15. THE KITAMURA HOUSE
An Important Cultural Property of Japan
Original location: Horiyamashita, Hadano City, Kanagawa Prefecture
Type of building: Farmhouse (nanushi/village headman’s house)
Form: Hipped Roof of thatch
Length (parallel to ridge): 15.6 m
The point about this house that immediately calls for special mention is the fact that the precise year of construction is known. It is also a very fine piece of architecture, and, all things considered, one of the most important folk houses in Japan.
When the house was disassembled for the move to Nihon Minkaen, an inscription in black ink was found on the end of a strut. Such inscriptions are called bokusho, and when they are found, they often provide very valuable historical information. In this case the inscription stated that the house was built in the 4th year of the Jōkyō Era (=1687) and that the name of the master carpenter was Rihei.
The house has a 3-room hiroma-type plan (hiromagata mimadori). Posts are set at a regular interval of 6 Japanese feet (1.8 m), giving a sense of coherence to the design, as is very apparent if one checks the alignment of posts. The jōya-geya construction, with large posts at the boundary between the doma and the Hiroma is the same as at the Itō House, but because all four bays are left open at the Kitamura House, the great Hiroma (the main living room, extending the full depth of the plan) can be taken in at a glance. The Hiroma has an oshi ita (shallow alcove) and nandogamae with raised threshold, and these, together with the neat configuration of beams, are the highlights of the house.
Beyond the Hiroma at the high end of the plan, the Oku (a formal guest reception room), and the Heya (a sleeping room for family use) are laid out one behind the other. The floor plan and use of rooms is almost same as at the Itō House, but there are some differences which imply that the Kitamura House is more advanced than the Itō House, specifically: (1) Floor of the Hiroma at the Kitamura House is divided into a bamboo floored part and a boarded part which is used food preparation; (2) the Oku is provided with a decorative alcove (toko); (3) the Heya has tatami on the floor and a closet, as well as more openings to the exterior and other rooms; (4) There is an open veranda across the front of the Hiroma and Oku. These differences might be thought to indicate that the Kitamura House is later than the Itō House, but in fact the Kitamura house is believed to be older. The apparent discrepancy is put down to regional differences, which are an important factor in the development of vernacular architecture.