Monday, December 5, 2011

A picturesque thatched houses hamlet, Kita-mura in Kyoto Pref.

Miyama-cho is nested in “Kyoto’s roof”, the Kitayama Mountains of northern Kyoto Prefecture.  Along the Yura River, there are several villages with traditional Kayabuki-yane (thatched-roof) farmhouses.

Kitamura Village with the mist-hung mountains of Kitayama cedars and deciduous trees
under the overcast sky

Kita-mura is one of those villages, a small hamlet, with cluster of some 50 farmhouses including 38 thatched-roof houses and a population of about 100.  The village was designated as an Important Traditional Architectural Preservation Area (重要伝統的建造物群保存地区) in 1994.

The steep rafter roofs are called “Gassho-dukuri” as known in Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, the World Heritage site.  “The Gassho-zukuri, ‘prayer-hands construction’ style is characterized by the thatched and steeply slanting roof resembling two hand joined in prayer.  The design is exceptionally strong and, in combination with the unique properties of the thatching, allow the houses to withstand and shed the weight of the region’s heavy snowfalls in winter.”  Miyama-cho is buried in the snow in winter.

A pair of kites (鳶) were taking the roof top as their vantage point.  Don't they look like ornamental tile "shibi"?   "Shibi" is a mythological bird believed to bring in rain  and drive away the evil spirits and is set on the both ends of top roofridge as a charm to protect the wooden structure from the fires.  Interestingly it is written with the Chinese Characters as 鳶尾 meaning "kite and tail". 

recently rethatched roofs

Maintenance of the roofs is a hard thing.  “Kaya” means all the grass reeds which are used for thatching like pampas grasses, sedges, and the likes.  Thatched roofs must be re-thatched regularly, once in five to ten years,  and the process is very time-consuming.   Reeds, which are harvested from autumn to winter, must be dried till next April and then are used for thatching.  Recently the durability of the thatched roofs has gotten much shorter due to weaker material grasses caused by the multiple reasons like polluted rain, change of soil, weather change, and so on.  And besides,  there are few experienced thatchers.  A new worker requires several years of practice before he can create a long-lasting, waterproof roofs. The local government has been subsidizing the costs of re-thatching the roofs.   Average cost is six million yen equivalent to about 45,000 US dollars at the latest exchange rate.

old thickly moss-covered roof

Another big problem about this hamlet is that this is a "semi marginal hamlet (準限界集落)", a rarely viable community due to aging and depopulation.  "Marginal hamlet" is the one of which 50% of the population is aged over 65.  People worried about the hamlet on the verge of extinction in the near future stood up and worked hard together to make it a viable community.  After the resignation as an Important Traditional Architectural Preservation Area in 1994,  public attention changed the elderly residents' sentiments.  They came to have more attachments to their old houses and got more pride and confidence in their environment which could make people feel at ease.  They have made efforts to keep the village paths and their houses in good shape and open, not overly so but reasonably, for the tourists.

The red color of the Pyracantha fruits is eye-catching in the muted colored landscape.

A few of persimmons are left for birds.

むらさきほおずき/purple Chinese lantern plant


The houses stand in peace and harmony with the surrounding nature.  Seeing from many tourist walking into the area and large buses parking on the opposite side of the road, I suspected that residents' lives were not so peaceful as they used to be, but they seem to live quite positively about the tourism.  Probably more well-behaved tourists or people who move into this place could sustain this picturesque hamlet.

colored leaves seen through Kitayama cedars

After leaving Kitamura, my husband and I drove along the Yura River and had a late homemade lunch overlooking the stream.  It takes about three and a half hours by car from our house in Nara City, so we made an early start at 7:00 a.m.

One day trip is possible from Kyoto City, but how about an overnight trip to taste well the place where spring is heralded by budding Japanese parsley, summer by the flicker of fireflies, autumn by colored leaves, and winter by a blanket of white snow?  Tourists will enjoy hiking in the Ashiu Forest or along the river, kayaking on the river, or camping.  As seasonal delicacies, there are "tsumikusa ryori" (wild young vegetables) for spring, sweet fish for summer, matsutake mushroom for autumn, and "botan nabe" (wild boar meat stew) for winter.

