Before industrialization, Japan was largely dependent on its rice production for survival. And the farming villages in Japan’s many mountain valleys were at the center of it all.
The Hida Folk Village (in Japanese Hida no Sato) on the outskirts of the Gifu town of Takayama is a wonderful place to spend a couple of hours exploring the rural life of the 18th and 19th centuries, just before Japan began its industrialization. The village is a collection of more than 30 old, traditional farmhouses and other buildings associated with rural life, situated on a hillside to simulate the structure of a farming village in this mountainous area of central Japan. The park was established in 1971, with many buildings moved into this site from a nearby valley that was to be flooded in a dam project.
Just inside the gates, visitors are greeted by an idyllic millpond, above which is situated the houses of the village. Proceed clockwise around the bottom of the pond and enjoy the views before entering the village area.
In the first section of the village, the lowest area, are farmhouses with cedar shingle roofs, with the shingles held in place by large, round river rocks. There is also an old shrine stage here, standing on a foundation of large stones. Inside the houses are various farm implements. Take a close look at the construction of the houses, especially the central fireplace and the underside of the roof.
Wander the wooded paths upward to reach the next part of the village. The star of this area is the Wakayama house, a farmhouse dating to 1751, with a steep gassho thatched roof. While the steep roof facilitated the areas heavy snows sliding away without damaging the house and the thatch was said to be insulative, a friend who lived in such a house said it was actually very cold in winter and impossible to heat effectively.
Above this is a logger’s hut, a woodcutter’s hut and other displays on logging, another essential aspect of rural mountain life. Many farming communities in this period supplemented their income by logging, an activity that, like farming,required cooperative communal effort.
Moving around the village, you will find more farmhouses and more displays of farming life and farmhouse life. The enormous timbers used to construct the houses, and their thatched roofs are charming. At the same time, the various tools and lifestyle displays make it clear that this kind of farm life was anything but easy.
Needless to say, such a mountainous area faces severe winters and there are also displays on life in the snow, and the various tools used to facilitate that.
There are so many farmhouses to wander through!
There are also a number of small fields, to lend an air of the agrarian life that sustains any farming village. Don’t forget to check out the millhouse, too!
After you’ve explored the farmhouses of the village, be sure to leave some time for the last collection of buildings, where visitors can experience various traditional crafts. Paper making, wood carving, weaving, doll making, and more. Many can be experienced by visitors for a small fee, although this opportunity usually finishes by 3 pm, so if you visit late in the day, you may want to reverse course and start from this section of the village.
The Hida Folk Village is open daily 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. Admission: JPY700 (adults), JPY200 (children, 6-15). The village is 10 minutes by bus from Takayama Bus Center, next to JR Takayama station.
© 2019 Jigsaw-japan.com and Vicki L. Beyer
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