For some reason or another, ever since I was young, I’ve been drawn like a magnet to the various products of Japanese culture. What those products are have changed throughout time, whether it was films, or food, etc. Lately, I have been somewhat secretly obsessing over minka, or traditional Japanese farmhouse architecture, with its signature massive beams, wood joinery, huge thatch roofs, sliding shoji doors… Beautiful buildings that seem impossibly well-crafted by long-gone builders with nothing but hand tools and human muscle at their disposal.
Above is an image I happily stumbled into this morning (I would love to know the original source, by the way). Come on, just look at those amazing beams. Being able to envision a frame like that, and then make it all fit together takes serious foresight, creativity, and skill. I would love to visit a space such as this.
Minka: The iconic farmhouse of Japan
In the late spring, I read Azby Brown’s Just Enough, a book that details the life of peasants, city-dwellers, and samurai during the Edo period of Japan. Brown’s observations led him to conclude that society was much better-equipped and much more ecologically-minded and conservative (meaning, not wasteful) due to the country’s previous and near total deforestation of all of Japan. Folks were much more sustainably-minded back then compared to now. The book is great, with many beautiful and descriptive illustrations of all manner of timber frame buildings, farm layouts, cooking utensils, etc. I love all the minute details.
Anyway, contained within the book are many details of the architecture of the time, including the minka. Reading those descriptions and studying the drawings ignited my interest in learning more about the construction, and then lead me to read John Roderick’s Minka: My Farmhouse in Japan, an account of the well-known American journalist’s acquisition and re-building of an ancient, rickety minka into a beautiful, newly furnished home with the incredible help of his Japanese friends. It’s a fun book, and gives a bit more insight into the nature of the minka, and the story of restoring the impossibly big, and crumbling original house is fascinating.
And so my obsession with the curvy beams, and the unbelievably skilled carpenters and their tools continues to burn when I see images like the one above.