Simple yet beautiful: Japan's traditional homes, kominka

"Kominka" is a type of Japanese home architecture that is slowly disappearing. Even though these homes have been around for more than 300 years and there are some kominka that are still in good shape, many of them have been abandoned and are now rotting away. Learn about the beauty of kominka.


Japanese Culture

Traditional kominka


A kominka is typically wooden with a thatched roof. The shape of the roof varies a little depending on region.

Three beautiful points about kominka

1. Thatched roof

Thatching is the craft of building a roof with dry vegetation such as strawwater reedsedge (Cladium mariscus), rushes, or heather, layering the vegetation so as to shed water away from the inner roof. It is a very old roofing method and has been used in both tropical and temperate climates.

It's a technique that isn't limited to just Japan. You can see thatched roofs in other countries as well, but the roofs of kominka have a particularly beautiful balance.

2. Hearth

Yamashita Yohei/Flickr

The hearth that's set into the floor of kominka is used for cooking and heating through a charcoal fire. The smoke rising from the hearth also acts as an insect repellant for the thatched roof, so it's an efficient arrangement.

Irori (いろり, 囲炉裏, 居炉裏) are a type of traditional sunken hearth common in Japan. Used for heating the home and cooking food, irori are essentially square pits in the floor with a pot hook, or jizaikagi (自在鉤).

3. Doma

Taro Sako/Flickr

The inside of the house seen from the doma, an unfloored area. You can see that the floor is raised from the ground.


To go with Japan's rainy, humid climate, the houses were built so that air would circulate beneath it.
The doma, where there are no floorboards and only roofing above, is used for stuff like agricultural processing, or as a workshop or kitchen.

The doma is the area between the outdoors and the inside of the house, and is an area where shoes are perfectly okay to wear even though the Japanese custom is to take your shoes off inside the house. That's why now homes have the genkan, or the area by the door where you put on and take off your shoes.

Extremely minimalistic Japanese homes

The Hojoan designed by Kamo no Choumei

Saigen Jiro/Flickr

The restored Hojoan

The Hojoan is the small hermitage where Kamo no Choumei (1155-1216), an author from the Kamakura period, spent his last years.
It was rebuilt according to the plans outlined in Kamo no Choumei's "Hojoki," an account of his time there. It can be seen in Kyoto's Kamo Shrine Sessha and at Kawai Shrine.

The one who planned the Hojoan, Kamo no Choumei


Hōjōki (方丈記), variously translated as An Account of My Hut or The Ten Foot Square Hut, is an important short work of the Kamakura period (1185–1333) in Japan by Kamo no Chōmei. Written in 1212, the essay describes disasters that befall the people of Kyoto from earthquakes to famine and fire. Chōmei becomes a Buddhist monk and moves farther and farther into the mountains, eventually living in a 10-foot square hut. The work is commonly classified as belonging to the zuihitsu genre.

The translation "ten foot square hut" may be misinterpreted. Chōmei's hut is one  (丈), roughly 3 meters or 10 feet, on each side. It is thus 100 square feet, large enough to store the Buddhist implements described in the memoir.

Recommended areas to enjoy the kominka atmosphere

Though kominka are disappearing, lately there has been a resurgence in renovating them for cafes, restaurants, or even hotels.
If you have the chance, you should definitely go to a kominka establishment.




There are plenty of kominka lodging areas surrounding Shirakawa-go, an area that has been designated as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. You should definitely think about spending a night here.

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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