Traditional-style folk houses, known as kominka used to be considered as shabby old houses, but in recent years, people started to recognize their use and re-purpose them in various ways. Since kominka are build long time ago, many of them cannot be used in their current condition. Kominka need to be renovated, while leaving a sense of nostalgia in order to suit the modern lifestyle. The fashionably renovated kominka started to become popular among young people who aren’t familiar with the original kominka buildings. Kominka aren’t the things in the past. They’ve come back to our lives again.
How kominka are renovated?
Kominka as a cafe
Since kominka was featured in a TV show, it instantly became popular. You can actually go to the exact kominka style cafe that was filmed on the show in Kamakura. In the same area, there are also nagaya (traditional Japanese long house) that turned into cafes and secluded cafes that look like normal houses in back alleys. With the help of this trend, kominka cafe have been spread throughout Japan.
Kominka as accommodation
There are a lot of renovated kominka accommodations available in Japan. They are not quite the same as ryokan, traditional Japanese style inns that are well preserved over generations. Using kominka as a guest house is a recent trend. Normally a guest house offers only a place to stay, but nothing else. People like its incredibly cheap fee compared to the one for ryokan and hotels. It’s very useful for students in their 20s or 30s and backpackers who want to find a place where they can easily decide to stay on a whim during their trip. Surprisingly, quite a lot backpackers from overseas stay at kominka guest houses. They find it fun and easy to interact with other guests as if they were roommates.
What caused the kominka boom?
Why did kominka enter the spotlight? The key person isn’t actually Japanese. The person is from America, and his name is Alex Kerr.
He lived in Japan when he was little due to his father’s work. After going back to the country, he studied Japanese in his major at Yale University and came back to Japan as an international student. While hitchhiking around Japan, he was deeply connected with Iya in Tokushima, and bought a 300 year-old thatched roof house to renovate for living.
Later, he directed a town development and activity with a focus on kominka renovation and worked as a consultant. Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport recognized his work and named him for a "Yokoso! Japan Ambassador” to enhance Japan’s international inbound tourism.
Today, there are many renovated kominka cares, restaurants and guest houses around Japan, and people are using kominka as useful resources, but none of this would have happened without the efforts by Alex Kerr.
In the future, foreign investors may show more interests in kominka and renovate it to make a second house or accommodation or a restaurant.