Japan 5 – Hida no Sato

Hida no Sato (Hida Folk Village) is a wonderful open air museum situated on the outskirts of Takayama, a delightful town in the mountains of central Honshu, north of Nagoya. The site consists of around 30 old buildings from all over the mountains that were dismantled and then rebuilt here in the 1970’s. The buildings are mainly large farmhouses of various types and most are over 100 years old.

The old buildings have been re-erected as a small village in a rural landscape

The old buildings have been re-erected as a small village in a rural landscape

The Hida region of Gifu Prefecture is subject to heavy snowfall (often up to two metres) and the different styles of architecture show alternative approaches to dealing with this climate. In the north of the region the farmers built using steeply sloped roofs so that snow would slide off. This is the “gassho-zukuri” (praying hands) style of building used at the nearby Shirakawa-go village that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other areas built houses with very strong, low-pitched roofs so that people could climb up and shovel off the excess snow.

The "gassho-zukuri" farmhouses were built with steep thatched roofs

The “gassho-zukuri” farmhouses were built with steep thatched roofs

Other buildings have shallow-pitched roofs where snow could be easily cleared

Other buildings have shallow-pitched roofs where snow could be easily cleared

Visitors are able to wander around and enter the buildings. Inside are many of the everyday tools and artifacts used by their original inhabitants. Each structure also functions as a museum for one aspect of traditional mountain life, including weaving, house building and repair, cultivation, transport, etc.

The houses are packed with many original artifacts

The houses are packed with many original artifacts

This building displayed many looms and other fabric processing equipment

This building displayed many examples of looms and other fabric processing equipment

Models are also used to show house construction techniques and such things as farm layouts.

A model showing the construction of a "gassho-zukuri" house

A model showing the construction of a “gassho-zukuri” house

The immense size of many buildings is very impressive. Large extended families would have all lived together under one roof.

Many of the farmhouses are very large spaces

Many of the farmhouses are very large spaces

Most buildings also feature space for the domestic animals

Buildings also feature space for the domestic animals alongside the people

Hido no Sato even features an original village well that has been painstakingly reconstructed on the site.

A village well

A village well

A view down the well showing the handmade wooden buckets

A view down the well showing the handmade wooden buckets

A fascinating old phot showing one of the buildings before it was moved

A fascinating old photo showing one of the buildings before it was moved

Hida no Sato is a very peacefull and picturesque place to visit

Hida no Sato is a very peaceful and picturesque place to visit

Some old thatched roofs have developed into interesting little ecosystems

Some old thatched roofs have developed into interesting little ecosystems

The village has a couple of little rice paddies that were developing a nice crop when we visited

The village even has a couple of little rice paddies that were developing a nice crop when we visited

Developing rice

Developing rice

This is a wonderful place to visit and certainly proved much more interesting than we had anticipated. In one part of the site visitors can watch traditional craftspeople at work and buy their wares.

The doll is called "Sarubobo" and is a symbol of Takayama

The doll is called “Sarubobo” and is a traditional symbol of Takayama

 

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Japan 3 – Kanazawa

We included the small city of Kanazawa as a destination on our Japan trip for just one reason, the “Kaga Yuzen” textile dyeing tradition for which the area is famed. We also knew that it had one of Japan’s most famous gardens.

What we found was a delightful city that was full of treasures to explore and had most of its tourist sights within one compact area. From the moment we arrived at Kanazawa’s futuristic train station until we left it provided a succession of “better than expected” experiences and I could happily recommend it to any traveller.

Most visitors first encounter with Kanazawa is through its futuristic train station

Most visitors first encounter Kanazawa through its futuristic train station

The great sculptural arch outside Kanazawa station

The great sculptural arch outside Kanazawa station

Kimono on display at a Kaga Yuzen artist's studio

Kimono on display at a Kaga Yuzen artist’s studio

Getting around Kanazawa is very easy, with many of the sights being within walking distance of each other. All the main visitor spots can also be easily reached by the “Kanazawa Loop Bus” that can be used with a convenient day pass.

