Hida Folk Village

Hida Folk Village is a sort of Japanese Colonial Williamsburg. Its origins go back to when several villages in the remote, mountainous Hida region of central Japan were scheduled to be flooded due to the construction of a hydroelectric dam.

In order to preserve the area’s cultural heritage, conservationists worked to move various artifacts and whole houses, some of them more than 200 years old, to Hida Folk Village. It’s an open air museum and a monument to the strenuous way of life that existed here before electrification, which did not come to this region until the 1960s.

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The bus ride from Takayama to Hida Folk Village is less than 20 minutes. After getting off the bus, you can look back toward Takayama and see this temple along with the distant mountains.

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There is a large pond near the entrance.

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Across the pond you get your first look at the buildings of this recreated village.

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These statues come from a village crematorium and are about 300 years old. If I understood the signs correctly, they are all of the Buddhist spirit Jizo, whose representations always come in sets of six. Each one is responsible for a different aspect of the transmigration of souls.

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This house shows how the Hida people adapted to areas of very heavy snowfall.

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That is a lot of thatch.

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Here’s the roof seen from the inside of the attic.

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This old loom was in another building. It goes back to the silk mills that were built in the region late in the 19th Century.

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A wood cutter’s house.

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Here’s a reminder of the days before power tools. My muscles hurt just looking at it.

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Maintaining these thatch roofs in an authentic manner must be an enormous amount of work.

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The roofs made me think about Iris tectorum – Japanese Roof Iris. They really did grow in people’s roofs. Were they planted or is it possible they just found their way there?

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This is inside the house of a village headman. He had a large space for public meetings.

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More old farm tools. You have to wonder how recently these might have been used.

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And how did they work that mortar and pestle?

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The house of a village teamster.

Seeing Hida Folk Village reminded me of Robert Caro’s biography of LBJ, where it covered the revolutionary impact that electrification had on rural Texas. All of a sudden, life got a lot easier for a lot of people. I imagine the impact was similar here. Almost impossible now to imagine going back to the days before electricity, but it wasn’t so many generations ago.

41 Comments on “Hida Folk Village

  1. There were some great signs talking about the transformation of life when electricity arrived in the 1960s, I wish I had taken photos. There were three appliances that were considered the most revolutionary in changing lives: the washing machine, the refrigerator, and the television.

    We had a long train ride up the mountain to Takayama, on a fairly amazing railroad track following a narrow river gorge. So the isolation of the location was clear. I would have loved to know more.

  2. I am finally caught up with you again, Jason. I love this series on Japan and Japanese gardens. The bamboo forest was impressive. They may be grasses, but sure look like trees!

  3. It was pretty much the same over here in Europe, once you went to the country side. My mom is seventy now, when she was a child, there was no electricity in her parents house. There was, when I was little, but no phone. Not even my parents had a phone, untill I fixed them up with a mobile as soon as that technology was available. They skipped the regular phone completely (one had to pay for digging the line to your house in Austria – it was way too expensive).

  4. Very interesting to see the village as it was … Another slice of Japanese life I know very little about. Village life must have been very hard before electricity..

  5. Those thatched roofs are fascinating. I am glad you showed the inside of the attic. I have often wondered about how the thatch was attached to the roof. Irises growing up there. I wonder what else grew there. I guess when the cats and dogs were raining through the thatch they would fix them. What a difficult life people had before electricity. We are a spoiled lot.

    • We are indeed. I couldn’t find the picture of it, but they used a massive needle to bundle the thatch together with rope.

  6. What a wonderful place. Thank goodness that people had the foresight to save the buildings and artifacts to share with future generations.

  7. Hida Village is fascinating and beautiful. Just for kicks, I checked to see if one could get a thatched roof in the U.S., and I found one company that does thatching. Wonder how an insurance company would view it? As for a lack of electricity, ugh! I spent a week in July (think VERY hot) in Texas in my former house without electricity. It wasn’t easy. I wouldn’t go back to the days without it. If I were traveling to Japan, Hida Village is one place I’d visit.

    • I guess there still are some places where people use thatch roofs. Not sure if there is any reason to do so other than cost.

  8. Your post have created a desire to visit Japan! I would be happy if all I see are the gardens. I love trying to imagine living with out electricity. Not counting camping, I did once for 3 weeks after hurricane Ike. It was kind of pleasant actually…..thankfully the weather was nice!

    • They did have a person who showed how they did woodworking in the Meiji era. There was also a small rice paddy and some patches of vegetables, but they weren’t very well tended.

  9. Thanks again, Jason, for your series on Japan. We visited a similar village (way out in the country) called Ugai Tori Yama, a sixteenth century village used as a most interesting restaurant. So very beautiful, and your story about Hida brought back those memories.

  10. I grew up hearing my grandmother talk about living with no electricity for years. And no phones, cars, planes, etc. It all happened in her lifetime and she said that nobody ever dreamed life could be the way it became. She made it sound like before all of that came along there was hard work and plenty of it, from dawn until dark.
    I’m sure these people would probably say the same, if they could.

    • I wish I had asked my parents and grandparents more questions! Both grandmothers had big vegetable gardens, and root cellars with canned veggies etc. One lived in Wyoming, and the other in a very small town South Dakota. The SD grandmother’s house had no indoor plumbing when I was very young in the 1950s. My brother and I would fight over whose turn it was to pump water from the cistern. I would grab a handful of fresh dill weed from the garden on my way to the outhouse to mitigate the odor. My parents offered over and over to pay for an indoor bathroom once city plumbing was available, but my grandmother and great aunt who lived with her thought such things were fripperies for city people, and a waste of money.

  11. I watched a program about a home being built up in Charlevoix, MI with a thatched roof. I had no idea that was even possible here. Thanks for sharing your photos.

  12. Another culture and another age – fascinating to think of how they lived years ago. I went to this village too, in deep snow at New Year, but my memories have faded and my photos are few, so it is lovely to see pictures of it again, Thanks for sharing!

      • No, but I did go to Kyoto and further south to Hiroshima to extend the cherry blossom viewing season and it was quite beautiful! I also visited the south island of Kyushu one spring – with volcanic landscape and hot springs to enjoy at every turn. 🙂

  13. Fascinating. The story I heard about Iris tectorum is that it had to be grown on the roof because the Emperor demanded that only rice and vegetables be grown in the ground. I have seen it grow on thatched roofs in Normandy too.

    • That story about I. tectorum sounds like something from a fable, but arable land is in short supply in Japan, but maybe not.

  14. How interesting seeing how life was, the village is fascinating, I was amazed at some of the tools. I like the idea of iris growing from a thatched roof, I imagine it self-seeded there, everything grows in my gutters, better than my borders if the truth be known.
    Those mountains in the distance look beautiful.xxx

  15. You’re right Jason to maintain a thatch roof is hard work. The people survived in such hard conditions without of modern tools and electricity. Your post reminded me the museum of old Russian houses gathered in one village in Far North. Thanks to enthusiasts we can now know how ancestors lived in 19th century.

  16. How interesting – I would have loved to wander through those old homes. How people lived in times gone by, before the advent of such things as electricity and indoor plumbing, is something that I’ve always been fascinated by. In this day and age when so many old buildings are simply torn down, It makes me so happy when I hear of instances when they are valued and preserved.

  17. I want to go there now, get away from the noise of modern life. Such beautiful buildings!

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