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  1. When I saw the word “kites” I looked for kites made of fabric and then realized it was the actual birds. The thatched roof sounds incredibly difficult to keep up. I can well imagine that it would not be easy to find experienced thatchers to carry on this challenging task. It looks as if life is very cozy for the few people that live in this heritage town. I also enjoyed seeing your little stop by the stream where you had a homemade lunch, stardust. You have a way of making everything sound delicious with your words. :)

  2. Very informative post, lovely scenes during the drives and halts.

  3. what a beautiful place! the roofs and beams are so different! i do hope the hamlet can be maintained and will thrive for future generations!

  4. The thatched roofs indeed look like folded hands in prayer. Its interesting to see them having done so intricately and in such detail. The views of the town are serene in spite of tourist invasion and I sure hope it remains so... Very interesting post with lovely captures, I could feel the charm of the place.. Thanks for sharing..

  5. A beautiful place. Thanks for all the pictures and description of the thatching process, very interesting. It is too bad that the future of the hamlet is uncertain. Thanks for taking us along.

  6. There couldn't be a better example of a community being in peace and harmony with it's surrounding nature. I love the look of the unviolated mountains and how the vegetation just seems to flow right down to the edge of the river. Loved the neatness of the homes and the look of the moss covered thatched roofs. I'm sure it's just as beautiful in winter, covered with snow.

  7. I like these grass roofs. Nice that such ancient traditions are preserved. And it's so ecological ^^ I especially like the mossy roof, moss makes it look even softer.

    P.S. We finally have first snow here ^_^

  8. stardustさん、こんにちわ。



  9. It seems that young generations are rediscovering traditions and want to keep them going. I am sure that elderly residents will be eventually replaced by a new comers who want to escape big cities. Tourism can be destroying but also contributing to restoration. It would worrying for the future of this village if no one was visiting!
    Roofs are very interesting. Each region of France has different type roofs depending on the weather, and as you say the steep ones stop the snow from building up and make it slide. I like the symbolism of the joined hands! Beautiful village!

  10. no deja de maravillarme los paisajes de tu pais
    un beso

  11. ME transportas a otra época, a otra vida... a la paz!! Bss

  12. Yoko,
    thanks for sharing such beautiful photos and write something about this place.

    Roberto, Rio de Janeiro

  13. Hi,Starsust.
    Have a great week.

  14. O what a beautiful hamlet! Thanks for so much interesting information! Thatched roofs are going out in our villages too. The picture with the birds is superb!

  15. Hello Yoko! Thank you for taking us to another world! The hamlet with those moss-covered thatched roof and the autumn trees in the background is one of the most beautiful I have seen.

    What a pleasant drive that must have been...picnicking by the stream as well. The seasonal delicacies sound most tempting!!

  16. What a wonderful, informative post for the day and a magical look at your world! Your photos are superb as always. I love the thatched roofs and the autumn colors! The last shot is breathtaking! Hope you have a wonderful week, Yoko!


  17. Beautiful photographs to illustrate this very informative and engaging post! Thank you!

  18. Hi Yoko

    I would love to see this village with the thatched roofs. It is wonderful that both the govt. and the village people themselves can see the historic value in the village. Let's hope that the tourists will provide a financial stimulus to help the village. It seems to be the only way that these towns can survive.
    Your photos of the village and surrounds are lovely. Thanks for taking us with you on this visit.

  19. Another post full of heartwarming treasures. So similar and yet so different to our landscape.
    I know how expensive it is to have to renew a thatched roof.They are lovely for others to look at, but a worry to live under.
    So much to see today. Thank you for your efforts.

  20. このような地区を保つのは、職人も少ない今日ではとても難しいことだと思います。

  21. Calling by as another Our World Tuesday participant, what a lovely post to find. I really would like to visit your beautiful country one day.

  22. I can understand the situation of the villeage by the first photo. But I wonder what a red pole in the center front is ? If it's a oldstyle red post, it is interesting.
    Have a lovely week ahead.

  23. Your posts always bring me joy! I really had no idea what a Japanese hamlet would look like. This is just beautiful - the houses, the foliage, the entire area.

    And your photos are superb as usual. The first one could be hung in a gallery, capturing so well the hamlet and its gorgeous surroundings. Reminds me a little bit of Colorado in the fall.

  24. Wow - what a gorgeous place to live. So much beauty! Your photos are, as always, so magically poetic.

  25. これぞ日本の秋ですね! 茅葺屋根の家に大根が干してあり、錦に色づく山々! 保存事業がすすんでいるのは嬉しいことです。科学技術発展と同時にこうした古来のものをずっと守りつづけたいですね。

  26. A wonderful place, you have done it justice.
    I hope it will last for many years; it is always so sad when old and traditional places are allowed to fall into disrepair and all the old crafts disappear with them.

