One day there was a Dutchman, a German, a Dane, a Swede and a South African sharing a few beers…

As much as this might sound like the start of a silly South African joke; it is not. On the contrary, it was over these couple of beers that these individuals, all thatchers, decided on a worldwide society for thatchers… and so the International Thatching Society was born.

In May 2019, it was the 6th International Thatching Society Conference, the hosting company was Japan and what an adventure it was!

The South African construction industry is very competitive, often robbing us from the opportunity to come together within each sector to share our knowledge and experiences. This is especially of value for the craftsmen of thatching. The International Thatching Society gives a platform where the passion for thatch can be shared, along with knowledge and experience from the various corners of the world.

On day 1 of the conference, we were welcomed into the beautiful Shirakwa Go Village, school children were singing and showing us to our seats. We looked at the state of the thatching industries from the various countries forming part of the thatching society: Japan, England, Germany, Netherland, Sweden, Denmark and South Africa.

Together, we related to each other’s challenges and celebrated the various developments and successes within the industry. It was very informative, especially to see how countries such as the Netherlands have succeeded in re-identifying thatch as a building material. Modern structures, with interesting lines and angles left us inspired.

Within the Japanese thatching industry specifically, thatch is still mainly seen and used as a traditional material. The technique and style does, however, vary from one town to the next. Due to its traditional roots, thatching in Japan is a true cultural experience. The International Thatching Society was invited to assist with the re-thatch of a building in the Shirakawa Village.

The tradition is that the members of the community come and help to thatch in the spirit of “Yui” (which literally means “cooperation” and is vital in a country where natural disasters frequently occur). Afterwards, a celebration in the form of the “Naorai” Party, is held. It is a sense of unity and community that we might have forgotten in a world ruled by margins and tenders.

Visiting the little town of Kyoto, Miyama, a different style of thatching was showcased. The town consist of 50 thatched dwellings and once again the sense of community is the core of their day to day living.

One only needs to visit the Takenaka Carpentry Museum in Kobe, to comprehend the tremendous skill and precision of the Japanese: detailed designs and execution close to perfection left us speechless and humbled. The Japanese are incredibly hard workers, but somehow they understand the balance between executing quality work on time and taking the time to perfect a skill.

7 countries. All vastly different, but united by the passion for thatch, the skills and knowledge of the industry and the willingness to share and grow together in order to develop the thatching industry worldwide. In 2021 the International Thatching Society will meet in the Netherlands, picking up where we left off.

To conclude, we would like to pay tribute to a proud member of the International Thatching Society, a German thatcher and a friend, Joachim Schroeter, who have suddenly passed away last week. His passion for thatching was admirable. JNA Thatchers’ condolences to his loved ones. He will be dearly missed.

“Thatch is the shelter for the things we love.” – The Japanese Thatching Association

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