Charcoal had been an important part of peoples’ lives in Japan for a long time. Used as a component of cooking and heating, among other applications (including charcoal powered buses!), charcoal was made and employed by country folk across Japan and certainly was not the rare sight that it has become.
The Utano household on Nakadori island, in the Goto Archipelago has made and used charcoal as the primary source of cooking fuel and kotatsu heat since relocating to the island nearly 30 years ago. The charcoal kiln that Utano-san built in the early days of life on the island has not been idle. The kiln is loaded and fired every year, several batches in succession, resulting in enough fuel for the next 12 months. Two years ago, however, with the useable life of the kiln at its end, double the normal amount was produced in order to last until the structure could be rebuilt.
Over the years, the original concrete block walls had slowly but surely bowed inward under the pressure of the surrounding earth and perhaps exacerbated by the weakening of the concrete by repeated heating/cooling cycles. Large gaps had developed between the blocks and the earth, and the kiln was no longer able to be sealed very effectively.
The whole thing needed to be rebuilt and this year was the year to do it!
Yo and I have been in Kamigoto (Nakadori island) since the start of Feb. to help tackle this project. By the time we are done, and have fired two loads of wood for our own use, we’ll likely have been here somewhere close to a month.
The process deserves a thorough write-up, but there doesn’t seem to be time for that while the work is ongoing. For now, I’ll just include a gallery of some of the photos taken of the dismantling/rebuilding. Enjoy!