Minkas: Japanese Recycled Houses

A traditional Minka Japanese style house.

bryan... / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Minka houses are Japan’s equivalent of our log cabins. Until the middle of the twentieth century, most ordinary country people lived in them. They were built using local materials such as wood and paper, and techniques such as thatch and no nails, that were suited to the local climate and lifestyles. The mud-plastered walls and thatched roof structure were resistant to earthquakes and easy to rebuild.

Today, many minkas are being demolished and the craftsmen disappearing. But people are beginning to realize that they are the ideal recycleable house, sympathetic to the environment and using local sustainable materials.

The minka at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew was originally a farmhouse from 1900. The first owners sold it in 1940; it was dismantled and moved to another part of the city.

After falling vacant in 1993, the Japan Minka Re-use and Recycle Association (JMRA) acquired it and donated it to Kew Gardens where it was reassembled by experienced Japanese carpenters. British builders assembled the mud wall panels and thatched the roof with Norfolk reeds and wheat straw on a grid of bamboo laths.