The quirky tourist loop buses provide easy access to all the sites

The quirky tourist loop buses provide easy access to all the sites

The city has for centuries been the centre of one of Japan’s richest and most productive agricultural regions. This, plus the fact that it was not bombed during the second world war means that it is rich with historic architecture and artefacts. There are still largely intact samurai and geisha districts to wander around with many houses open for visitors. The city also boasts many museums devoted to various aspects of its cultural heritage, far more than we could take in on a short visit. Modern culture is also very noticeable with interesting sculpture dotted all around and a spectacular new Museum of Twenty-First Century Art.

A street in the historic Geisha district of Kanazawa

A street in the historic Geisha district of Kanazawa

The famous Kutani ware ceramics are one of many local craft products

The famous Kutani ware ceramics are just one of many local craft products

The exciting Museum of Twenty-First Century Art

The exciting Museum of Twenty-First Century Art

The jewel in Kanazawa’s crown is the beautiful “Kenrokuen”, a large stroll garden developed over centuries by the Maeda lords of Kanazawa. For lovers of Japanese gardens this is a must see, for others it is a very nice addition to the itinerary if you are here anyway, though I think Kyoto is still the place to learn all about the richness and variety in this nations garden art.

Just one of many scenic views in the Kenrokuen

Just one of many scenic views in the Kenrokuen

The best and biggest surprise in Kanazawa is just across an old castle moat from Kenrokuen. (The moat is now a main city highway.) Here is the great restoration project of Kanazawa castle. The main castle buildings were destroyed by fire in the nineteenth century but parts are gradually being rebuilt through a remarkably impressive combination of archaeology, craft skills and education project.

The results are both stunning and informative. The ability to compare an original gatehouse with a newly rebuilt one using the exact same techniques is surprisingly rewarding, helped for us by a very enthusiastic guide who expounded at length on traditional Japanese woodworking techniques.

Kanazawa Castle is slowly being rebuilt

Kanazawa Castle is slowly being rebuilt

A newly rebuilt castle gatehouse

A newly rebuilt castle gatehouse

A large and bustling food market is another favourite Kanazawa destination

A large and bustling food market is another favourite Kanazawa destination

Kanazawa was full of surprises. We found excellent Sri Lankan food down a little side street

Kanazawa was full of surprises. We found excellent Sri Lankan food down a little side street

I plan further posts on Kanazawa’s delights including my next one on Kaga Yuzen dyeing. I hope that this introduction has made it clear that Kanazawa is a great place to visit!

See also:
Japan 1 – Nishijin Textile Centre
Japan 2 – Matsumoto Castle

Japan 2 – Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle in Nagano Prefecture has a unique place among Japan’s historic buildings. The keep (or Donjon) was built in the late 16th century and is the only surviving Donjon built in wood. All other examples either burned down, or were upgraded to stone construction. Matsumoto Castle (originally known as Fukashi Castle) was never upgraded and was lucky enough to escape the vagaries of fire.

Matsumoto Castle - One of Japan's great National Treasures

Matsumoto Castle – One of Japan’s great National Treasures

Close-up of the tower

Close-up of the tower

Nicknamed "The Crow Castle" because of its forbidding black exterior

Nicknamed “The Crow Castle” because of its forbidding black exterior

Nicknamed the “Crow Castle” because of its black exterior, it is now one of Japan’s great National Treasures but it almost faced demolition in the nineteenth century when the Meji Government planned to sell the land for redevelopment. The castle was only saved and restored through the action of a few local citizens.

