7. THE EMUKAI HOUSE
An Important Cultural Property of Japan
Original location: Kami Hosojima, Nanto City, Toyama Prefecture
Type of Building: Farmhouse (kumigashira/village elder’s house), Gasshō Style house
Built: Early 18th century
Form: Gabled roof of thatch, gable entry, 3 storeys
Thatched hisashi across the entrance front
Length (parallel to ridge): 19.5 m
Width: 8.5 m
Both the Gokayama area in Toyama Prefecture and the Shirakawa area in Gifu Prefecture are well known for their Gasshō Style houses (gasshō means “hands joined in prayer” and refers to the steep gabled roof form). However, Gasshō Style houses vary in detail from place to place: not only are the houses of Shirakawa different from those of Gokayama, the Gokayama type can in turn be divided into the main Shōkawa type and the Toga type. The Emukai House belongs to the main Shōkawa type, many examples of which have their principal entrance in the gable end under a broad thatched pent roof, giving the impression that the façade is half-hipped. The plan – as here – is typically of the cross-in-square 4-room type. The Toga type, incidentally, usually has the entrance in the long side parallel to the ridge and a 3-room living-zone plan with a hiroma (great room) occupying the full depth of the interior adjacent to the earth-floored area – the Nohara House is a classic example of this type.
The earth floored area at the Emukai House is divided between a stable (Umaya) and kitchen workspace (Niwa), with a timber partition separating them. The way the passage from the main entrance continues past the stable calls to mind Chūmon Style houses. This might suggest that the gable entry itself may have evolved as a way of avoiding being smothered by snow sliding off the main slope of the roof.
The floored area is divided into 4 rooms, Dei and Oe at the low end of the plan, adjacent to the Niwa, and Omae and Heya at the high end. The Dei is for receiving visitors and the Oe is a family living room. Both rooms have a sunken hearth with a drying rack (hiama) suspended over it. The deep tenoned lintels (sashigamoi) and adze-shaped curved beams (chōnabari) used in these spaces make them visually very impressive. The Omae is a formal reception room with
tatami mats on the floor and a shallow alcove (oshi ita). At the high end of this room, behind sliding panels, the Buddhist family altar is concealed, its formality a reminder that this region is a stronghold of the New Pure Land Sect of Buddhism (Jōdo Shinshū). This style of altar room is notable for its antiquity. The Heya, accessed from the Oe is an enclosed sleeping room with a characteristic raised threshold known as a nandogamae.