MINKA(thatched-roof-houses) are among the most unique and important historical assets of Japan. In spite of their historical value, many of these formerly popular homes were demolished and replaced by more modern structures during the "bubble era"(the years of inflated Japanese prosperity, namely 1986 through 1991).

Fortunately, because a segment of local governments had stubborn respect for its heritage and with foresight prevented destruction of things traditional, some of these beloved MINKA still exist today!

To help those interested in finding or studying these classic houses, the following descriptive paragraphs are categorized by district or prefecture[(To, Do, Fu, Ken)(TOKYO is only called Tokyo-To, KYOTO & OSAKA are called Kyoto-Fu & Osaka-Fu). HOKKAIDO is exclusively called Hokkaido-Cho while the others are all Ken(prefecture)]. The style-changes over 20 years are documented in the photograph book of MINKA authored by the famous professional photographer, Mr. Masahiro Sano


1603 —1867


1868 —1912


1912 —1926


1926 —1988




In this district, the most northern and coldest, the rice industry was started about 300 years ago. In the MEIJI era(1868-1912) many people came from other parts of Japan and elsewhere to help in the refining of the rice or the working of the fields. These "immigrants" brought their different cultures and styles of building construction. As a result of broadening and open trade, even a western-style construction can be found.


This area was much influenced by the atmosphere of feudalism.There occurred here much in-fighting by the local feudal lords, who in turn imposed strict regulations on the building of homes. Since the west and east areas had different climates, even within the same prefecture, there were 2 types of buildings. In AOMORI the MINKA on west(Japan Sea coast) have very sharp roofs with KEMU-DASHI(mini chimney) to vent the smoke from the cooking & heating units(KAMADO & IRORI). In contrast, the MINKA on the east(Pacific Ocean coast) have a flatter and simpler roof without a chimney.


Here you will find style emphasized, with pleasant harmony and unique curved-line designs. Researchers of architectural design suggest that the sophistication of the MINKA in this area can be explained. During the EDO era(1603-1867) trade flourished on the Japan Sea coast, especially in the export of rice & BENIHHANA(RED DYE). Flush with the trappings of wealth, specialized designers and architect-builders were brought in from the city of Kyoto to produce works of art for the newly-rich.


For 1,000 years this area has been famous for its excellent horses. It is known as the "horse-growing Iwate-ken". Many houses were designed with a wing at a 90-degree angle to allow the horses to live together with the family. This very particular house was called the "NANBU-Angled-House"(Nanbu being the district of the prefecture where these houses were prevalent). When these MINKA are seen, one sense how much love and regard the home-owners gave to their horses and how they treated these animals as part of the family.


This is a prefecture at times of severe wind, snow & cold and its MINKA reflect this possibility. In the winter this area, unprotected by mountains, faces a cold wind straight from Siberia. It is located in the mid-portion of Japan main island and receives the deepest snow, reaching a record 7 meters. With snow so deep, modifications in the homes include a second-floor entrance, narrow windows, and ponds around the house for snow disposal.


These are the silk-producing prefectures, starting from the later part of the EDO-era(1603-1867) into MEIJI-era(1868-1912) & TAHISHO-era(1912-1926). The MINKA were modified to fit the silkworm-rearing and subsequent home-processing of the raw silk. Important to this sericulture was to have good ventilation & adequate sunlight. The houses in this area show this emphasis in the homes where silk was the primary way of earning a living.


This deep mountain-side area has been designated a "world cultural-heritage site".

Silkworm-rearing was done here too, but with the restraints of limited land, was by custom done in large houses as extended families, since there were laws prohibiting additional buildings. A large house may have accommodated 2 to 3 generations together under the same roof. Although wood was the only building material, houses in this area were even 4 to 5 stories high. These tall MINKA were called "GASHO-ZUKURI"(literally meaning "the style of a steep-rafter-roof mimicking the joining-of-hand-in-prayer"). Many think that this reverent acknowledgement has resulted in the most beautiful MINKA style in Japan.


Smaller in area, but more important In stature because it was the capital of Japan during the period of greatest cultural development, KYOTO received the benefits of wealth & power in its architecture. As such its MINKA are some of the most gorgeous buildings in the world. Spared the bombings of World War II, these splendid MINKA may still be seen in this art-filled city.


This prefecture contained NARA City, an ancient capital of Japan 1500 years ago(preceding Kyoto). NARA was at that time called "YAMATO", a name also use to refer to all of the nation of Japan. Its homes add a particular roof-lime in its construction(YAMATO_MUNE) which is not seen elsewhere in Japan.

This ridge-roof -construction is seen in mainland China & Korea and may have come from those area. During the medieval times dikes were dug around large houses or even around the whole village to protect from attacks from other lords or looting by bands of thieves. Look for this special features when visiting NARA.


This is the southern-most part of Japan's main island, where in autumn must survive the dangerous "TAI-FU"(literally "big-wind & rain, our English homonym "typhoon").

Because of this yearly threat, the MINKA has a lower design & roof. Called "KUDORI-TSUKURI", it assumes a shape similar to that of a KAMADO found in the home's kitchen. The feudal lord Imposed many restrictions & controls on the way a house could be built. In addition, the homes may have been built lower since tall timber was not available in this area of limited arable-land.

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