The small North-West Tower (on the right) has a hidden floor where troops could be massed

The small North-West Tower (on the right) has a hidden floor where troops could be massed

Militarily, the castle has some interesting features. The main tower is entered through an adjoining smaller tower, which appears to have three floors from the outside but has a fourth, hidden floor where defending troops could be massed. All the stairs in the keep were also designed with defence in mind. Every stair is different, with extreme changes in angle and step spacing so that invading troops could not easily rush upwards. The climb to the top of the tower is very difficult even with modern lighting and helpful guides to assist with the steepest climbs.

I"m sure that real samurai were more menacing (and bigger!)

I”m sure that real samurai were more menacing (and bigger!)

An interior view of the wooden structure

An interior view of the wooden structure

One floor of the castle has an exhibition of guns, with a fascinating display showing the early development of firearms in Japan.

The firing mechanism from an early matchlock musket

The firing mechanism from an early matchlock musket

A display showing how early muskets were made

A display showing how early muskets were made

A fuselock musket with fuse in place

A fuselock musket with fuse in place

Decorated roof tile from the keep

Decorated roof tile from the keep

The astonishingly complex roof structure at the top of the tower

The astonishingly complex roof structure at the top of the tower

The view down from the top of the keep

The view down from the top of the keep

And the view in the opposite direction

And the view in the opposite direction

Matsumoto is a very nice city but tends to be rather out of the way for most western tourists. We got there on a beautiful, exciting (and sometimes scary) bus journey over the Japanese Alps from Takayama but it can be reached from Tokyo in just over 2.5 hours on the fastest train. For the castle alone it is well worth a visit.

See also: Japan 1 – Nishijin Textile Centre

The Horniman Museum

I have discovered a new favourite museum! Hidden away in Forest Hill, South London is a late-Victorian gem – The Horniman Museum.

The facade of the original Horiniman Museum building

The facade of the original Horiniman Museum building

Founded in 1901 by Victorian tea trader Frederick John Horniman, the museum contains an eclectic mix of displays including natural history, ethnology and musical instruments. The original building was designed in the Arts and Crafts style by Charles Harrison Townsend who also designed an extension opened in 1912. New buildings were again added in the 1990’s, including a grass-roofed Centre for Understanding the Environment.

Townsend's 1912 extension

Townsend’s 1912 extension

The CUE building (Centre for Understanding the Environment)

The CUE building (Centre for Understanding the Environment)

This is a very traditional museum with many of the natural history exhibits being slightly faded examples of the taxidermist’s art, but they are a major part the place’s charm. Other display cases contain particularly good educational explanations.

Scarlet ibis

Scarlet ibis

Slightly faded and scruffy but still very beautiful!

Slightly faded and scruffy but still very beautiful!

Beautiful if slightly dusty insects abound

Beautiful if slightly dusty insects abound

The museum has a vast collection of musical instruments, from ancient to modern, with many beautiful specimens.

A case of musical instruments

A case of musical instruments

One of the Benin brozes in the Africa gallery

One of the Benin bronzes in the Africa gallery

Mask

Mask

One of the delights of the Horniman is it’s freedom from the modern “sanitised” display aesthetic. Many of the ethnographic displays are housed in dark old wooden cabinets, often with an eccentric mix of items displayed side by side.

Model of a north-African doorway behind a case of stuffed birds

Model of a north-African doorway behind a case of stuffed birds

One of the fossil displays

Fossil Ichthyosaur fore-limb

A beautiful set of teeth!

A beautiful set of teeth!

Lettuce Coral

Lettuce Coral

One of the many fine moths and butterflys

One of the many fine moths and butterflys

Natural History Museum

The animal and plant decoration on the museum’s exterior

I have posted before about my love for the Waterhouse Building, home of London’s Natural History Museum (The Sculpture of Nature). This time I thought that I would share a few photographs showing the outside of this beautiful and eccentric building, specifically, a few of the many, many animal and plant sculptures and reliefs that decorate its rich exterior.

