the japan open-air folk house museum in kawasaki   7 comments

Saturday, May 20:  A couple of weeks ago, my Japanese Instagram friend Yukie told me of three places I might like to visit in her town of Kawasaki.  The first was Nihon Minkaen, the Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum.  She also recommended the Taro Okamoto Museum of Art and a rose garden that is only open from May 11-28.

Kawasaki is not that far from my home, so I don’t feel any need to rush out in the morning for my outing.  It is a warm and sunny day, nearly 80F degrees, and I find there is quite a lot of walking involved.

I arrive at the Mukogaokayuen Station on the Odakyu line to find a huge map looking out over a wide street perpendicular to the station.  As I study the map, trying to get my bearings, a Japanese woman kindly comes up to me and asks me what I’m looking to find.  I tell her the three places, which by this time I’ve already found on the map, and she tells me that all I need to do is follow the road right in front of me.  The road, she says, is long and winding, but at the end, I will find the folk museum and the Taro museum.  She advises me that I should eat some soba at the museum if I have time.  We part ways and I walk down the road quite a distance until I reach the door of the folk museum.

After paying the entry fee at the museum, I ask about soba.  The guard tells me House #10.  I will be on the lookout for it, as I’m already hungry.

The museum was established in 1967, aiming to preserve the disappearing  indigenous houses in Japan, and to hand them down to future generations. The museum has twenty-five traditional buildings, including a water-mill, a storehouse on stilts, and a Kabuki Stage. In addition, the museum displays stone statues and carvings, as well as farming tools and daily utensils in each house.

The first group of houses in the collection are designated as Post Town; the Hara House belonged to major landowners who ventured into banking and politics. The financial resources enabled skilled carpenters to display their techniques in erecting the wooden frames.

The Suzuki House was an inn where horse traders lodged and stabled their horses.  The deep eaves and latticed windows are architectural traits of post towns.

The Suzuki House

Inside the Suzuki House

The Ioka House is a townhouse that belonged to the Ioka family.  The head of the family was an oil merchant turned incense merchant.  Both the practice of plastering over posts and the use of a tiled roof were measures to prevent fire.

The Ioka House

Before leaving Post Town, I see a huge house being constructed.  I don’t see any signs indicating what it is.

unknown house under construction

The next area is Shin-Etsu Regional Village. Here, the Water Mill grinds grain into powder; it also has two mortars for polishing rice and a straw damper.

The Water Mill

Inside the Water Mill

The Water Mill

The Sasaki House was built in 1731 in Nagano Prefecture. It was used as both a farmhouse and a dye-house.  The second floor above the stable served as an elementary school.

The Sasaki House

The Sasaki House

The Sasaki House

inside the Sasaki House

inside the Sasaki House

The Emukai House, built in the early 18th century in Toyama Prefecture, is characterized by a massive gabled roof with thatch. The immense attic stories were used to raise silkworms.  One of two divided sections of the earth-floored area was used for paper making.

The Emukai House

The Emukai House

Garden between the Emukai House and the Yamada House

The Emukai House

The Yamada House, built in the early 18th century in Toyama Prefecture, has a steeply pitched gassho-zukuri roof.  The steep roof (45 – 60 degrees) is called gassho zukuri because the houses resemble palms placed together and fingers pointing up in prayer. No nails or other metal materials are used, according to jinto Japan: The Official Guide.

The Yamada family made their living through silkworm cultivation and fire farming. The space under the floor was used for manufacturing gunpowder.

The Yamada House

Inside the Yamada House

inside the Yamada House

The typical gassho-zukuri Nohara House, with a massive steeply pitched roof, has a sturdy frame in order to support the weight of heavy snows. The Nohara family raised silkworms and burned wood into charcoal. It is from late 18th century Toyama Prefecture.

The Nohara House

The gassho-zukuri Yamashita House, with its huge steeply pitched roof, is from early 19th century Gifu Prefecture. The Yamashita family engaged in silkworm cultivation and fire farming on a mountain slope.  The house was briefly used as a restaurant before it was moved here.

