Look! Old-Time Japanese Life

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(Photo by Copyright © 2015 京都フリー写真素材集)


In Japan, it is oppressive hot and humid in summers. Air conditioners now become essential products. Who tell me how I should do? I still don’t get used to this hotness though I was born and live in Japan for over four decades! I wonder how people in the past lived their daily lives.

But then again, Today’s Japanese housing like ferroconcrete buildings gets less air circulation, taking the trouble to set a hot and humid environment.

However, old-time Japanese houses used to harmonize with nature. According to seasons, people contrived ways to get warm in winters or get cool in summers naturally by building construction.

Those old established folk houses over 100 years ago still now exist. You can not only tour the insides but also take up your loggings. In addition, these houses now become cafes or restaurants by renovating interior designs.

Of existing old folk houses with thatched roof, some are over several hundred years old, and others are even registered as World Heritage sites. Appearances vary a great deal according to regional climates. For people who would like to experience traditional rural landscapes not urban cities, it is recommendable for you to go and see for yourself!



Old Folk Houses area of World Heritage


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Copyright (C) 2004 Links Co.,Ltd. All rights reserved.


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Here is a mountain village named “Shirakawa-Go” (A link to the location) located in Gifu prefecture. This area including an existing old streetscape and many distinctive folk houses is designated as a World Heritage site.

This region is also known as heavy snowfall. To take its measures, steep roofs are designed to make snow easily slide down. Roofs to both the eastward and westward easily receive direct sunlight and accumulated snow naturally melts.

The main industry was sericulture producing silk. Under the roofs, there are second, third, and fourth floors which were used as workplaces to raise silkworms.

In summers, these houses are well-ventilated by leaving doors open. In winters, they are designed to retain heat thanks to the fireplace in a living room floor. (See the Image 4) In Japan, though there are many old folk house, Shirakawa-Go is a kind of “special seats” where you can appreciate the appealing old-time Japan.


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(Photo by (c) Ryokan Chitose)


This old farm house is located in the famous snow-belt Niigata prefecture. These posts and beams smoked in black can sustain even five-meter snowfall.


Why Old Folk Houses Have Their Own Value?


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(Photo by Copyright © Japan Open Air Folk House Museum)


Some wonder why people nowadays do not live in old folk houses in spite of the fact that they are comfortable. However, it costs a fortune to build new traditional houses and to maintain their thatched roofs.

To increase the durability of wooden structures, the types of lumber vary in different parts of a house and this is the key to improve its endurance. As time proceeds, the dryness and strength of the lumber increase. This is an appealing characteristics as well.

For example, thick and tough pine lumber is favorably used in the part of beams requiring much strength, and other precious lumber such as Japanese cypress and zelkova is sometimes utilized. Sadly, today this big pine lumber is not easily available.



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(Photo by Copyright © Japan Open Air Folk House Museum)


Intricate structure of pine beams


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(Photo by (c) Photo AC)


Today, a lot of old folk houses become empty because many of them were built in now rural depopulated areas and their owners live in urban cities in some cases. Thatched roofs have to be exchanged to new one at least once in every about twenty years. This labor was worked on cooperatively together with villagers, but now due to depopulation, it costs only owners as much as 5 million yen. (About 50 thousand dollars!). When they have difficulty in maintaining and have no choice but to relinquish and finally tear down old folk houses, there are even companies specializing in buying old precious lumber. It is because about 100 years lumber from logging is valuable in terms of dryness and strength. Moreover, black posts and beams by the smoke of a fireplace have massive splendor with rarity. They gain popularity because of their retro-looking beauty.

The rarity is not only lumber. When you offer skillful and seasoned carpenters, the total amount of building must be much higher than that of ordinal housing suppliers.


Transformation of Old Houses into Inns or Restaurants

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(Photo by Copyright (C) 2015 Fun Space. All Rights Reserved.)


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(Photo by Copyright (C) 2015 Fun Space. All Rights Reserved.)


It may be difficult to live permanently in or to newly build old-style houses in traditional crafting technique. However, don’t be disappointed! There are many ways to enjoy traditional life to your heart’s content. One is to stay at inns which are renovated from old folk houses.

Here is deep in the mountains in Nagano Prefecture where the Winter Olympics were held in 1998. There is an inn named “Yakimochi-Ya” whose building was originally a thatched farmhouse. This inn offer a nostalgic atmosphere, hot springs, and quintessential Japanese cuisine.

When you make a reservation in advance, transportation service to Nagano Station is available. For those who are interested, how about making an inquiry?


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(Photo by (c) Photo AC)


Another way to enjoy the ambience of old Japanese lifestyle is to go to lunch or dinner at renovated restaurants.


Open-Air Folk House Museum

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(Photo by Copyright © Japan Open Air Folk House Museum)


For people who have difficulty in leaving for a local area, I give you good news of easily taking a tour of many and various Japanese old folk houses. The city of Kawasaki, right next to Tokyo, has an interesting facility named “Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum”. It makes great efforts to preserve old houses nearby as well as removing and reconstructing ones all over Japan.

The facility exhibits 25 old buildings including a house from a southern island near Okinawa, a water mill, and a Kabuki stage form.

Actually, the image 5 and image 6 are authorized to quote by this museum. It is recommendable for people living in areas around Tokyo to visit this precious open-air park.

Japanese Landscape in the Old Days



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(Photo by (c) Go Uryu)


This scene you look at in the image 12 is terraced rice fields which are cultivated in mountain slopes and have water-holding capability. Japanese people have grown rice for 2,000 years and commoners lived in thatched houses I have introduced.

In old days people got the day’s work done and saw the sunset far across the water. Seeing the picture, we can imagine a small happiness of people in the past.

As people in big city Doha, the capital of Qatar, will never return to the Bedouin life, so will Japanese go back to agricultural life.

However, the life we can see in old-style wooden houses is certainly the lifestyle Japanese people do not forget.


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(Photo by (c) Tomo.Yun)



Take it easy by the irori fireplace!



My heartfelt thanks to the photos offered specially by

Japan Open Air Folk House Museum

Ryokan Chitose


in alphabetical order.





in the explanation of old folk houses.


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