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Beyond Tokyo JUL-AUG 2021

Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden in Kanagawa prefecture

A whole park full of thatch-roofed farmhouses, just outside of central Tokyo!

⛩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.

Thatch-roofed farmhouses at the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden
There are twenty-three authentic structures in the park, each chosen to feature the clever ways that traditional architecture dealt with local climates and allowed their inhabitants to practice their local ways of life
Thatch-roofed farmhouses at the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden
Some, like this one, were built in areas that get so much snow in the winter, the second floor windows are designed to become doors. The roofs, of course, are steep to prevent too much heavy snow from accumulating on top
Thatch-roofed farmhouse at the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden
How many beautiful ways are there to thatch a roof? Twenty-three, and counting!
Thatch-roofed soba mill at the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden
The park doesn’t feature only houses—this water-driven mill used to grind soba flour
Thatch-roofed shrine at the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden
And this was a local shrine. That rice straw shimenawa rope with the white paper charms encloses the space considered sacred
Gate to the garden at the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden
Some of the houses are also surrounded by lovely gardens
Interior of a thatch-roofed farmhouse at the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden
And one of the best things about the Nihon Minka-en is that you can go inside!
Kitchen interior of a thatch-roofed farmhouse at the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden
Check out this kitchen—the “dirt” floor is mixed with lime, so any spilled water wicks away within seconds, leaving the surface dry, not muddy. Those rounded shapes were for cooking fires, and the square wooden boxes atop them are for steaming rice
Interior of a thatch-roofed farmhouse at the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden
Household Shinto shrines (like the little roofed structure sitting on the beam) and Buddhist altars (the cabinet set into the wall, with memorial tablets inside) were a fixture in traditional houses, and there are quite a few on display
Volunteer tending the hearth in the interior of a thatch-roofed farmhouse at the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden
Knowledgeable docents are often on duty to explain how people cooked and did other household chores during the era the house was in use
Volunteer demonstrating weaving in a thatch-roofed farmhouse at the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden
There’s a regular rotation of artisans who demonstrate how equipment in the houses was used, including the skills required to clothe the family (dyeing, weaving and silkworm culture) as well as feeding everyone throughout the year
Traditional bamboo Shinto offerings  at the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden
Other crafts are explained in nice displays (these bamboo “offerings,” for example, can be put in the sake flasks that sit before the Shinto shrine, if no sake is available)
Painting of makeshift gondola at the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden
Each house also has signage (in English) that highlights a few facts about what makes each of them unique. This residence, for example, could only be reached via a hair-raising gondola traverse across a river, and if the picture doesn’t make that look ALL THE NO enough, the actual gondola (constructed, I swear, of utterly untrustworthy-looking TWIGS) is on display
The soba restaurant at the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden
Halfway through the walk is a humble noodle restaurant, where you can slurp up a bowl to fortify yourself for the rest of the houses. The food isn’t fancy, but as you can see, it’s really quite pleasant to eat while gazing out at the park
a bowl of sansai mountain vegetable soba at the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden
They have a few kinds of buckwheat noodles—these are the “mountain vegetables.” All are inexpensive and good, and if you aren’t familiar with the kinds they offer, they have realistic food models to help you decide
Walking path at the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden
Seeing all twenty-three houses takes the better part of a day, and is a pleasant (if slightly hilly) workout. The paths meander through a natural landscape of native trees and seasonal wildflowers, giving a true taste of the Japanese countryside
Stone Jizo figures at the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden
Benevolent stone Jizo figures await around every corner
Roof thatching at the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden
There is a small but fine museum at the entrance that has excellent exhibits explaining how the houses were built and thatched

Hours:

Mar-Oct: 9:30 – 17:00 (last admission 16:30)
Nov-Feb: 9:30 – 16:30 (last admission 16:00)

Open:

Every day but Monday (Unless Monday is a holiday. In that case, they are open on the holiday and closed the next day)
They are also closed from Dec 29 – January 3

Admission:

Adults: ¥500
Students (Senior High School, College)* : ¥300
65 years and over*: ¥300
Children (Junior High School and under): Free
Handicapped Persons: Free

For more information, take a look at the excellent (English) Nihon Minka-en website.

Here’s a map of the Nihon Minka-en park:

Map of the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden

Here’s where the Nihon Minka-en is:

Map of the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden

Here’s how to get to the Nihon Minka-en from Tokyo:

Train route to the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden

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).

Local map to the Nihon Minka-en Japanese Folk House Garden

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.

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More Beyond Tokyo destinations are in the JAPANAGRAM ARCHIVE

Know anyone who’s craving a good summer read?

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon

“A fascinating mix of history and mystery.” —Booklist

Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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2021, August, July

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