Enjoying a lunchtime stroll through the historic neighborhood near work. I’m admiring 80 and 90 year old homes with bronze plaques commemorating their architects and builders. I’m reminded of the 200+ year old farm estates I so frequently discovered in the remote mountains of Japan. Enormous homes designed to house three generations and perhaps a dozen or more family members. Homes built by the village from giant old growth trees, hewn with hand tools and held together without a single nail. Assembled instead with elaborate and sophisticated joinery design to allow the structure to flex and bend in Japan’s many earthquakes. But these weren’t just homes, they were entire estates, with farm buildings, secondary homes, rice, tea and wasabi fields formed of hand-placed river stones, and even family graves, which I could sometimes spot within the gloom of the forest, or on a steep slope above the home.
What’s most amazing is that so many of these places are abandoned. Forgotten by generations who left the mountains to seek a better life in big cities like Tokyo, Nagoya or Osaka. Instead of bronze plaques to remember the builders there’s only the voice of the river and the silence of the forest, which creeps closer year by year, to one day utterly envelope and swallow not only a specimen of Japanese traditional architecture, but a way of life which few Japanese today know, but which I suspect all hold in their mind with bittersweet remembrance.