Japanese Family Farmhouse, Audio Tour Track #3017
Japanese Family Farmhouse, Shoichi Uchiyama, 1992, 1:48 scale
Japanese Family Farmhouse, created by Shoichi Uchiyama and acquired by our museum founders in 1992. This farmhouse is a realistic depiction of Japanese architecture typical of Japan’s Edo Period, which lasted from the 1600s till the late 1860s. This farmhouse has three stories and is approximately 9” long, 6 ½” wide, and 7” tall at its highest point. It rests on a simple, black wooden base which is 10 ¾” by 8 ½.” The farmhouse sits on a landscape of rocks and grasses, with smooth clay tiles forming the foundation of the farmhouse floor. Unlike most pieces in our museum’s collection, this farmhouse was not produced in an exact miniature scale; for reference, although there are no people depicted in this piece, if there were they would be less than half an inch tall. Uchiyama created everything in his Japanese Family Farmhouse by hand using natural building materials, including rice straw, cedar bark, clay, and various kinds of wood.
Visitors can see the front of Japanese Family Farmhouse as well as the left side of the building, but the back and right side are not readily visible. The front of the building shows two ground level entrances to the farmhouse, as well as a small, third story window with closed sliding panels. The sliding doors of these two main entrances are open, but the interior of the farmhouse is dark, leaving the interior up to one’s imagination. The left side of the building features another entrance with a covered awning; directly above the awning is an open window to the second floor. Clothes have been hung to dry on wooden beams outside this window. Directly above, on the third floor, are four large sliding panels, which are closed. These sliding doors and window panels, known as shoji, feature delicate white rice paper and intricately cut wooden lattice work. Using transparent paper on sliding panels is still a common feature in Japanese homes today; in a historic farmhouse such as this, the paper would allow light to enter a room while helping to regulate humidity.
Uchiyama surrounded the exterior of the building with miniature fittings of everyday life, including clay pots, fishing baskets, and bundles of wood. The most distinguishable feature of this farmhouse is the large, thatched roof, which Uchiyama intentionally created much larger in proportion to the rest of the building to draw attention to the roof’s importance. Thatched roofs like this one were capable of keeping out rain and snow and helped to regulate the home’s temperature year-round. Uchiyama created this thatched roof using rice straw and clay, textured with layers of green and gold to imitate moss and lichen. The roof gives the farmhouse a sense of being a living part of the landscape.
Like all Japanese architecture of this time period, this farmhouse does not have a chimney. Instead, there would be an open hearth in the center of the home, and smoke from this hearth would rise through the thatched roof, helping to dry the reeds and deter insects and mildew. The scent inside a farmhouse such as this would be earthy, combining the scent of old wood, moisture from the roof, and the lingering smoke from the cooking fires. The large sliding doors and windows would allow the home to receive plenty of fresh air circulation.
Shoichi Uchiyama made a name for himself internationally for his use of miniatures as a form of cultural activism, by highlighting the rapidly disappearing beauty of Japan’s traditional village architecture. In the late 1990s, thanks to the advocacy of those like Uchiyama, Japan began a campaign to disassemble and relocate some of these few remaining traditional buildings to open-air museums, where visitors can now see them restored to their former glory.
Uchiyama loved seeing these old buildings as a child and watching them vanish inspired his activism. Which building from the past that was lost in the name of progress would you most like to revisit?