A vision of Japan’s original landscape registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
The old gassho-zukuri style houses are spotted in this mountain village. Surrounded by rice paddies, you can hear the sounds of insects and birds if you listen. This scenery of the village of Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture, an area of heavy snowfall, evokes nostalgia even among non-Japanese. In the central Ogi-machi Village area, 114 houses built in the gassho-zukuri style (named for their resemblance to hands joined in prayer) have survived. Together with villages located in adjacent Toyama Prefecture, the area was registered in 1995 as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage zone. The resident villagers continue to protect this precious landscape as a “spiritual hometown” of the Japanese.
The area’s heavy snowfalls are evident in the gassho-zukuri style.
Houses built in the gassho-zukuri style are designed to help survive heavy winter snowfalls in various ways. For example, the steep angle of the roof protects the house from the weight of accumulated snow and is intended to reduce the work of snow removal. All these houses are built with gable ends facing north/south, which facilitates melting of snow by day. They have survived for more than 300 years or so because firewood is burned indoors every day, which fumigates the roof with smoke, kills pests, and has a preservative effect. Constructed without using even a single nail, these houses are distinctive for being built entirely of natural materials.
Staying in a gassho-zukuri house, we get a sense of the lives of those who came before.
Shirakawa-go village is dotted with gassho-zukuri houses that you can visit and inspect. However, if you want a deeper understanding of life in this land, it's best to stay overnight in such a house. Through the evening meals prepared on the hearth, the attic that becomes the bedroom, the earthen flooring, and the old-fashioned bathroom and kitchen areas, you encounter firsthand how the Japanese lived in older times. Shirakawa may be refreshing in summer, but the snow-covered winter season has its charms too. The frosty chill outside highlights the warmth in the house, and you gain an appreciation for the rustic yet rich lifestyle of this village.
Shirakawa-go Tourist Association
- 2495-3 Ogi-machi, Shirakawa-mura, Ono-gun, Gifu-ken
- Toyama Kitokito Airport is a 1-hour flight from Haneda Airport.
- Toyama Kitokito Airport is a 90-minute flight from Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport.
- JR Toyama Station is 25 minutes by shuttle bus from Toyama Kitokito Airport.
- JR Takayama Station is 105 minutes from JR Toyama Station.
- Shirakawa-go is 50 minutes by highway bus from JR Takayama Station.