Lower Tokikuni Residence

Nature, Culture and History
Farmhouses and some other folk houses in Japan are called minka.  They are usually the epitome of vernacular architecture, being climate conscious, regionally modified and stylistically varied.  The Tokikuni house satisfies all of these headings and was designated a National Important Cultural Property in 1963.

The garden flanks the north-eastern elevation and brings light into the darker side of the house.  But was the garden always here?
Although it was extensively renovated in 2005, it is thought to have been built in the first half of the eighteenth-century.  No records exist to proof this but experts have dated it from the style of construction and the materials used.  It has also undergone a number of alterations over the years, some more recent than others.

Smoke from the hearth would have drifted up through the open rafters and left the building through the small gable end.  The two entrances are roofed with shingles held down with boulders.
Like many other buildings of this type the roof is an eye-catching feature.  It has a hipped and gabled roof and is thatched with reed, both of which can be seen on minka in many parts of Japan.  Nevertheless, what sets it apart from other buildings with a similar heritage is its size.  It has a combined floor area of some 357 sq. m.  Some of the interior is divided into a honey-combe of rooms of various sizes and purpose.

Part of the daily routine of the house would be to visit the Altar and Shrine.
The space floored with tatami matting is extensive and accounts for almost half of the total area of the building.  The tatami is mostly laid in formal patterns, except for one area with an open hearth where the arrangement is more utilitarian.  It was here that the day to day running of the house would have been conducted in sight of the Buddhist family altar and a Shinto Shrine, at which household and local deities may have been worshiped and respected.

An area of happiness and joy as well as hard work during the dark winter days.
A surprisingly large area is, however, given over to a beaten earth floor.  Winter on the Noto Peninsula can be especially unpleasant.  Relentless rain storms and blizzards driven by icy winds off the Japan Sea are the norm, not to mentioned depressing leadened skies.  This large open space was therefore used during inclement weather for various jobs and even for events attended by the local community, such as to celebrate the New Year or other festivals.  Standing here the sights and sounds of past gatherings fill the air and mingle with the scent of woodsmoke and the earth beneath out feet.

A sturdy column with a patina of age is located slightly off-centre in this space.  Called the Daikoku-bashira, it is the “main column of the house”, a “mainstay” of the home and hence a term which is also sometimes used about the main breadwinner of a household.

The building roughly faces south-west and there are two entrances protected by separate roofs.  The westerly one opens onto the large area of beaten earth.  The easterly one, however, was originally reserved for the use of visitors of rank and status—a priest, a local village headman, a nobleman or woman and even a warrior of some standing.  In fact, although the house is built in a folkhouse style, it has the bearing of a warrior family home and the facilities needed for a person of samurai rank.

There are, for instance, two rooms in the south-east corner with a tokonoma—a decorative alcove in front of which an honoured guest would sit.  It can only be supposed that with two such alcoves, the choice of which room to use rather depended on the rank of the visitor—who goes where.  “Should we put his lordship in the best room or the second best room?”  Somehow I think protocol would already have been written for such an eventuality.  Nevertheless, both can be reached sequentially through other rooms or along a tatami matted corridor.  The “best room” not only as a tokonoma but also has a shoin window, a featured borrowed from priest’s dwellings and the homes of the noble and royal.

One of the finely crafted double sided transoms gracing the rooms of status in the house.
Sadly, the only plan I have been able to find of the Tokikuni house does not indicate where the bathroom was and indeed where the toilet facilities were either.  In a number of traditional Japanese buildings I have visited and surveyed a toilet was often located behind a tokonoma and reached by stepping out onto an open veranda where, close by there would be a water-basin to rinse the hands before returning to the seat of honour.  Looking at the plan, I can only suppose that a visit to the toilet meant a long walk along the rather narrow open veranda under a projecting lean-to roof.  In which case, an excursion to the toilet in mid-winter would certainly have been something to avoid.  I cannot imagine, however, that such needs were not given due consideration.  I just need to do more research.

It was Senmatsu, the second son of the main Tokikuni family, who moved out of the family home in the sixteenth-century to set up on his own and his ancestors were eventually responsible for the building of this present premisses known officially as the Lower Tokikuni Residence, with the main branch of the family in the Upper Tokikuni Residence standing not far off.  The Tokikuni’s were descended from the Taira clan, a powerful force which was defeated in the Gempei War in the twelfth-century.  Some of the vanquished ended up on the Noto peninsula, from where their fortunes changed leading to a new hereditary line and the establishment of a heritage of considerable value—the Tokikuni Residences—a confluence of nature, culture and the affairs of history.

Please search Tokikuni Residences, Noto for current opening times, entrance fees, conditions and locations.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright except where noted.

Do feel free to pass on the address of this blog to anyone you think will be interested.  Or post it on a social media site.  Should you wish to leave a comment, please do so by clicking on the comment mark at the bottom left of this or any of the other posts.   If you have found this blog interesting, why not become a follower.  Thank you.

No comments:

Post a Comment