"Gassho-zukuri" houses displayed here are from Shirakawa-go and Gokayama. The house on the right is used as soba restaurant.

Nihon Minka-en
- a showcase of old Japanese folk houses

Kawasaki Nihon Minka-en (Folk House Museum)
official web site

The weather has been fine in Tokyo these days. It is nice to spend a clear sunny autumn day with the maximum temperature of some 20 degrees Celsius. A friend of an armature orchestra told me that she had been fascinated by the wonderful autumnal leaves in the Japan Open-air Folk House Museum in Kawasaki. I immediately followed her recommendation and visited the museum. Although the museum is located in the Kanagawa prefecture, it can be reached less than 30 minutes by train from Hamadayama.

When it comes to collecting old buildings, there is an Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum in Tokyo. Its buildings are collected from within Tokyo, were originally built from the Meiji era and onward, and are not only in Japanese-style but also in European-style. On the other hand, in the Folk House Museum, the exhibits are old farmhouses built using traditional construction methods, mainly in the Eastern Japan, in the Edo period between the latter half of the 17th century and the mid-19th century. The traditional construction method seen here was very common until the time of rapid economic growth around the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. My parents' house, for example, was built after the WWII, but its wall was made exactly with the same technique used for the farmhouses in this museum, though at least its roof was not thatched but covered by roofing tiles. Moreover, when we went on the short excursion from the elementary school which existed in the eastern fringe of Chiba City to, for example, famous Kasori shell mound, we passed by many farmhouses on the route and they were all similar to the housed displayed here.

The house of Kiramura family was built in Hadano in 1687 and is one or the oldest buildings in the open air museum. Put the cursor on the photo and you can see the interior of the house.

Old stone monuments are placed here and there.

This is a Benzaiten statue. It was put up near the pond and worshipped as a water deity.

In retrospect, I think that it was not the Meiji and Taisho eras, but the high-growth period around the Tokyo Olympics that the scenery of the Edo period was greatly lost in the suburbs of Tokyo. I spent many years in Germany. There, we can still see many “Fachwerk” houses in many towns and villages, which had not been damaged much by the war. The inside is remodeled, and a comfortable life is supported now. However, such an example is extremely rare in Japan. It's hard in Japan for traditional houses to satisfy modern people's desire for a comfortable life. Even if German Fachwerk houses and Japanese traditional houses are both structured by timber, they have very different designs, and remodeling is too expensive in Japan.

The house of Hara family is the newest among the exhibits and was built in 1911, when conventional building technique has reached its culmination. The family was traditionally a big landowner in the area and wanted to build a new house to match the needs of the time.

With bright red autumn leaves on the background, more than 20 old houses are on display in the Open-air Folk House Museum. All the houses on display were originally inhabited by rich families in each area, but from the present perspective, they all look very frugal. Ordinary farmer lived in a much smaller, poorer house. However, everyone around them was poor and frugal, so no one felt particularly unhappy. In the Edo period, virtually everyone was poor and possessed very little, but they knew how to cherish things and spare unnecessary waste. They fostered a culture of enjoying scarce things abundantly. In a sense they were following sustainable lifestyle practices.

When I see old farm houses, my phantasy often plays with such idea, and I feel a bit of nostalgia to the old time. But the same era will never come again. A house which is not inhabited by people, like the exhibits in this open air museum, is similar to a biological specimen. No life is conducted there any more. We see here and there a sign of decay and it is a bit sorrowful to see it. It is not easy to protect and maintain houses where people do not live from weathering.