In Japan Open Air Folk House Museum old folk houses are on display on the gentle slopes of Tama hills.

23. THE SUGAWARA HOUSE

23. THE SUGAWARA HOUSE

THE SUGAWARA HOUSE

Ridge design called “gushigura”

Ridge design called “gushigura

Threshold design with wooden wheels used as runners for a sliding door

Threshold design with wooden wheels used as runners for a sliding door

Floor plan

Floor plan

“Yukigakoi”

“Yukigakoi”


An Important Cultural Property of Kanagawa Prefecture

Original Location: Matsuzawa, Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture
Type of building: Farmhouse (kimoiri / village headman’s house)
Built: Late 18th century
Form: Hipped roof of thatch with happo and takahappo
Gable entry, partly 2 storeys
Pent-roof at rear
Length (parallel to ridge): 15.8 m
Width: 9.6 m

In Tamugimata village at the foot of Mount Yudono, and near the Ōtori River to the west of it, there are unusual houses in a style known as “Happo-zukuri”. Their noteworthy features are that they had one or two storeys of lofts for raising silk worms, lit by hipped gablets (taka happo) and a distinctive kind of dormer window called a happo, as well as characteristic ridge detailing.

The Sugawara House was originally located in Matsuzawa village along a branch of the Ōtori River. Various aspects of the building – its high eaves, the wooden siding covering the external walls, and run-off ponds around the building to take melted snow, reveal its adaptation to very heavy winter snowfall.

Heavy snowfall also had an influence on the floor plan. There is an area one bay wide called an amaya under a pent roof, immediately in front of the main door forming a lobby for winter work, while part of this space is hived off to create an Inabeya with a raised wooden floor. In the Niwa (earth-floored area) there is further storage space consisting of two Mono-oki. All these are devices to help the household survive winters of very heavy snowfall (snow lying 3 meters deep was common). The living room layout is of the staggered four-room type. The Omei (the main family living room), Dei and Kami Dei (the formal reception rooms) are generously dimensioned spaces.

In the house of a village headman (kimoiri) such as this, the reception zone was also used for religious meetings known as “Hyakumanben Nembutsu”, and a small space called “Amidasama”, where Buddhist ritual equipment and utensils could be stored, was provided adjacent to it. The Dei with its sunken hearth also served for the reception of everyday visitors and the Ūheya was a room for sleeping in.

There are mezzanines over the Ūheya, Amaya, and Inabeya which in turn provide access to the main loft higher in the roof space. The mezzanine above the Amaya corresponds to the takahappo gablet, which was sometimes used as an entrance during the winter when the snow reached up to the eaves. The main loft and a further tier of attic space above it were used for silkworm cultivation.

An interesting feature is the use of a so-called soroban door (a door sliding on large wooden ball-bearings: the word soroban means abacus in Japanese, and the bearings of the door were thought to resemble abacus beads: hence the name), as well as doors on wheels.

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