At the museum today, the house also serves as a restaurant specializing in soba, both hot and cold. I stop here for lunch since the Japanese woman at the station recommended it. The restaurant is quite crowded and lively; because of this, I’m seated with another single woman about my age. She’s Japanese and doesn’t speak English, and of course I speak no Japanese, so we can’t communicate.  The lack of common language doesn’t stop her from being quite friendly, however, smiling and saying things in Japanese that I can’t understand. 🙂

Having soba at the Yamashita House

Soba at the Yamashita House

The next area is Kanto Regional Village. The Sakuda House has two roofs – one over the living space and the other over the earth-floored area. The head of the Sakuda family was responsible for a seine net sardine fisher’s community.  A seine is a fishing net that hangs vertically in the water with its bottom edge held down by weights and its top edge buoyed by floats.

The Sakuda House

A guide at the museum tells me the curved beams signify that the family is high-class and wealthy.

inside the Sakuda House

inside the Sakuda House

inside the Sakuda House

inside the Sakuda House

The Storehouse on Stilts is still part of the museum’s Shin-Etsu Regional Village and is from late 19th century Kagoshima Prefecture. The raised floor storehouse has four thick columns made of a toxic tree known as iju, which protect the columns from termites.

path to the Storehouse on Stilts

Storehouse on Stilts

Storehouse on Stilts

The roof space of the Storehouse on Stilts was mainly used to store rice, and a ladder was used to access it.

Storehouse on Stilts

The Hirose House, part of the Kanto Regional Village display, has a sunken hearth with no floorboards.  The Hirose family originally grew tobacco, but then switched to silkworm cultivation.  This house is from late 17th century Yamanashi Prefecture.

The Hirose House

The divided-ridge Ota House has a large gutter made from a log, where two eaves meet. The Ota family was engaged in farming and the head of the family was a village headman. This house is from late 17th to late 18th century Ibaraki Prefecture.

The Ota House

inside the Ota House

The next area at the museum is the Kanagawa Regional Village. The Kitamura House,  from 1687 Kanagawa Prefecture, has a bamboo-floored living room, rather than timber. The Kitamura family’s major crop was tobacco.

The Kitamura House

inside the Kitamura House

The Kiyomiya House, from late 17th century Kanagawa Prefecture, is one of the oldest buildings in the museum. The grass ridge of the roof is covered with irises that bloom in spring.  The Kiyomiya family grew rice and Japanese pears and they worked as carpenters.

The Kiyomiya House

The Kiyomiya House

The Kiyomiya House

The Kiyomiya House

Here, on this hot day, a man has a fire going in the center of the floor to demonstrate life in the past.  The people motion for me to sit down, which I do for a brief time.  The moment they’re not paying attention, I make my escape from the heat. 🙂

inside The Kiyomiya House

inside the Kiyomiya House

The Kiyomiya House

The Ito House, from late 17th to early 18th century Kanagawa Prefecture, sits on uneven ground.  The Ito family grew persimmons unique to Kawasaki, along with silkworm cultivation and dry field farming.

The Ito House

Kokagesan Shrine was revered among the people engaged in silkworm cultivation.  On both its sides are two of four reliefs depicting the afflictions suffered by the Indian princess in her life.   She was believed to have brought sericulture (the cultivation of silkworms to produce silk) to Japan.

Kokagesan Shrine

The Iwasawa House’s simple lattice windows were to ward off wild beasts. The Iwasawa family were engaged in charcoal making and tea cultivation.  The house is from late-17th century Kanagawa Prefecture.

inside the Isawasa House

The Kabuki Stage has a revolving platform that was used to change scenes during a play. Under the stage is a space from which the stage is rotated.

Kabuki Stage

inside the Kabuki Stage

behind the Kabuki Stage

The Kabuki Stage

At the west gate of the museum, I opt not to go in the Traditional Indigo Dyeing Workshop.  It’s enough to see it under the red maple leaves.

looking over the Traditional Indigo Dyeing Workshop

The last area is Tohoku Regional Village.  The shape of the Kudo House resembles the letter L from above. The Kudo family’s principal occupation was silkworm and tobacco cultivation.

inside the Kudo House

With two horses on one side of the earth-floored area, and humans on the other, they lived as family.

horse inside the Kudo House

After this expedition through the houses of Japan’s past, I make my way to the Rear Gate, where I find a sign pointing to the Taro Okamoto Museum of Art.  I exit and find respite from the heat as I stroll through a shady park to the museum.

 

7 responses to “the japan open-air folk house museum in kawasaki

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  1. I really enjoy this type of open air museum. These buildings are fascinating and your soba lunch looks delicious.

  2. I think that would be a fascinating place to visit. I was going to ask if the soba was good, but I see you’ve answered that already. 🙂

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