Nurturing Children in an Old Japanese House, Co-minka etokoro

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Where is the first playground that remains in your memory? Is it a cozy living room or a nearby park? Maybe it’s where you wanted to play with friends, have a lunch and rest.

Recently it is called the “third place” when people have a separate space from home or the workplace. It is like an anchor of community life. Sometimes cafes play the role in the bigger city, but in suburban areas there might be rather few of such places.

A group of local volunteers opened a public space “Co-minka etokoro” in March 2011. They renovated a vacant, 100-years-old houses in Notogawa, Shiga, in the middle of Japan.

The name “etokoro” in Japanese signifies both “painting / art (e) and (to) children (ko)” and “a good (e-) place (tokoro).”
 
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“co-minka” originaly means an old private house, but they made a pun on word. The name Co represents both old and children.


The volunteers became NPO etokoro in autumn of 2011, and they opened and ran the space especially for children, mothers and fathers.

For example, they arrange open sessions “etokoro hiroba” which offer rich experiences to cultivate children’s sentiment. Children and parents participate in various activities, planting fruit and vegetables, making seasonal decoration, baking bread or having a tea break.

Other programs such as a children’s art festival, and a child-rearing study meeting with guests are held occasionally.
 
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drawing together

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child-raring study meeting

The space is for local residents, also.

Sometimes a special restaurant “Ark’s kitchen” collaborates so that everyone can enjoy seasonal Japanese menu featuring fresh, local produce.

“Nomukai” where everyone drinks and talks frankly about their dream of Notogawa, takes place every month at the day of repeated digits (ex. the third of March).

Last year NPO etokoro offered a trial opportunity to start up new projects to those who wanted to utilize etokoro with their ideas. For example, a yoga class, bar, puppet making and men’s cooking club have appeared.

We can also rent etokoro for projects of our own planning, including cafes, exhibitions, concerts, screenings, classes and playgrounds.

The name “Nomukai” consists of three Chinise characters, each of which means Notogawa, dream and meeting.

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The name “Nomukai” consists of three Chinise characters, each of which means Notogawa, dream and meeting.

Get acquainted with someone new

Tomomi Takada, the director of the NPO, was interested in environmental conservation and sustainable social systems during her university days.

She became concerned with the Omi area, including Notogawa, after she got a job with a local construction company “Akimura” group and joined in a community building project “Kobunaki eco-village” with “Chikyu-no-me” company.

Now she works for a university, letting her students collaborate with the local as a coordinator. As for “etokoro” she takes part in personally. She says,

It was just good timing to change my job and make a new move, so I decided to move to Notogawa. That way I could work not only for activating this area but simply for my hope of living here pleasantly.

In etokoro I want users to share their concerns with others, in order to solve them together. So I help to build strong relationships between users.

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Tomomi Takada with a visitor’s baby

Although there are many unique programs, Takada has actually been in an attempt to manage etokoro as a place every neighbor gets involved freely.

She says,

It is more important for us to create opportunities to interact with people of various generations, and build up etokoro together.

This is what Takada considers essential to etokoro’s future.

As a part of such small steps, they now print newsletters with papers from a local stationery shop that a grandmother in the the neighborhood manages.
 
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handmade newsletter “e-tokoro” prented by an old fashioned rotary press

Whatever the idea may be, we can inspire the community by our own motivation.

It could be a hope to help in raising children’s creativity, to have a delicious lunch comfortably, or to pass on a traditional house to the next generation.

We do need a place like etokoro, to catch these desires clearly, talk about them openly and put ideas into action.

If you have a good chance, you can start to feel more familiar with your community. You will surely find new places to join, or a vacant house to renovate, at no distant date!

[via greenz.jp written by Yoshihito Higashi]
[English Text by Satoko Nagao]

[Editor: Mike Cutno, Kana Tateyama, and Kota Suzuki]


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