Engawa and suikinkutsu and my fascination with Japanese architecture

(Re-post of a January 10, 2011 blog in my old site)

The word engawa led me to the blog of Mr. Ken Mori, Pursuing Wabi. It was on a typical work-at-home day when I was working on a client’s paper about Japanese architecture. I looked for posts about it and was glad to discover that it is actually that part of a typical Japanese house, the part that I liked most (I used ‘that’ here because I have always liked it but did not even know how is it really called. Forgive my ignorance!). It is also similar to what we call papag or balkonahein the typical Filipino huts or cottages particularly those in the provinces.

An engawa in a typical Japanese house. (Photo credit: Travel-around-japan.com)

Anyway, as Mr. Mori described it, “an engawa is a narrow space that serves as a transition space between the indoors and outdoors.” The photo on the right is a typical engawa. (With special thanks to the Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System.)

The JAANUS site also shared the following notes about engawa: “Also written 掾側. The area beside or surrounding the straw matted tatami 畳, floor of a room or veranda in Japanese dwellings. Formerly, en 縁 and engawa were interchangeable terms, but engawa now usually refers to a veranda that is either partly inside the building with sliding doors protecting it from rain, or a completely exposed veranda.”

I feel blessed that Mr. Mori was so kind to allow me to repost the photos of his house (Thank you so much, Mr. Ken!). His blog is quite an interesting read because it shares his and his wife’s journey as they built their house in California (Japanese-inspired, of course). I suppose that Mr. Mori is from Japan with Japanese lineage and it is always nice to hear stories about one embracing his roots in every facet of his life, including the design of his dream house! JR and I also have dreams of building our own home and we will definitely incorporate the principles of Japanese architecture and eco-design. Engawa and suikinkutsu (this is described below) will definitely be two of the best features of this future house!

A suikinkutsu in Kyoto, Japan. (Photo credit: Kyoto.asanoxn.com)

Suikinkutsu is a beautiful proof of God’s magic and man’s ingenuity. Literally translated, “water harp chamber,” it is an underground water-based musical instrument that is typically constructed in Japanese-inspired gardens and even places of worship. It was not originally intended for gardens  but more for religious occasions and rituals (e.g., washing of hands before a Japanese tea ceremony) but because of the beautiful and unique sounds that it creates, many home owners and builders have been inspired to incorporate it in their landscaping. So you can better understand it, here is a photo of a typical suikinkutsu (photo courtesy of Oddstruments.com).

The suikinkutsu’s magical sound is created by the play up of the water and the structure itself.  Here is a diagram of the system so that you can further appreciate its structure and beauty (deepest thanks to jgarden.org for this photo):

Suikinkutsu’s structure itself is amazing! (Photo credits: Jgarden.com)

If you want to have an idea on how beautiful the sound is, here is a brief sample from the Suikinkutsu in Enkohji-Temple, Rakuhoku Kyoto, Japan, shared in YouTube by “hide564″. Isn’t it beautiful and relaxing?

I will now stop rambling and let you enjoy the photos of Mr. Mori’s beautiful house. I will post the photos in my best attempt at chronological order (i.e., from the early to the last phases of the construction) but I hope Mr. Mori will forgive me if some photos will not appear in their proper order. Take note of the beautiful pond by the engawa and the “burned” wood facade of the fence surrounding the structure. I also liked it because of the ‘movable’ walls, which allow them open-air ambience when the weather is good. For the nice stories behind the photos, I invite you all to drop by Mr. Mori’s blogsite. (Update: He also recently uploaded a video clip of his house! You can view it a http://blip.tv/dwell/the-wabi-house-5435862t)

Enjoy the photos then! Happy 2011! May this year bring many inspiration-filled moments, opportunities for growth, amazing travels, new friends, love and hugs, and material and spiritual abundance!

