Japanese Folklore Science Today.pdf

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JAPANESE FOLKLORE SCIENCE
TODAY
By MATTHIAS EDER, Tokyo
Measured by the quantity of new books on folkloristic topics,
the interest of the Japanese people in their own old folkways
must be wide-spread. These days we see not only the publication
of monographs but also of a number of encyclopedias and source
books on Japanese history and on folkloristic themes as well, all
written by competent experts for the general public. It seems
that great treasures of manuscripts have been accumulated during
the post-war years on the desks of scholars who have patiently
waited for a chance to see heir findings published some time, and
the time must have come now. Books we have been able to read
and study so far, do not give us the impression that they have
been compiled by their writers upon invitation by publishers who
want to meet the demand of the public. We find that many forces
have been working all the time during the war and thereafter,
forces that not only digested earlier publications for the sake
of popular editions but have made new advances in many fields.
The way of the presentation of the subject matters has also im-
proved. Furthermore, compared with the pre-war publications,
there is a more objective attitude towards national folkways,
higher methodological standards, and sometimes even a deep cut-
ting criticism of the established old ways of Folklore Science
in this country. As we shall see, there are writers who want to put
Folklore Science on an entirely new basis and to have it adopt
a new world-wide outlook as an integral part of Cultural An-
thropology.
In the present survey we have picked out some of the new
books now on the market. We came across two new books on the
Japanese farmhouse. The farmhouse is called n8ka (field-house) ,
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MATTHIAS EDER
or minka (people's house), the latter name being justified by the
great number of Japanese that still live in the countryside. One
of these new books on the farmhouse is devoted to the various
types of farmhouses throughout the country, the other one
specializes on the farmhouse of Northeast Japan (Tbhoku) . The
first mentioned book with the title Minka-ch6 (Note-book on the
Farmhouse), 306 pages, was written by Kurada ShGchG and pub-
lished in 1955 by Kokinshoin in the collection Minzoku Senshu
(Folklore Monographs) edited by the Folklore Research Institute
in Tokyo. The author states that the history of Japanese archi-
tecture took an interest in the farmhouse only recently; before,
only the architecture of Shinto shrines, Buddhist buildings and
mansions of nobility were given attention. The author correctly
says that the history of the farmhouse is the history of the Japa-
nese people. In fact, the cultural history of the Japanese people
is to a great extent reflected in the history of the farmhouse.
Thus the student of Japanese religion or of the Japanese society
or the economic life can find in the farmhouse important data
crystalized. Only a few houses have been found so far that were
built as early as the beginning of the Tokugawa era, in the early
seventeenth century. They are given special care as cultural
monuments by the Governmental agency concerned. The aver-
age life expectation of a Japanese farmhouse may be around
eighty years. Sooner or later farmhouses fall prey to fire. This is
no wonder in view of the inflamable material of which they are
built and the open fire-place in them. The building material is
all wood, the roof is reed- or straw-thatched, part of the floor
is covered with boards and straw-mats (tatami), and the room
partitions are made with paper covered sliding doors. When
making investigation in villages, one finds that some farmhouses
have a more elaborate interior as far as the size and the number,
and decoration of the rooms goes. They contain many urban
elements, improvements taken over from the mansions of the
noblemen and higher ranking officials. The history of the farm-
house is the history of the urbanization of the house on the
country-side. Ways of life of the upper classes gradually entered
the reed-thatched cottages. In the feudalistic age the farmhouse
building was subject to minute and rigorous regulations, which
were however slowly softened by privileges granted to farmers
with an official function in the village administration, and re-
finements once seen in the village were coveted by all. The
present-day farmhouse is a combination of elements due to its
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JAPANESE FOLKLORE SCIENCE TODAY
291
function as a living and working place and of elements added by
an upward social tendency in imitation of urban civilization.
The author discusses the existing farmhouse types of Japan,
starting with that in the North. When talking of farmhouse
types, three things have to be examined, that is the roof, the ar-
rangement of the rooms, and the construction. As to the ccn-
struction, the common type is that with a rectangular ground-
plan, but in some areas the house has a ground-plan which con-
sists of two rectangles combined in a right angle. Such houses
are called magariya (bent houses), or kagite (key-houses) , be-
cause of their shape. In Northeast Japan down the Sea of Japan
to Niigata and to Aizu in Fukushima Prefecture, such houses
are common. Houses with a simple ground-plan, consisting of
only one rectangle, are called sugoya (straight houses). In the
protruding shorter part of a 'bent house,' that is in the web of
the key of the 'key-houses,' the horses have their stable. This
part of the house is two-storied. In the upper floor the fodder is
stored. Iwate Prefecture and the Eastern part of Aomori Pre-
fecture were always outstanding for their horse breeding. The
'bent houses,' therefore, are common there. Because of heavy
snowfall the farmers wish to have their horses inside the house
of men, so that no courtyard need be crossed to attend to the
horses, at the same time the horses get a little warmth from the
fire-place. About one third of the interior of a farmhouse has
only a plain wooden floor which is partly covered with thickly
woven straw-mats (tatami). At the wall-side of the wooden floor
(doma, literally earth-place), the barn for the horses is built in
a way that the horses can be seen from the living quarters. Since
a great capital is invested in the horses, the farmers treat them
with tender care.
