DIY – The Japanese Way

DIY in Japan

Moving from the USA to Japan required a lot of scaling down. Between our house, garage and a business shop, we had 2,500 square feet (418 square meters). The house we bought in Japan roughly 50 square meters.

We sold, donated and threw away a lot of stuff before we moved and put everything we wanted to bring into a 20 foot shipping container. I knew I’d have to build a storage shed, and we have plenty of land to do so. I didn’t anticipate that after building three storage areas, we still needed more space.

Fortunately, the empty lot next door went up for sale and we bought it.

I’m a pretty handy guy. I built my own garage in the US, regularly installed and/or repaired electrical and plumbing, and did all sorts of maintenance. It’s pretty easy to walk into any home improvement store in the US and find just about anything you need for any scale of DIY project. That’s not the case in Japan.

While there are many ‘home center’ stores in Japan and DIY is increasingly popular, the selection is far slimmer than in the US. When you do find what you need, you have to deal with the fact that many products are peculiarly ‘Japanese’.

Yes, learning the metric system seemed to be an advantage, but I wasn’t prepared for the “shaku”! When I went to buy some siding for my first shed, the panels were measured in shaku. What the hell is a shaku?

Kanji character for 'shaku'

I’ve heard of shakuhachi, a Japanese flute. And I heard that it got its name from being 1.8 shaku. Was that a clue?

The labels on the siding panels had the same kanji character. The home center guy told me that one shaku is roughly 30.3 centimeters – almost the same as one foot. Glad to know the US is not the only place that uses outdated measurements, and glad the shaku was the same as a foot.

Having learned a little about how DIY in Japan differs from the US, I knew that my next project was not going to be a one man show. The first professional we called was the tree cutter and his crew. They came out and cut down about 10 trees.

Next was the earth moving crew (actually one amazing guy with a backhoe).

He dug out the stumps and created a flat space.

Then he brought in several loads of rock, filled it up, and created an empty lot on which to put a building.

I looked at the cost of bulding a wooden structure and asked about the process (building codes, permits, inspection, etc).

Regulations in Japan can get pretty mind-numbing sometimes, so I explored all my options and discovered a solution that didn’t require any permits.

Wanna guess what from these photos?

OK. Not enough info there, is there?

I decided to buy two 20 foot shipping containers. By putting one in front of the other and connecting them, I’d have a 16 x 20 building.

Since the containers are not permanent, they don’t need any building permits.

I got a pretty good deal on some used containers, but one was pretty rusty, so I decided to paint the wall that would face the inside. That way I was comfortable that it would rust to pieces where I couldn’t get to it.

After that, we had them delivered to our new lot.

I was excited and got started right away. I got a grinder and cleaned of all the rust. I had some trouble figuring out the best paint to use, but the clerk at the home store told me the right combination of rust stopping primer and top coat.

I painted two coats of primer and two coats of paint.

I was going to paint a third coat, but it rained a lot this past summer, so I waited a while. As I waited, rust started to bubble up from behind all that paint!

I was pretty disappointed and wondered what the hell went wrong.

Turns out rust stopping primer stops rust as long as there’s no rust to begin with. I needed a rust converting primer first. There’s a difference between rust stopping and rust converting primer you see.

Well, after a couple of months of research and asking questions everywhere I could, I finally found the rust converting primer.

I sanded down the rust that bubbled through, painted some converting primer over it, and moved on the the next wall.

Now I’m finally back to where I should have been 4 months ago: two coats of rust stopping primer.

Next – ready to paint the final coats of white paint.

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