Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum: A photo guide

Nihon Minka-en Emukai traditional Japanese house
The Emukai house.

The Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum is a little gem hiding away in Kanagawa prefecture, next to Tokyo! As its name suggests, this is where you can find the houses many Japanese used to build. It is a must-see for photographers interested in architectural photography.

The houses came from different parts of Japan and were once lived in by real people. When their owners didn’t need them were taken apart and moved to where they stand today. They aren’t replicas but the real thing. 

Kokagesan Shrine
Kokagesan Shrine.

Before you walk through the houses, pop into the main exhibition hall. It is behind the reception building. A brief visit will give you an introduction to traditional Japanese house construction. You might learn a thing or two!

In Japan, a long time ago, if you had too much snow on your house, it could collapse. The Japanese created the gassho zukuri. It was a steep thatch roof to prevent that from happening. You can learn about that and more at the museum.

Yamashita house upper floor
The Yamashita house's upper floors.

The Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum has quite a few volunteers.  They are there to practice, preserve, and display traditional crafts.  You are quite welcome to sit down, join them, and have a chat (some speak English).  It is an interesting place where you can learn about the old days.

You could spend at least three hours walking around the museum. That might let you see everything in its entirety. There are special exhibits throughout the year too. One is the kabuki stage which hosts plays (limited to 400 people). There are other events, so look at the museum’s homepage.

Emukai house interior
Inside the Emukai house.

A Brief History of the Museum

In the Meiji period, Japan modernized at a rapid pace.  So, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn many of its older buildings were torn down.  There was a massive loss of physical history and culture.

And that was why the museum opened in 1967. It was a place to preserve those disappearing things. People wanted to protect them for future generations.

Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum Ioka house
The Ioka house.

Photography at the museum

Cameras at the museum are no problem. But, if you want to use a tripod, you must get permission from the office. You can also do commercial work, with stipulations. Click here to see the details on the website.

What can you photograph at the Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum?

The museum has twenty-five buildings. They include a water mill, boathouse, storehouse, and a Kabuki stage. There are also a variety of traditional houses from Eastern Japan. Eighteen of them are important national, prefectural, and cultural assets. You can also see other real tools and implements that people once used.

Yamashita house
Hungry? Have lunch at the Yamashita house.

When is the best time to go?

  • For me, I recommend autumn. The colorful leaves add to the atmosphere.
  • The museum is on the side of a mountain with another not far away. In the morning some houses will have strong shadows on them. That is something you might need to take into account for your visit.

Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum details

See the museum’s admission costs, location, and opening hours on the official website.

Other photo spots near the Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum

Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum Nohara hous
The Nohara house.

Wrapping up

There are two things which I need to mention about this museum. One is that it is pretty hilly. Some of the paths are only dirt so going there on a rainy day. That might involve some slipping and sliding if you aren’t careful. The other thing is that some buildings don’t have much in them. You will see farm implements, tools, and daily household items, but not in every house.

The Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum is a great place to visit. It has a lot to see and do. For anyone interested in Japanese culture or architecture, it’s a must-see.

For more architecture-related articles, look at:

What gear did I use for these photos?

  • Camera:  Fujifilm X-T3
  • Lenses:  
    1. Fujifilm XF 35mm f/2 R WR
    2. Fujifilm XF 16-55 mm F2.8 R LM WR
Nihon Minka-en Itoh house
The Itoh house.

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