Saturday, April 18, 2015

Okutsu House 奥津邸in Niiharu Citizen Forest

Hi, how are you?

Almost all the events in Niiharu Citizen Forest (map here) will be held either at Tsudoi-no-Ie つどいの家(Gathering House), or Satoyama Exchange Center 里山交流センター(Former Okutsu House 旧奥津邸).

Former Okutsu House
 Both of these two facilities have toilets.

Toilet for Tsudoi-no-Ie
Toilet for Okutsu House, attached to Kamaya; can you figure it out at the right edge? 

Unlike ordinary toilets of Citizen Foresst, these toilets of Niiharu are well-equipped with soaps and toilet papers.

Toilet says “Thank you for your clean usage of us! Please do not flash papers other than the supplied.” 
Tsudoi-no-Ie faces an open space with picnic tables, where out-door events are held.


We can have meals there, or even inside of the Tsudoi-no-ie where there are long tables for meetings. It also has tatami-mat space with kitchen, and an atelier for craft lessons. 

It seems to me we need a permission to enter here.
Craft Atelier
Handmade Quoits
Next to the Admin Office, a parking space is open for shoppers of Farmers Market at Tsudoi-no-Ie every Saturday morning.

Satoyama Exchange Center was home of Okutsu family奥津家 who could trace back their ancestry for Shoya 庄屋Officer (for explanation in Japanese here, in English here) of 17th century.  Okutsu family was a kind of local leader. The steep steps to come down to the Forest from Tohkaichiba was created in the 19th century by the then-owner of the estate. Before, the kids in the upper part of the village had to go around the estate of Okutsu family for Niiharu Elementary School. Mr. Okutsu allowed kids a short-cut, which made them easy to study. The slope is still frequented by local kids. On the left of the slope is Niiharu’s herb garden (with orchard) where the events are held.

Niiharu Shogakkoh (Elementary School)

Kids there, as 100 years ago
Herb garden

In August 2001, the estate was donated to the city that remodeled the property for the use of community activities. The design of renovation is to preserve the old farm house as much as possible so that we can enjoy the feel of daily life in traditional Satoyama. The center consists of 6 structures; Omoya 主屋 (“Main House”), Nagayamon 長屋門(“Long House Gate”), Naya 納屋 (“Warehouse”), Dozoh 土蔵(“Safe”), Kamaya 釜屋 (“Kitchen” where now the toilet is), and Kawaya  (“Toilet” ancient style).


In the 1980s and 1990s, Rural Culture Association of Japan 農山漁村文化協会 published a series called “Japanese Diet 日本の食生活全集" It is not about fads for weight loss in Japan, but a kind of ethnology compiled by volunteers recording the stories of then grandpas and grandmas who told them what they ate before World War II. The series is constructed prefecture by prefecture, and there is a volume titled “A verbatim Note of Diet in Kanagawa Prefecture (1992) 聞き書き神奈川の食事.

In it, we are told until the first half of the last century, rural people of Kanagawa prefecture lived in a house where kitchen and bathroom are separated from the main house. Sure enough, Okutsu House is a complex where kitchen and bathroom stand independently. Now, as Satoyama Exchange Center, Omoya, Nagayamon, and Kamaya are used for community events, whereas Naya, Dozoh and Kawaya serve as warehouses. (The working toilets are in Kamaya and Omoya. Please do not invade in to Kawaya; it is for display only.)

Washing basin, old style

Exhibition of weaved bamboo baskets in Nagayamon

21st century Fire Extinguisher has a chic home at Nagayamon

I found Nagayamon interesting because it actually is 2 tiny houses serving together as a gate for the estate. Last fall in 2014 when there was an art exhibition at Niiharu Forest, the houses became galleries for contemporary art with a quiet and intimate atmosphere.

They say the design of Naya is very local; its walls have lots of gaps, which is deliberate in order to preserve the contents of warehouse dry during the monsoon season of Yokohama. 

Dozoh and Kawaya

Kamaya now have picnic table and kitchen with traditional Japanese ovens. They also sell herbs as souvenir.

Herb, anyone?
Omoya now has two functions, an office and meeting space for community activities. The office part has small library and free rental toys.

Traditional toys for playing house. Could you recognize them as plates and chop sticks for dolls?
They also sell herbs and potpourris.
Anybody can enter Omoya, provided you take off your shoes.

Inside is very cozy traditional tatami rooms. I guess it would be OK to lay down there is no function is held. In Engawa 縁側attached to Hiroma 広間“Main Room”, there are traditional table and cushion where we can have a small rest. It is something very calming to sit at the table of Engawa, and look the scenery of satoyama in Niiharu. 

A vista of tiny garden from Hiroma

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