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Sunday, Feb. 23, 2003


Trades at your fingertips

Special to The Japan Times

The Japanese term for "do it yourself" is nichiyo daiku, which literally means "Sunday carpentry," though the usage of the term suggests an activity more related to recreation and leisure than making improvements or doing repairs.

News photo
Your reporter gets to grips with his subject at DIY Daisuki.

Despite the Japanese affinity for newfangled gadgetry, the practice of tinkering around the house does not appear to be deeply ingrained. Indeed, the term nichiyo daiku itself only goes back 42 years, according to staff at the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Words. They dated it to "Nichiyo Daiku," the title of a series of seminars on DIY sponsored by the Yomiuri Shimbun in 1961.

Of course, do-it-yourselfers were around before then, even without a newfangled term to describe their activity. Today, according to Free Time Design Association's 2002 "White Paper on Leisure," around 14.5 million people engage in this pastime, or 13 percent of the total population.

The fact that the number doing DIY is relatively low -- compared with the nation's 40 million home gardeners, for example -- is largely due to the fact that woodworking and similar activities tend to be the preserve of middle-aged males. According to the 2002 White Paper, DIY is most popular among men in their 50s and 60s (33.6 and 27.2 percent of the total, respectively), and considerably less so among younger age segments.

Interestingly, regional customs also appear to be a factor; people in eastern Japan, for some reason, take to woodworking more than those in western regions. For instance, Tokyo, at 14.3 percent participation, exceeds the national average of 12.4 percent -- possibly due to the cost of engaging handymen. However the prefecture with the most throbbing thumbs is probably Niigata, center of the small-tool industry, with 18.9 percent. This is followed by North Kanto (Gunma, Tochigi and Ibaraki prefectures), with 17 percent, then Gifu with 16.2 percent and Mie/Nara/Wakayama with 15.5 percent. By contrast, Oita, Miyazaki and Kagoshima in Kyushu posted a mere 4.2 percent of do-it-yourselfers, the survey found.

Those figures may seem low, but the current annual DIY market for tools, materials, memberships and instruction may -- depending on who you ask, and just what is included -- range from 470 billion yen to 3.8 trillion yen this year, and Japan certainly does not lack for retail outlets. In fact, from a mere 28 "home centers" in 1973, according to the DIY Industry Association, these mushroomed to 1,220 in 1983, 2,750 in 1993 and 3,780 by 2001. Within these figures, neighborhood hardware stores are supplemented by mega-centers and department stores such as Tokyu Hands -- though mail-order Internet outlets are not included.

Since 1997, DOIT Co. has published a bimonthly magazine for DIY enthusiasts called Do-Ai, which has nationwide sales of 50,000 copies. Its current (February) issue features articles on fixing up your garage, restyling verandas and balconies, hobby work with iron, and designs for a garden bench.

Among Tokyo's best-known DIY outlets is the Toho Nichiyo Daiku Center, Toho Film studio complex in Seijo 1-chome, Setagaya Ward. Established in 1975, this boasts a 2,640 sq.-meter sales area and parking for 400 cars. Toho also operates another, even bigger 3,410-sq.-meter outlet in nearby Chofu City.

"These days we're seeing more women coming in, asking questions, and trying to do stuff on their own," says Toho Center store manager Joji Ishizuka, who adds that 80 percent of his sales staff have certification as DIY advisers and can explain to customers how to use tools and materials sold at the store -- if Toho's free explanatory brochures still leave them unsure.

Clearly, customer guidance is a key Toho strategy. "On the fourth Wednesday of each month, we invite customers to a presentation on some aspect of DIY given by manufacturers and distributors," says Ishizuka, who notes that on Wednesday (Feb. 26) there will be a lecture on power tools, with talks on home crime-prevention, painting and wallpaper hanging to follow in subsequent months.

Another who believes that knowledge is the key to fostering DIY is Takeo Horiguchi, who gave up his job with a homebuilding contractor two years ago to open DIY Daisuki (We Love DIY), a carpentry school and workshop in Setagaya Ward's 1-chome district.

Occupying about 60 sq. meters, the workshop is comprehensively equipped with benches and professional power tools, lockers for storing coats and personal effects, a paint shed, rest area and small office. The workshop operates on the principle that few people have either the space or the budget to buy tools like its U.S.-made Delta band saw, which costs 160,000 yen.

For a 10,000 yen sign-up fee (which includes a two-hour course on the use of the tools) hobbyists can come in and rent the tools in two-hour increments to produce home furnishings and other items -- as this writer did last week. For an additional outlay of 8,870 yen, which included a length of pre-cut New Zealand pine, bonding adhesive and screws, wood stain, and about four hours of his time, he took home a small bookshelf and desk organizer that now sits proudly beside the computer where he is completing this story. For a first attempt, it's not bad at all.

"I really love working with wood and want to help other people enjoy it, too," says Horiguchi who, as this writer can attest, is not only a skilled craftsman but a natural-born teacher. Each day at his workshop, he imparts his enthusiasm to people of all ages. While he recently helped a group of second-grade school students to make bird houses, he says his most enthusiastic students tend to be older men.

"In a few more years, the dankai no sedai [members of the postwar baby-boom generation born 1947-49] will be retiring. They've worked all their lives, and don't really know what to do with their leisure time," Horiguchi says with obvious relish.

If he has anything to do with it, the growing ranks of Japan's do-it-yourselfers will soon be swelling considerably, as a new influx of former corporate warriors begin beating their swords into handsaws.

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