Japan from the inside out

Life on the hypotenuse

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, August 1, 2012

THE shipping business on the Kitamaebune route from Osaka to the Hokuriku district in the northwestern part of the country was a profitable enterprise during the Edo period, when forging connections between regional markets was difficult. It was particularly profitable in the Shukunegi district on the island of Sado in Niigata. In that district 100 households, mostly ship owners or ship’s carpenters, squeezed into a hectare of land for the chance to make a very good living. Space was at a premium, and that sometimes resulted in odd-shaped lots. People built homes to fit the shape of the property, and there you have the reason for the triangle house shown above.

Shukunegi is the only nationally designated important traditional structure group preservation district in Niigata. That’s why it attracts tourists, and naturally the tourists are anxious to see the triangle house. It’s usually closed, but it was opened to the public earlier this year for the first time in quite a while.

Now I ask you: Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a three-sided house? Perhaps it wouldn’t have been that unusual for people who might have had quarters in the bow of a ship, but that doesn’t look like a comfortable dwelling space. The area was thriving at the time, so even a residential area might have had more than the usual amount of traffic — especially with that population density. It seems as if one would feel both exposed and claustrophobic living in that house, particularly near the apex.

The Kitamaebune route and the ships no longer exist — first the telegraph, and then railroads rendered it unnecessary. But the triangle house remains.

If you find it difficult to picture yourself living there, imagine what it would have been like for the owner to listen to Jim Reeves.

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