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

I guess this is the most important part of the house: the best views of the night skies! (Photo credits: Ken Mori)

Thank you once again, Mr. Mori! For more info and insights on Japanese and eco-design architecture and farming systems, here is another interesting site called, Earth Embassy: Sustainable Living Solutions. I want to write another blog related to one of their services, the building of energy-independent homes, which involves the setting up of wind and solar power systems! I have always been a proponent of renewable energies and hubby and I intend to build an eco-home and farm someday.

Anyway, another interesting and beautiful house that is inspired by Japanese architecture is found at ColourlessDesign.com (view the Shimogamo House and become fascinated as well!)


This is not a paid blog.

Tree Planting 101

Planting trees carefully will help ensure that your tree will live up to old age. (Photo c/o Treehuggers.com)

As promised, I will be writing more posts to help you in your participation in the The meiLBOX 5+1 Project.

An important question that may come into one’s mind when planning to plant a tree is, “How do I ensure that my tree will survive?” In fact, this question is sometimes taken for granted. I have heard of well-organized tree planting activities that eventually ended up being wasted because most of the trees did not survive. It is certainly easy to plant a tree but to do so without serious preparations increases the possibility of your tree not making it on his 1st birthday. :)

Therefore, I am sharing here some useful tips and guidance in ensuring that your tree will survive in the long haul. However, before we discuss the tips, let us first mention the importance of trees and why must we all do our share in ensuring that more trees are going to be planted in the Philippines and elsewhere.

We all know that trees support life itself, our core survival–we need the oxygen that is released by trees and other plants. Picture this: two fully-grown trees can provide enough oxygen for the needs of three to four persons. Therefore, if your household has 8 members, it is a good idea to plant at least 4 trees in your backyard! Of course, we have other activities beyond breathing so you can well imagine that we “owe” the earth more trees per year. (The Save the Amazon Rainforest has estimated that a person needs to plant 30 trees in a year so he can compensate for the carbon dioxide that he emits. Others may not agree with this figure but the principle still remains: we ought to give back if we continue to extract.)

Related to this is the issue on climate change. We all know that  trees are important in reducing global warming. Trees help remove carbon dioxide from the air by capturing and storing them and then releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. This natural process is considered as a form of “carbon sequestration.” (To know more about carbon sequestration, you may visit this link.) Experts agree that one acre of trees removes about 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide per year. That is a significant amount of carbon dioxide, right?

The next important role of trees is in preventing soil erosion and flooding. Because trees have elaborate root systems, they are able to help in holding the soil, soil particles, and water in place. The more trees we cut, the more of those root systems are eradicated from the ecosystem, the more chances are for soil erosion and eventually, flooding. Remember Typhoon Ondoy? It is likely that the floods will still happen but if there were more trees in and around the affected areas, the impact would have been lesser in gravity and scope.

Finally, trees provide us with water, food, shelter, medicine,and other materials. Look around you as you read this post and you will see that almost everything around you is sourced from or had been created with the help of plants and trees. Hugging a tree may really be a good idea after all! :)

Now that we have the basic information about trees, let me then give you some tips in ensuring that your trees will grow beautifully into old age. (I will not be writing here about appropriate types of trees for particular settings/locations because I will also devote a separate post for this equally important topic.)

1. Ensure that the hole for the tree is not too deep nor too narrow. Digging too deep will make it difficult for the roots to have sufficient oxygen; digging too narrow will limit the ability of the root system to benefit from the nutrients of the soil. A narrowly-planted tree will also have limited “anchor” in the soil, making it easy to break down or fall.

2. Ideally, the diameter of the hold should be 3 times the diameter of the “root ball” or container or the spread of the roots of your tree. This will provide enough space for the roots to establish itself. In the same principle, ensure also that the tree will not be too near another tree/s. The future foliage of your tree will also grow well if your tree is adequately “spaced” from the other tree/s.

3. Ensure that water will drain well in the hole. You don’t want your tree’s roots to drown in too much water so ensure that the water can easily drain. You can prevent this by raising the center of the bottom (of the hole) a little bit higher than the surrounding area so that your tree will “stand” higher in the middle of the hole. Do not “smoothen” the surface of the soil around the bottom and the sides of the hole because such will make it difficult for the water to drain well. Aerate the soil enough so that the water will easily pass through.

