Joel and his parents left for a pastor’s conference yesterday morning and Kelly had a meeting to attend so we were on our own for awhile. With map in hand, we set off by bicycle to find Ryokuchi-koen. Koen is the Japanese word for park. Ryokuchi is huge and includes tennis courts, ball diamonds, playgrounds, flower gardens and many other attractions. Our main reason for going was the Open-air Museum of Old Japanese Farm Houses.
The museum features 11 traditional country homes and other structures that were brought here from all over Japan. All have been painstakingly reconstructed and filled with period era tools and other displays.
Perhaps the most fascinating of the buildings was the giant thatch roofed Gassho-zukuri from Shirakawa, Gifu Prefecture. Gassho refers to the steep roof which is said to look like two hands pressed together in prayer. An excellent volunteer interpreter who spoke reasonably good English spent considerable time showing us around and explaining not only the architectural details of the house but also the lifestyle of it’s occupants. The extended family of 20 to 40 individuals lived on the main floor while the two upper stories were devoted to the raising of silk worms. The occupants of the house included the parents, the oldest son, his wife and their children as well as the daughters of the family and their children. Their husbands didn’t live in the house with them. The communal bedroom shared by all the house’s occupants had a small door to the outside through which they would enter for night time visits with their wives!
Many of these houses are still in use in the Shirikawa region, predominantly in the small villages of Ogimachi and Ainokura which have both been declared Unesco World Heritage sites but I suspect that the lifestyle of their occupants has changed somewhat over time!
A few of the other structures in the museum: