Growing Demand for Timberframe Homes in Japan

Posted by Jim Ivanoff
June 29th, 2009

Last week I had the privilege of visiting two Hamill Creek timberframe projects in Nagano prefecture. Both projects were by the same builder, but they were quite different in nature.

DSC06936 DSC06896 The first was a commercial building. Half of it will be used as a workshop/ gallery for jewelry and accessories made from real flowers. The other half will be a stylish cafe and office for the builder. I couldn't imagine a better showroom than this. The timberframe structure is stunning and it is located on the main road going into a large resort development containing 3,500 units. The flower accessory gallery will undoubtedly become a major tourist attraction as the designer is quite famous. The cafe is also well done so it too will attract a lot of visitors especially the wealthy people who own cabins up the road.

This particular resort development was started in the 1960s so a lot of the cabins there are quite old and in poor shape. From the Japanese perspective most of these are not worth renovating. That is why the builder sees a great opportunity to build new homes in the area even though there are very few vacant lots. His showroom will certainly catch the attention of all those owners of old cabins as they pass by.

DSC06911 The second project was actually inside the resort and was in fact a timberframe home to replace an old cabin. While it was not finished yet, you could already see how its beautiful timbers will make the home stand out from all the neighbouring old style cabins and log homes. This project will serve as a great promotion of how timberframe designs can be incorporated into smaller Japanese homes.

Because timberframe homes are similar in concept to the real traditional homes in Japan (i.e. not the zairai homes built since WWII), they offer a certain level of familiarity while at the same time having the striking impact of a handcraft log home. This is why many log builders now see great opportunities for timberframe construction in Japan (this builder's background is in machine cut log homes from Finland).

The one big obstacle that timberframe faces is that it isn't an accepted construction method in Japan. In order to build a timberframe home the builder has to make it structurally look like either a zairai or a 2×4 home (zairai is the most common). By having to fill-in the walls with studs or sujikai, a lot of unnecessary cost is added and some of the design freedom of timberframe structures is taken away. People familiar with timberframe construction say it would not be technically difficult to get it certified, but the cost is too great for any single company to do on their own. This is possibly a market access issue that BC Wood could work on in the future with the Japan Log House Association.
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