4. In the same principle cited in No. 3 above, do not compress the soil too much or the water will not reach the roots well.

5. If you are planting a tree which was originally grown inside a container (e.g., plastic bag), it is better to spread the roots well prior to planting (after removing the tree from the container/plastic) so that the roots are not compacted with the soil particles. You can free the roots by loosening up the soil through the use of your fingers or a blunt object (but do so with care so you will not hurt the roots). This procedure is important because if the roots are compacted, they may not grow well enough and the tree may eventually die. Remember to prune dead or damaged roots.

6. Return the backfill soil (combinations of peat moss, composted manure, topsoil, etc.) in the hole surrounding the tree using your hands and compress the soil adequately, avoiding too much pressure though so that the roots and soil can still breathe.

7. Water the tree at the time of planting. The tree can be watered once a week or more if in the middle of summer. It is important not to overwater your tree or it can also die. If you cannot visit your tree more often, ensure that other people/organizations will care for it. (However, it is nicer to find the time to visit your tree every now and then!)

8. Mulch (a combination of materials such as bark, wood chips, and other organic materials) of about 3 or 4 inches deep around your tree can also help in keeping the moisture of the soil. It may also be a good idea to add fertilizers in the soil but it is better to consult a plant/tree specialist first so he can advice you on the best approach.

9. Decide if your young tree can stand on its own; if not, build stakes around it for support. Just ensure that the stakes will not be too tight or too loose (e.g., the tree should still be able to sway with the winds. It may be unavoidable that the tree will touch the edges of the stakes if winds will blow so you can lessen the damage to the tree’s skin by wrapping the contact points with soft and “airy” cloth). The stakes should also be removed at a time that the tree can already stand on its own.

10. Avoid pruning your tree at such young age. If pruning is needed particularly for damaged/broken branches, do so with extreme care so that the other healthy branches will not be affected. Do not also prune the top of the tree as this will affect the growth and structure of the tree.

For more information and tips on tree-planting, you can also visit this link. You can also contact the Manila Seedling Bank for availability and pricing of tree seedlings. If you have other helpful tips, please also feel free to share them with our readers by emailing me through meilbox5plus1.project@asyanna.net. Watch out for my next post about appropriate types of trees for particular settings/locations.

Happy tree-planting!


This is not a paid blog.

JR meets JR (A Tribute to a Hero’s 150th)

Remembering Jose Rizal (Photo taken through HTC Tattoo).

Jose Rizal and I share the same birth date, June 19. I thank my Mom and the heavens for choosing this date for my day of birth. One trivial reason is that it makes it hard for my loved ones to forget my birthday! :)

Seriously, I consider it a beautiful coincidence that the sun was in the same position in the sky on the day that Rizal and I were born. After all, there are 365 days in a year and sharing the same natal day with your National Hero is, in itself, a wonderful and sweet twist of events. I remember that, as a child, my curiosity about Rizal made me think of him as a kin of spirit. Someone whose ideals remind me of my roots and the meaning of being a Filipino. Someone who constantly nags me to read more, to write more, to create more, to learn more of the world, and share my gifts with others.

My JR meets my other JR: Two men who constantly push me into a life well lived. (Photo taken through HTC Tattoo)

Perhaps, our common “personal events” do not end in sharing a birth date because my friend, Rory, smilingly reminded me a few weeks ago that Jose Rizal’s initials, JR, is also the nickname of my husband. :) It is indeed another interesting ‘twist’. The JR in the imagination of my youthful days, the hero of my youth, has indeed happened in the flesh later in life, and this time, I am conversing to a real live JR–a hero in his own way–a person who also joyfully nags me towards an existence of constant learning and creation.

