Culture
3 months ago

5000-year-old tradition: Japan's thatched roof villages live on

Representational image
Representational image

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Nestled in the mountains north of Kyoto lies a cluster of villages where time seems to stand still. Here, traditional thatched-roof houses, a testament to Japan's 5,000-year-old architectural heritage, are preserved and celebrated.

Miyama, a region of exquisite beauty with 57 villages nestled amidst dense forests, offers a unique opportunity to step back in time. Thatching, once a widespread practice, is now a rare skill kept alive by dedicated artisans like Haruo Nishio. 

Nishio, who runs Miyama Futon & Breakfast Honkan, a 160-year-old thatched-roof house welcoming overnight guests, believes these roofs represent more than shelter—they connect people to their roots and the natural world.

The thatched roofs themselves are marvels of engineering. Built with a particular type of silver grass called Suzuki, they are designed to withstand the region's harsh winters and heavy snowfall. 

A heritage under threat

Despite their beauty and historical significance, thatched houses face significant challenges. Like thatched roofs, wooden houses often lose value over time, leading to abandonment. 

Rural areas like Miyama, with their ageing population and dwindling services, are being depopulated, which further threatens the survival of these traditional structures. 

Sustainable tourism

Sustainable tourism is seen as a key strategy. Initiatives like the Countryside Stays programme encourage overnight visits, allowing travellers to experience rural life firsthand. 

This influx of tourism is not just boosting local income, but also fostering a sense of pride among residents and appreciation for their heritage. 

Miyama offers visitors a unique experience, with activities ranging from learning the art of thatching to organic farming and traditional crafts. With its commitment to preserving its thatched-roof legacy and embracing sustainable practices, Miyama offers a glimpse into a future where tradition and innovation thrive in harmony.

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