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Yotsume-gaki Fence-Making Article

Contact: JapaneseGardener@aol.com
Last Updated: 9/27/2003

Editor's note: From January to May, Mike Yamakami offered an introductory class on Japanese garden design, construction techniques and materials at his home in Atlanta, Georgia. The class has been offered free of charge to students that have some basic horticultural skills - Mr. Yamakami's way of giving back to the community. Two students of a recent class, Christian and Cady, have agreed to document what they learned through the following text and photographs. This is certainly not the only class of its kind and we hope to be able to provide more overviews such as this in the future. As Christian points out, many of these skills and knowledge are not available in books and can really only be learned by working directly with an experienced master.

Photos by Cady Goldfield. Text by Christian.

The greatest portion of the class was dedicated to learning the proper layout and construction of the Yotsume-gaki (bamboo fence). Yama-san made a life-sized template from sections of bamboo and post to illustrate the traditional proportions and arrangement of the fence. Since there are many variations of the basic yotsume-gaki we constructed, a person may be tempted to get innovative in their design. Yama-san recommended following a diagram of a traditional fence simply because these designs have been tried and tested over many hundreds of years, and the proportions have, in a sense, been perfected.

Usually the Japanese fence illustrations are measured in either metric or the old Japanese system of measurement called Shakkan-ho. For a close approximation to this old form of measurement, find an engineering ruler/tape which divides 1 foot into 10 parts rather than 12. This is not an exact conversion, but it is very close and will suffice for the needs of the gardener.

The following is an approximate conversion table for the Shakkan-ho system:

1 bu = 3 millimeters = ~1/8 inch
1 sun = 3 centimeters = ~1 3/16 inch
1 shaku = 30.3 centimeters = ~1 foot
1 ken = 1.818 meters = ~6 feet

10 bu = 1 sun
10 sun = 1 shaku
6 shaku = 1 ken (standard tatami size)
60 ken = 1 cho

[If you want more information on Japanese measurements, check out http://www.jp.from-hanna.com/japan_profile/measurements/. rc.]

We built a standard section of yotsume gaki measuring approximately 2 ken long (about 12 ft). Round pressure treated posts were charred with a propane torch and then scrubbed to remove the soot leaving an attractive and functional surface serving as a pest deterrent. The posts were sunk about 2 shaku deep and packed with soil, double-checking for plumbness as we went. The oya bashira (parent posts) were then cut level to the specified height, while the ma bashira (midpost) was cut shorter, matching the height of the tateko (vertical bamboo). The dobushi (horizontal bamboo) were then mitered to fit against the posts and secured with screws. Alternatively the dobushi may be countersunk into the post. Next the tateko were evenly spaced along the length of the dobushi alternating from the front to the back arranging for a tateko to fall directly in front of the ma bashira. The tateko were driven into the ground with a large wooden mallet, level with the ma bashira. The final touch was the tsuno musubi(traditional horn knot) tied with black twine at every intersection of bamboo.

Yama-san also gave us an introductory course on tree climbing with a harness and with spikes. He taught us how to tie a few climbing knots and how to make a cut to control the direction of a falling branch. Trees are generally not pruned in this manner in a Japanese garden, but this method can be used for tree removal.

We practiced knot tying till our<

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