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Minka House and Bamboo Garden

The Japanese Minka house stands in the Bamboo Garden between the Lake and River Thames.

History and design

A traditional Japanese farmhouse, the Minka House was donated to Kew in 2001 by the Japan Minka Reuse and Recycle Association. It originally stood in a suburb of Okazaki City, near the southern coast of central Japan.

In 1940, the Yonezu family bought it and moved it across the city. After their main house was destroyed by a bomb they moved into the house in 1945. The last member of the Yonezu family died in 1993, after which time the Minka House came to Kew and was rebuilt.

The house has a frame of pine logs tied together with rope, wattle and daub walls and a lime-washed exterior. Japanese carpenters reinstated the joints on the Minka House, which are constructed without nails. A team of British builders who worked on the Globe Theatre in London built the mud wall panels.

The Minka House stands on a base of large stones; in Japan, minkas were not cemented down to allow them to move in the event of an earthquake. Until the middle of the 20th century, most country people lived in minkas (minka literally means 'houses of the people') but modern housing developments subsequently replaced many.

The Bamboo Garden

The Minka House stands amid the Bamboo Garden. Created in 1891, this garden originally contained 40 species of bamboo, primarily from Japan. There are now approximately 1,200 bamboo species from China, Japan, the Himalayas and Americas, making it one of the largest collections in the UK. Specimens range from the small-leafed Fargesia nitida to the variegated Arundinaria fortunei. Because some species grow rapidly and are highly invasive, they are contained within heavy-duty plastic barriers.

Bamboos are members of the grass family. They range from diminutive species that never exceed 0.5 metres tall to giant varieties that grow as high as 35 metres. Numbering around 1,000 species, they can tolerate climates from cold mountain regions to warm, tropical areas. The fastest growing woody plants in the world, they are economically very valuable. They are used to make scaffolding, house-frames, musical instruments and textiles.

Things to look out for

Bushes of the sacred bamboo (Nandina domestica ‘firepower’) are planted around the entrances of the Minka House. This plant, which has brilliant yellow, orange and red leaves, is alleged to dispel bad dreams. Japanese people traditionally planted bushes of it close to their exterior doors. If they had a nightmare they would step outside and tell the shrubs of their dream so no harm would follow.

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