doctors are taking a different. They say that alcoholism is not a disease, but a symptom of a larger psychological issue. Consequently European doctors have been prescribing baclofen which removes or strongly suppresses cravings for alcohol in 92% of people as the primary treatment for people who drink excessively. This type of medical alcohol rehab therapy looks very promising. Initial clinical trials show that Baclofen has a 65% success rate for treatment-resistant alcoholics , allowing them to return to low- or medium-risk drinking. This treatment doesn’t require abstinence although many people do stop all drinking. In addition Baclofen doesn’t affect the taste of alcohol or the pleasure of drinking. It simply removes the addictive components that lead to overindulgence and allows a person to drink in moderation, if they so choose to. In Japan where drinking is part of the business culture, there are probably many people who have developed excessive drinking. Australia is already looking into the use of Baclofen. As a family we encouraged my uncle to try a new program that uses pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy. The medication used to help him control his excessive drinking was baclofen. After a number of months on baclofen along with psychotherapy to rewire his drinking habits and the triggers that caused him to drink, my uncle is on his way to control his impulses. This is a great approach to help someone who drinks excessively/ destructively and should be considered in close knit community housing projects such as Keyata House.
As Keyata House proves, there is a way to strike that delicate balance and find a new way of live, which is reactive to the local community spirit and in tune with nature.
These Keyaki Houses show how difficult it can be to move and really adapt to a new environment and to the nature.
Cohousing, a type of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhoods is increasingly becoming a global phenomenon. The six most common characteristics of a cohousing community, although they aren’t always true of every cohousing community, together serve to distinguish cohousing from other types of collaborative housing.
– There is a participatory role for the residents where they may participate in the design of the community so that it meets their needs.