Thursday, December 20, 2007
Once a prominent feature of the Japanese countryside, traditional farmhouses called minka have largely vanished since World War II, been torn down or left to decompose as much of Japan’s population flocked to jobs in the cities. By one estimate, the thatched-roof structures dwindled from about 5 million in the 1960s to about 140,000 by 2002, and the number has since fallen further. Preservationists are working to save the remaining minka, sometimes deconstructing the buildings and moving them elsewhere for use as homes, restaurants and galleries. Several minka have been preserved in the mountain village of Shirakawa-go, shown here, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 and now a mecca for artists and visitors seeking a glimpse of the traditional rural lifestyle.