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Fueled by pandemic, Japan rediscovers allure of old houses

Wooden 'kominka' are beautiful and cheap, but restoration costs can be high

Traditional thatched dwellings in the village of Miyama, north of Kyoto. (Photo by Alex Kerr)

KYOTO, Japan -- A new buzzword has emerged that is sweeping the world of Japan-lovers, taking its place beside geisha, anime, and sakura: kominka. Derived from minka, meaning "Japanese country house," the added syllable ko means "old." The emphasis is on age -- the older the better.

These houses, some dating back hundreds of years, are dotted in their thousands throughout the Japanese countryside. Made almost entirely of wood, with the world's finest carpentry techniques, they were mostly regarded as junk until very recently. To the generations who grew up in Japan's era of rapid growth after 1945, old wooden houses seemed poor, inconvenient and uncivilized. Now they are suddenly in demand.

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