  27. What a great post! That's why you shared the problem of rural area all the world.
    Not only rural area but also city area is now facing a rapidly aging society.
    In 2050 it's estimated that one third of people are more than 65 years old.
    We should take concrete action to solve the problem.

  28. Hi!
    Beautiful pictures in your blog. I like it. :)
    Nice willage, beautiful houses.

  29. My beloved friend Yoko
    Fantastic photos of a wonderful village!!!!
    I like it so much!
    Must be too touristy!
    It is beautiful place and houses the original roofing!
    It's real admirable!!!
    Thank you, who travel to your wonderful country!!!
    Many greetings and kisses

  30. How wonderful that the area is being maintained! I like the looks of the roofs very much.

  31. Hello Yoko!

    I took a break to visit you, among boxes and other things to pack (I'm preparing to go back home), and what I have found? Little pieces of jewelry in a fairy tale landscape!
    It was incredible for me to discover these beautiful houses from Japan, because you can find ones almost identical in Romania. They are typical for a particular rural region of my country of which a Japonese professor in antropolgy once said that it represents "the archetype village".
    Even the image of those Daikon radishes is similar, only not with radishes but with dried corn cobs.

    Sadly, perhaps in our case, there are even less people still interested in preserving and retaining such ancient traditions...

    Thank you for a glimpse of paradise, Yoko, and happy days ahead!

  32. Z wielka przyjemnością przeczytałam opis wioski z niesamowitymi i ciekawymi domami. Mam nadzieję, że turyści nie są zbyt uciążliwi w tym cudownym miejscu. Twoje kwiatki i widoki z drogi powrotnej są śliczne. Pozdrawiam cieplutko

  33. º°♥❤ Olá!
    ❤ Passei para admirar as fotografias.
    São muito bonitas.
    º°❤ Beijinhos.
    ♥❤ Brasil.

  34. こんにちは、私のブログの友人。

  35. Yokoさん おはようございます。
    私達が失いたくない ふるさとの原風景が残されているのですね。多くの印象的な写真でいろいろと教えて頂けて感謝です。 秋の素朴な草花が愛らしい。まるで故郷ジオラマのような街並み、美しい国、日本ですね。∬´ー`∬♪

  36. What a beautiful places..I like your Blog..Have a nice weekend

  37. A good day. Kitamura is a wonderful souvenir. It's a very nice place. Beautiful buildings made of wood. I think thatched roofs are art. The art of the good work. Nice you describing this historic village. Works are really in line with the surrounding beautiful nature. Previously probably not easy. It seems to us today. A quieter life. Thank you for a great spectacle. A beautiful trip.On my blog I show you a fish closer. Thank you for the comment, and I wish you a peaceful days before the Christmas holidays. Sincerely, Peter.

  38. What a beautiful place and how beautiful are your photographs Yoko! I send you my best wishes,

  39. It is fascinating to learn about the thatched roofs. I have seen them in England. It must be difficult for elderly people to bear the expense of keeping them up to date. I love that you still have flowers. Here all is grey with a light dusting of snow. What a beautiful day trip you and your husband took.

  40. This post was marvelous & delightful. What a sublime & peaceful village maintaining traditions & living in simple thatched roof houses . Nice of the government to provide subsidy for re thatching and also designate the village"Important Traditional Architectural Preservation Area" in 1994. Shall add this village to my travel itinerary if ever I happen to visit Japan!

  41. Qué maravilla de casas... es un sitio precioso!

  42. Interesting to know about this thatched houses..
    On April 2012, I was in Kyoto, but I had no idea about this place.
    Thanks for sharing..

  43. Can't believe: thatched roof houses in Japan...:-)

    Somehow a similiar technique of roofing, but somehow totally different from the houses on the German island of Sylt!


  44. Wonderful place and pictures. Unusuals and beautiful houses. Very interesting post. Thank you for sharing.

  45. The images and place that you have shared is amazing as it is full of beauty of nature tiki hut are increasing the beauty more because it seems to be look like the best natural.

  46. Thank you for such incredible virtual tour to this most beautiful city dear friend.
    beautiful beyond my imagination!!!

  47. As casas são belas, Yoko, mas a vegetação (me parece ser outono) está um esplendor! Realmente, o Japão é um belíssimo país.
    É um imenso prazer navegar no teu blog!


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