— Katrin Klingenberg, PHIUS Executive Director
The founding board member of the Passive House Institute Japan Dr. Hideki Shibaike and one of his fellow board colleagues picked us up from the Narita airport in Tokyo, Japan on Monday the 21st and we began driving away from the city towards the ocean. Soon thereafter we were driving along one of the beaches where the tsunami had hit a few years ago.
We found ourselves in the town of Chiba on a passive house construction site, a project submitted for PHIUS+ 2015 certification, just an hour after we landed in Japan. And from the rooftop of the building we could see the ocean, rice fields and community solar…magical in its own way.
Climate zone 3 we are told, warm and humid, with a brief heating season. One of those tricky climates that have it all: the need for cooling, for heating and for dehumidification. The project is almost finished, we can still see areas that have not been fully stuccoed, and the underskin is still visible in places. There are frequent earthquakes that make additional metal ties necessary. We see them as we go inside and experience the space. All in all a very impressive site, wood framed, high density, blown in fiberglass insulated between the wooden members and a continuous layer of 4” polyiso on the exterior. “The perfect wall” I am thinking and smile, as I happen to know that our friend Joe Lstiburek is at the same time as us somewhere in or around Tokyo. Blower door test passed, ventilation system installed, a hydronic heating, cooling and dehum system. Really, really cool project, and beautiful too. Back to Tokyo to check into our hotel, and out with our new friend for a local meal.
The next day we get an early start and begin the day in Yokohama at the fully PHIUS+ certified R-House, which won one of the design competitions at last year’s conference in Philly. After that stop we are off to the countryside for some sightseeing, a monastery and a garden full of 500 stone monks, a very old city, and unagi for lunch on our way to a building science passive house test structure. Typical home size for Japan, well insulated and shaded, a 5 kW PV system on the roof (source zero) with different wall assemblies and varying materials layers. It is heavily decked out with sensors collecting data on possible moisture accumulation in the assemblies, measuring impacts of phase change components on thermal comfort. The kitchen is open to the living room/bedroom and I am having another Dr. Joe moment: there it is, made in Japan, the direct vent hood to the outside that has dampers built in make up air delivered to the back and underside of the hood when the unit is exhausting during cooking. The theory goes that the exhaust air amount is slightly higher and creates a very small negative pressure under the hood which then draws in and exhausts right away the cold make up air in the winter (and hot and humid make up air in the summer). Brilliant! Building science geeks at work in Japan.
The next day is the kick-off meeting and seminar date. This is the main event we are here for: we start the day at the offices of PHIJP to sign the cooperation agreement. PHIUS and PHIJP intend to work together on translating passive building standards, certification protocols and training, to transfer as appropriate for Japanese culture, climate zones, construction practices and national and local building codes.
Then we head over to the hotel venue where 100+ professionals attend the conference and Dr. Shibaike’s and our keynote presentations on the importance of climate specific passive building targets and climate appropriate design of enclosures and mechanical systems in Japanese climates. In the evening invited guests join the PHIJP board of directors and us on a traditional Japanese boat for a fabulous dinner celebration and boat cruise through Tokyo to pass underneath Rainbow Bridge and by Skytree tower. A stunning evening, also including singing and good amounts of Japanese water (sake). It is totally true, Japanese people work very hard and know how to have fun at night. We ended up at the Whiskey bar back in the city after a great evening to cap it all off. As Bill Murray would say in the movie Lost in Translation, “For relaxing times make it Suntory time (Japanese Whiskey)”.
The next morning we tour the city on a bus. It is the hottest and most humid day so far. Tokyo is buzzing, we see a temple, climb Skytree tower. No sight of Mount Fuji. Later that afternoon we reconvene for more business talks with PHIJP board members at the hotel. Everyone is excited to move forward.
For the final night, Mr. Haishima, another board member of PHIJP, Dr. Shibaike and Mana Kono take us out to a very special restaurant, just 7 seats at the bar with the full attention of the chef behind the counter for just us. We learn that he has traveled the world, has been a Michelin star chef previously, cooked for President Obama when he visited Tokyo, and is now chasing his next star with this restaurant. His menu and preparation right in front of us is pure art, a symphony of motion, images and tastes, ups and downs, crescendos, colors and flavors, tempura fireworks and the best tuna sushi I have ever had. Fresh draft beer, sake and Chablis flow right along. Mike comments when saying good-bye to the chef that night and to Mr. Haishima the next day at the airport: “One of the best meals I will ever have.”
We came home feeling a distinct sense of professional accomplishment as well as amazement about how quickly we became so deeply impacted by the Japanese culture, how we came away with magical memories, generous gifts, gorgeous Kimonos for Mike and myself and YouTube instructions on how to wear them, with cold sake and hot sake and a vessel from which to drink… – Kat