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Preserving Japan's minka

January 10, 2008

I enjoyed reading "Rescuing the Minka" [Dec. 27] about the preservation of old traditional farmhouses in Japan.

In the early 1960s, while working in Japan, I met and married my late husband of 43 years. I travel to Japan often and love visiting his family in the village of Odochiyama, Niigata prefecture, near the beautiful Myoko mountains.

I especially enjoy visiting the ancient farms still owned by his cousins.

The homes, both more than 200 years old, are true minka with tatami rooms that can be expanded by sliding doors.

These rooms contain small Shinto shrines attached to wooden beams high above the floor and large butsudan, cabinets containing Buddhist items and ancestral tablets. The homes still have thatched roofs, but they are covered with aluminum, which allows snow to slide off.

My nephew lives on Sado Island, off the coast of Niigata prefecture. He has a master's degree in architecture and has been interested in preserving ancient farm homes on Sado.

While visiting there last year, I learned that farmers who wish to move into more modern houses do not want to destroy their old farm homes, which are like shrines to their ancestors.

The farmers rent out the homes inexpensively as long as tenants keep the structures in good condition.

Barbara Mace Otaki

Mission Viejo

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