A Cathedral to Science - entrance to the museum

A Cathedral to Science – entrance to the museum

The ambition of Alfred Waterhouse’s design is breathtaking in its complexity, with literally hundreds of sculptures and gargoyles adorning a façade that is already a busy excursion into the Gothic fairytale-land of the German Romanesque. Such richness of detail could easily have disintegrated into a jumbled mess, yet through careful control of scale and proportion, together with the cohesive force of the strong lines running through the design, Waterhouse never loses the overall coherence of the building.

Iconic landmark - The towers of the museum seen from South Kensington underground station

Iconic landmark – The towers of the museum seen from South Kensington underground station

Primitive reptiles and a dire-wolf? beneath on of the many windows

Primitive reptiles and a dire-wolf? beneath one of the many windows

This magnificent feline is high up, against one of the building's central towers

This magnificent feline is high up, against one of the building’s central towers

A whole menagerie of beasts and gargoyles look down on visitors

A whole menagerie of beasts and gargoyles look down on visitors

This lion, like all the other beasts, was modelled from Waterhouse's own drawings

This lion, like all the other beasts, was modelled from Waterhouse’s own drawings

The building also has more subtle decoration, such as this fox and birds over the entrance

The building also has more subtle decoration, such as this fox and birds over the entrance

Smaller creatures are represented on tiles such as these

Smaller creatures are represented on tiles such as these

Apart from the animal in the roundel, note the birds in the rooftop ironwork

Apart from the animal in the roundel, note the birds in the rooftop ironwork

The famous pterodactyl

The famous pterodactyl

I fell in love with this building on the day I first saw it and in the decades since I have only grown to appreciate it more. If you have a chance to visit London then please make a trip to the Natural History Museum one of your priorities.

(As always, thanks are due to husband Alex for helping to put my thoughts into words.)

More Eden

Here are a few more photographs we took on our visit to The Eden Project last week. This time we present some of the more unusual / abstract / eccentric images we came home with. Hope that they inspire you!

The roof of the education centre

The Sculpture of Nature

Terracotta relief sculpture in The Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum in London houses one of the world’s great collections on the living world but it is also one the nation’s truly amazing buildings. Designed by Alfred Waterhouse (1830 – 1905), the Museum is like a Romanesque Cathedral to Science with a touch of Victorian railway station thrown in. Waterhouse’s design is not only striking in terms of style but also for its innovative use of materials, with the entire building being clad in fired terracotta tiles in an interesting buff and blue colour scheme. The extravagant, nature-inspired decoration was also produced in terracotta with huge numbers of sculptures and sculptural reliefs both inside and out.

Romanesque Cathedral crossed with a railway station - A Temple of Science

Romanesque Cathedral crossed with a railway station – A Temple of Science

I studied art at a time when Modernism was still very much the dominant force in architecture. I seem to remember that a building like the Natural History Museum was not so much attacked in discussions of good architecture (except by implication), it more just totally ignored; but I loved the building the first time I saw it and love it even more today.

Waterhouse's Museum is as far from Modernism as you can get

Waterhouse’s Museum is as far from Modernism as you can get

These images are just a small selection of the reliefs and other decorations to be found in just the main hall of the building; the same decorative scheme is carried on throughout the building and can be the basis of an interesting museum trip all on their own.

Birds at the bottom of the grand staircase

Birds at the bottom of the grand staircase

Each piece of decoration was drawn by Waterhouse himself, then checked for scientific accuracy by Richard Owen, the museum’s director, then sent to a sculptor for modelling in clay before being cast and fired.

A canine - probably a domestic dog

A canine – probably a domestic dog

The great sculpture of Charles Darwin by Sir Joseph Boehm now commands the grand staircase.

The greatest figure in biology looking over the main hall

The greatest figure in biology looking over the main hall

A ram's head decorating the base of a main pillar

A ram’s head decorating the base of a main pillar

A feline

A feline with her young

Another bird

Another bird

Darwin

Darwin

For further information see Natural History Museum – History and Architecture
 and the RIBA Natural History Museum pages
or make a trip to see the museum yourself.