And so, we retrace the footsteps of Lolo Jose, as he celebrates his 150th year. It was the day that my JR meets my other JR. They met face-to-face, measuring each other, as if comparing how well they know this (common) woman in their lives. Who is loved more? Who has seen more of her light and dark sides, the shadows beneath the sunshine of her smiles? They both end up scratching their heads, not wanting to admit that the other may be the greater one in her eyes.

It does not matter though. For today, they are sharing this woman. Her laughters that tease. Her questions that do not wait for answers. Her unique way of looking beyond what is visible. Her fondness for arts and living and food and music. They nudged each other, reminding each one that this woman is both an unfathomable puzzle and a familiar place. There is comfort in her warmth in the same way that there is mystery in her touch.

They counted each moment through the sun’s rays on the window sill. (Photo taken through HTC Tattoo)

We got our Lakbay Jose Rixal @150 passports stamped for the first time. My other JR (my childhood hero) smiled at me from the blue skies. He winked at me and said, “Not bad at all (gesturing at my JR)! You have done well. And wait, we share the same initials!” I had to wink, too. After all, these two different men, by a sudden twist of fate, share this connection now and may really have to learn to like each other.

The letters engraved on them–like the evening stars strewn around a velvety soft sky–danced wildly… (Photo taken through HTC Tattoo)

They are smiling now, even grinning, perhaps thinking, counting each moment through the flickering of the sun’s rays on the wooden window sill. Their smiles lingered in my mind. Our footsteps on the brown-skinned floor followed me relentlessly, even throughout my dreams that night. The letters engraved on them–like the evening stars strewn around a velvety soft sky–danced wildly, sometimes embracing me, other times eluding me, as if wanting me to run after them.

Listen to the walls. (Photo taken through HTC Tattoo)

And the walls talked and listened at the same time. The door suddenly opened and they appeared, looking for me, wondering where have I been. They began to laugh, immediately figuring out the answer. My childhood hero looked at me and touched the walls. He made me promise to always listen to the silence. To listen to the walls because they carry messages from yesteryears. I began to move closer to the walls but he stopped me. He said, “Not now.”

The Triumph of Science over Death, a Rizal clay scuplture, displayed in Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila. (Photo taken through HTC Tattoo)

We walked to the next room and proudly showed me this stone sculpture of a naked woman. He asked, “What do you see?” I replied, “Not now.” And we both laughed, two souls many many years apart, but laughing, anyway, at this moment in time.

We reached his Contemplation Room. Suddenly, he was no longer laughing. I felt his pains. I saw tears streaming down his face but I dare not say anything. I patiently waited, torn apart between wanting to comfort him and leaving him to his own sorrows. When it was all quiet again, I simply thanked him for what he has done. He gestured towards the door, gave me one last glance, and disappeared into the shadows.

Honoring Jose Rizal’s final moments. Telling us to think of our own heroes. (Photo taken through HTC Tattoo)

I celebrate his wisdom. I celebrate his arts. I celebrate his courage. I celebrate his dreams for the Filipino people.

I then whispered, “Happy 150th birthday…I know you have a sense of humor so please forgive me for this late greetings.”

I took tentative steps, away from the room, and saw JR waiting for me at the end of the hallway. He held my hands and together, we walked to the sunshine outside, believing in heroes and the messages that they leave behind.


Note: The Lakbay Jose Rizal @150 is an ongoing campaign of the Department of Tourism and other agencies to celebrate the life of our national hero through visits to the places that figured prominently in his life. The campaign covers 26 Rizal shrines scattered all over the Philippines. The first 100 pilgrims who have visited all the sites (with proofs of visits through the stamps on their Rizal passport) will be given tokens and Kalakbay ni Gat Jose Rizal certificates. The campaign runs for a year, from June 19, 2011 to June 19, 2012. However, pilgrims can continue the visits (and have their passports stamped) even after this period although there will no longer be tokens/certificates at stake. For more information about Lakbay Jose Rizal@150, please visit this link.

Get your Jose Rizal Passport at the Department of Tourism.

Proud of our first Rizal stamps!


This is not a paid blog.