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In 1968, a family of farmers built a new home utilizing traditional Japanese building techniques, a style that is now known as kominka (古民家 - literally "old private home" but has become associated with this traditional style). The women of the family practiced the Urasenke school of chado (茶道 - literally "the way of tea", but what is more commonly known as the "Japanese tea ceremony"), so the family added a beautiful tea room (chashitsu 茶室) to the home in 1982.
In 2018, their descendants have moved away to other parts of Japan, leaving the farm and this beautiful, traditionally built kominka Japanese house with its chashitsu and garden empty ... but not forgotten. Before the uninhabited house fell into disrepair, they searched for someone to bring life back to their family home.
We believe it was fate that brought together the owners and Minoru Watanabe, who operates a property management company specializing in revitalizing old homes like this kominka. One day early in 2018, the owner took a day off to travel back to the home in Odawara to clean out old belongings. Watanabe-san had noticed the abandoned house, and had been wondering who the owner was when he drove by on the way to a different meeting. Seeing the owner walk out of the garden, Watanabe-san did a U-turn and went running up the driveway. Watanabe-san listed the property online and began introducing it to entrepreneurs looking for a location to start a soba noodle store, an Italian gelato ice cream shop...but nothing seemed to fit.
Meanwhile, Yunomi's tiny office in central Odawara had become too small for our operations. With barely any space left to walk in our office, we needed a bigger place! I mentioned our dilemma casually to a friend this October, and being a real estate agent herself, she read the tea leaves and connected the dots. What better fit for a tea company is there than a kominka with a tea ceremony room?
Throughout November and early December 2018, Yunomi's fans and supporters helped us to raise the funds need to secure a lease contract, and repairs began on the house and garden, completing stage 1 of this project.
Stage 2 will involve converting the house into an office / warehouse after we move in mid-January, 2019. Stage 3 will involve building out a tea tasting / seminar program based in the tea room, and recreating a retail experience online utilizing virtual tour technology being developed for the real estate market.
An initial visit after the lease contract was signed revealed so many details of Japanese tradition being lost in contemporary life...from the yukimi shoji or "snow-viewing paper doors" where the bottom half lifts up to allow you to see the snowfall in winter, to the Buddhist alter built into the wall.
Then there is the Shinto home shrine -- the family kami (loosely translated, a "spirit") needs to be moved out, and Yunomi's own kami installed by the local Shinto priest (who are we if we are not following local custom!).
Of course with such a beautiful piece of Japanese history and culture in our hands, we can and will certainly encourage tea enthusiasts passing through the city of Odawara to visit for both lectures and a cup of tea. But I think we can do more though with the right technology.
Imagine utilizing 3D imaging technology to create an immersive digital tour of the facility, to inspect products on shelves, to jump from the Kominka to an immersive digital tour of the tea fields. Imagine holding a tea ceremony with a 360 camera in the room so that anyone in the world can experience the art. It is a beginning I believe toward a deeper realization of our People-to-People philosophy, and I hope you will support Yunomi in realizing it.