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The Conserved Traditional Houses of Setagaya

  • Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward would seem an odd place to find a collection of thatched homes. In this thick slab of the city, more than 15,000 people occupy every square kilometer. But perhaps these rural cottages, preserved for visitors at the Jidayubori Park and Okamoto Park seem less incongruous when one remembers that during the Edo period (1603-1868), this area was once a rural landscape of villages and farm plots. Just south of the mighty Odakyu Odawara Line, these two parks are home to Minkaen that preserve the rural legacy of Setagaya in the shadow of the megalopolis.

    The Conserved Traditional Houses of Setagaya

    The Conserved Traditional Houses of Setagaya

    Often referred to on area maps by the inelegant English title, “Old Farm House Garden,” the Minkaen collect and preserve vernacular architecture of the late Edo and something of the way of life of local farmers. These are not simply modern recreations sitting idle but working farms and workshops, still serving their original functions.

    The Conserved Traditional Houses of Setagaya

    The Conserved Traditional Houses of Setagaya

    The Minkaen preserves traditions that have—at least in Tokyo and environs—fallen by the wayside. Local members of the historical preservation collective keep alive the traditions that fed, clothed and entertained the people that made their home on the outskirts of Edo. This includes, at the Jidayubori Park Minkaen, the spinning of cotton: a collection of antique and replica spinning wheels are put to the job that they were designed for, spinning cotton into thread.

    The Conserved Traditional Houses of Setagaya

    The Conserved Traditional Houses of Setagaya

    At the blacksmith shop men tend to the fires that were once central to the farming communities of the area. It was here that all household and farming tools were produced. Before the days of mass-produced implements, the work of the local blacksmith and his helpers was invaluable. The Minkaen are dedicated to taking a step beyond the usual function of a museum—the visitor can hear the clang of the tongs and the feel the heat of the fire, and hear the stories of the men and women that devote themselves to keeping bygone traditions alive.

    The Conserved Traditional Houses of Setagaya

    The Conserved Traditional Houses of Setagaya

    As the blacksmith shop was central to life in the village, the hearth or irori was central to life in the home. Visitors to the Minkaen are encouraged to make themselves at home around the fire while interpreters serve strong tea and tell the stories of life in times gone by.

    The Conserved Traditional Houses of Setagaya

    The Conserved Traditional Houses of Setagaya

    At Okamoto Park, the centuries-old Okamoto Hachiman Shrine provides an excellent vantage point to look down on the Minkaen. The buildings here are charming but one is also struck by their dignity and practicality: for a millennia, this is how most of the country would have looked.

    The Conserved Traditional Houses of Setagaya

    The Conserved Traditional Houses of Setagaya

    The Judayubori Minkaen is the larger of the two, but Okamoto Minkaen is home to the Okamoto Hachiman Shrine. It is not a bad idea to make time for both, as the Minkaen at Judayubori Park and Okamoto Park are within easy walking distance of each other on a route that crosses two urban waterways, the No River and the Sen River, and threads through a typical slice of urban Tokyo. Buses originating at Setagaya Station make the trip toward the park, but it can also be reached on foot from the Odakyu Line’s Kitami Station and the Futako-Tamagawa Station on the Tokyu Den-en-toshi Line.

    Jidayubori Park
    Address
    Tokyo Setagaya-ku Kitami 5Chome27
    Phone
    03-3417-8492
    Okamoto Park Minkaen
    Address
    Tokyo Setagaya-ku Okamoto 2-19-1
    Phone
    0337096959
    Okamoto Yahata Shrine
    Address
    Hyougo Pref. Koubeshi Higashinada-ku Okamoto 6-10-1
    Phone
    0784520796
  • Setagaya
    Address
    Tokyo Setagaya-ku Setagaya 4-chome
    Phone
    Kitami(Tokyo)
    Address
    Tokyo Setagaya-ku Kitami 9-chome
    Phone
    Futako-tamagawa
    Address
    Tokyo Setagaya-ku Tamagawa 1-chome
    Phone
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