Though there are many peculiarities to be seen in farm-
houses, in essential things they are all alike all over the country.
The earthen floor (doma) serves as room for indoor work and as
place for the hearth on which horse-fodder is boiled. In the
elevated part of the house we find first a spacious fire-place on
which tea water and rice are boiled and meals prepared. The
area around the fire-place is the sitting room for the family. In
Northeast Japan this sitting room is the largest of all. A few
additional smaller rooms are attached to the large sitting room
as guest rooms and sleeping rooms. Because of the over-size
of the sitting room such a farmhouse is called sitting room type
(hiroma-kei). In most parts of Japan the room partition is such
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MATTHIAS EDER
that four equally sized rooms result. This is the simplest kind
and is called 'the type of character for field' (ta no ji kei) because
of its similarity with the Chinese character for 'field,' which con-
sists of four sections of equal size. It could also be called "chess-
board type," because on a chess-board four neighboring fields
form a combination of four square sections of equal size.
Among the key-shaped farmhouses (kagiya, magariya) in
Akita Prefecture, houses are found with two protruding build-
ings, so to say, with two webs of a key, one on each end of the
main building. Rarely is the "web" attached at the center of the
main building. In the attached building two entrances (genkan)
are found, an outside entrance and an inside one. We should
better say 'vestibule' and not entrance. In the outside vestibule
are found the latrine and the pigsty, in the inside vestibule the
horse-stable is built. The agricultural tools are placed somewhere
in the outside vestibule and the straw-raincoats are hung there
on hooks. The author of our book aligns many details and varia-
tions, so many that the book is not only a new arrangement or
digest of earlier publications. In one respect he falls short of
our expectation as did also earlier writers, namely the social and
religious functions of the various rooms of the farmhouse are, in
our opinion, not given sufficient attention.
The author offers good opinions of his own on the history of
the farmhouse. It is interesting that both the Northern and the
Southern part of Japan have an almost identical arrangement
of rooms in so far as a large sitting room occupies the greater
part of the living quarters, the few additional rooms are evidently
but sections cut out from the large room for the sake of privacy.
With its uniform size of rooms the chessboard pattern room
partition in no way gives us the impression that one over-sized
room dominates and permits only of a couple of small rooms to
surround it. Which partition type is the older one? The author
tells us that the large sitting room, found in Northeast Japan, on
the island of Sado and in Hokuriku (along the sea of Japan and
in Chfibu in Central Japan) originated in KyBto. In their field,
explorers of dialects make a similar statement, namely that the
present-day TBhoku (Northeastern) dialect is close to the old
KyBto dialect which travelled to the North along the coast of the
sea of Japan and not along the Pacific provinces. The farmhouses
look outwardly different in different regions, but their room
partition shows more similarity. Our author may have stimulated
at least further research by saying that the large sitting roonl
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JAPANESE FOLKLORE SCIENCE TODAY
type (hiroma-kei) found on both extremities of the country, dates
from the Heian (794-858) civilization of KyBto. If he is correct,
the chessboard pattern must have superseded the large sitting
room type later though it is now found in the central part of the
country. Other writers have pointed out that the chessboard
pattern, as a refined form of room partition, was part of the old
Ky8to style of architecture, and has spread out from KyBto to
the provinces but not reached yet the outlying areas. No doubt,
in many respects the history of the farmhouse is still far from
being established comprehensibly.
In the presentation of farmhouse types the author proceeded
from the North to the South. He has much to say on the farm-
house of the vast Kant8 area. Though 'the key-houses' are not
typical of the Kant6 provinces, they can be frequently seen there,
but their functions do not always coincide with those of the
'key-houses' in the North. There are places where the projecting
section contains the horse-stable, but in others it is merely an
additional construction to create space for living purposes. The
common roof type of KantB is that of four plains. trapezoidal in
the front and in the rear, triangular on both small sides.
In Musashi in the Kant8 plain the whole farmhouse com-
pound, which is fenced in by a hedge, has an impressive garden-
door and behind it a well, and from the garden-door to the
house-entrance are stepping stones. The ridge of the house-roof
1s tile-covered. On its Northern side the house is protected
against the wind by a bamboo grove. The Kant8 plain is known
for its strong winds. One finds there many farmhouses that are
hidden in a grove among huge trees. The first settlers in the
Western part of Musashi were Korean refugees who were experts
in sericulture and rice-planting. Their village burnt down in thz
13th century, was rebuilt during the Kamakura era in the then
prevailing style, and the particular roof form in Western Musashi
bears still witness of the close terms on which the Korean com-
munity there was with the warriors and monks of Kamakura.
The same roof style as can be seen on the temple Enkakuji in
Kamakura is found in the Korean village and the surrounding
Western part of Musashi. The author gives a detailed description
of the houses on the Izu Islands which are known for their
preservation of old forms of house construction. It is rightly
said that the present-day Japanese farmhouse was developed
during Tokugawa time. The houses on the Izu Islands and on
Hachijoshima are however specimens of earlier forms of build-
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