縁台 endai—bench

As I’ve mentioned, our house in Japan has a very small back garden, accessible via a glass sliding door from the kitchen. The only problem is, the sliding door opens onto empty space about 70 cm above the level of the garden. So there is a big step down if you want to go from the house to the garden, and an equally big step up when you want to come back into the house. Quite a big deal if you are a small dog, and also for a human if you’re working in the garden and coming in and out fairly often.

Another thing that made it even more awkward: you’re not supposed to wear shoes in the house, or even place shoes on the floor inside the house. So the act of clambering up from the garden had to be combined with removing shoes. The shoes would then be outside on the ground, out of reach.

We decided to construct some kind of step to make the garden more accessible for both humans and dogs. If we were at home in our old house, there would be bits and pieces of timber and plywood lying around, but not here in our rented house. So we went to the hardware store (Kohnan) and identified some 12 mm plywood and bricks that we could use.

Then we saw a cedar-wood 縁台  endai—garden bench for sale which would be perfect for our needs, and immediately changed our plan. Exactly matching the length of our double sliding door (1.8 metres long) and the right height at 40 cm high to serve as an intermediate step between the kitchen floor level and the garden, it could also serve as a place to sit on warm summer evenings and even eat outdoors.

Traditionally a Japanese house would have sliding doors opening onto an 縁側 engawa—a veranda or wooden platform extending at floor level into the garden, a place to sit on warm summer evenings. If your house doesn’t have an engawa, you can buy an endai like we did.

The endai was reduced to 6880 yen. It was sold in flat-pack format, which we wheeled home on a little trolley. The smell from the cedar wood when I opened the box was overwhelming, and made one of the dogs start wheezing, so I moved it outside to assemble. Assembly was fairly straightforward, were it not for the fact that I didn’t have any tools. I used my Swiss Army knife as a screwdriver, and tightened all the nuts and bolts finger-tight. The resulting structure is quite robust, thanks to the tight machining tolerances.

At first the dogs were a bit cautious, but now they are willing to use the endai to get in and out of the garden.

Now we just have to wait for some nice warm weather to arrive, by which time I hope our garden will be in bloom!

Note on the word of the day:

The 縁 en of endai here has the meaning of “veranda”. Originally, the 縁側 engawa referred to an area of wooden flooring inside the house. The tatami mats were surrounded by a strip of bare wooden flooring all around the edge of the room. The kanji 縁 , meaning edge, border, or margin, was applied to this area of wood floor. This evolved to include an extension of the wood flooring outside the house, so that the engawa was both inside and outside the sliding doors. Now it usually refers to the outside area or veranda.

台 dai refers to a pedestal, stage or bench. So the compound word 縁台 endai means a “veranda bench”.

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