Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Composed mostly of big gorgeous pictures of minka, I read through Chuji Kawashima's 260 page “Japan's Folk Architecture: Traditional Thatched Farmhouses” in two days. It is a great book that has probably done more to help me understand these buildings than anything else. It is a well written, fairly comprehensive, and rationally organized introduction to the subject. As with any good book, I took notes as I read and ended up with a full page. One house that was interesting, to take an example, is the sao-ie style of minka in Miyazaki Prefecture (described on page 108). It literally means “clothes-drying-pole house”, but is essentially laid out in the so-called longhouse configuration (also called heiretsu-gata). Later on page 162-164 (in the Longhouse subsection of the Hipped Roof section of Part 3: Styles) an example of this style of minka is given: the Takeyoshi Migita house (Shiba-mura, Higashi Usuki-gun, Miyazaki Pref.). Figure 270 is a floorplan drawing of the house; it is elegant in its simplicity, yet it also contains all the distinctive features of minka. Why longhouses in Japan? Here they are an adaptation to building on narrow terraces cut into the slope of steep terrain that does not permit building wide houses.

If the structural layout of the Migita house could best be described as linear (and it could), then the Nohara house (a modestly porportioned gassho-zukuri minka, page 115) would be called symmetrical. The visual impact of the stout ushi-bari beam bisecting the length of the house with curved chona-bari beams perpendicularly flanking it on either side gives the impression of a rib cage (see picture). Japanese minka are fascinating for their materials, craftsmanship, and variety.

Fig. 270 (Migita house):

Fig. 186. Nohara house. Late 18th cent. Original location: Higashi Tonami-gun, Toyama Pref. Present location: Nihon Minka-en, Kawasaki, Kanagawa Pref.:

Fig. 187. The heavy ushi-bari running down the center of the building has eliminated the need for any interior posts.:

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