Can’t Get Enough of those Curvy Beams: Minka

by ziggy on September 30, 2013 -- 3 comments -- Follow

Minka: Traditional Japanese Farmhouse

A minka, or traditional Japanese farmhouse with massive, curvy beams on display

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.

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  • The day will come when you shall build one, of that I am sure Z…

  • Scott

    A great many things can be done with hand tools, very basic machines and muscle power-but it usually takes a lot longer (unless you have a lot of people to help). That is a cool-looking structure-I wonder how long it took to build?

  • Hi Scott,

    I guess that is why I encourage Ziggy to pursue his passion, as I specialize in Middle Eastern, and Asian folk timber frame architecture ( Koti Banal, Chise, Hanok, Minka, among the many others.) A lot of people might be useful sometimes, (maybe during raising?) but as a general rule when a 大工- Daiku (Carpenter) that designs and cuts a 民家 -Minka (folk house or farm house) of this type, they are only accompanied by a few apprentice.

    The frame in the picture, after the timbers are selected, would take about one to three months of process, and joint, for a company of 2 to 4 people. Raising can be very quick. As short as a day or so, while finishes, depending on type will take another month to three months accordingly.



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