Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden in Kanagawa prefecture
One of the most amazing things to see in Japan is buildings constructed without nails, their intricate puzzle-like joinery standing for centuries against the test of time. Everyone thinks you have to travel to some inconveniently remote part of Japan to see these traditional thatch-roofed farmhouses, but there is a whole park filled with them less than an hour from central Tokyo! These beauties were taken apart piece by piece and moved to the park from all over Japan, then reconstructed using only traditional methods and tools. A visit to the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden isn’t just supremely insta-worthy, it’s also delightfully informative and an excellent walk.
You can stroll through the regional “villages” and explore inside each of the twenty-three gorgeously restored buildings, some of which have furnishings particular to the region or kind of industry the people who lived in them practiced.
And it’s not just houses—the park also contains a mill powered by a water wheel, a kabuki theater (with a mechanically-rotating stage, powered from below by stage hands), the gateway to a samurai house and a beautiful little shrine. The path between them meanders through a natural landscape filled with native trees and seasonal wildflowers, and antique Jizo figures wait to greet you around every corner. Exhibits on traditional joinery and thatching answer every question you might have, and signage (in English) gives intriguing facts about what makes each of the buildings unique.
Here’s how to get to the Nihon Minka-en from Tokyo:
Once you get there, go out the East Exit and it’s a 15-20 minute minute walk straight down the main street to the park entrance (no hills on this part).
I used the Japan Navigation phone app to figure out this route, and you can easily use it too, with your actual date and preferred arrival time. It’s also good for finding the easiest way to get to Yoyogi-Uehara Station from where you’re staying. Here’s where to get the app and how to use it. Note: The Odakyu Line trains that run between Yoyogi-Uehara Station and Mukogaoka-yuen Station can take as little as 15 minutes and as long as an hour to make the trip. You can catch the Express (fastest), the Semi-express, or the Local (very slow), which all stop at Mukogaoka-yuen. Do not get on the Rapid Express because it doesn’t stop at Mukogaoka-yuen.