Early in the morning we head out of Takayama by bus for a day trip to the stunning Shirakawa-go area. I’ve been waiting for this ever since I saw photos on the interweb!!
Shirakawa-gō is an area that encompasses several small, traditional villages showcasing a traditional building style known as gasshō-zukuri which means ‘praying hands’ to reflect the shape of the buildings.
We’ve headed to Ogimachi, one of the largest villages and a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its traditional architecture.
We head straight for the highest vantage point over the village to get some pictures of it spread out below us like a little toy town.
The Gasshō-style house is characterised by a steeply slanting thatched roof, resembling two hands joined in prayer.
The design is exceptionally strong and, in combination with the unique properties of the thatching, allows the houses to withstand and shed the weight of the region’s heavy snowfalls in winter.
We also spot some farmers harvesting their rice crop so naturally take a few snaps.
The village houses are large, with three to four storeys between low eaves and were historically intended to house large extended families.
The structures face to the north and south, taking Shirakawa-go’s predominant wind direction into account and minimising wind resistance, while controlling the amount of sunlight hitting the roof, to provide cool summers and warmer winters.
The Gassho-style house is architecturally one of the most important and rare types of farmhouse in Japan.
The clustering of so many surviving examples has given the area its World Heritage Site status.
Gassho style houses had been built in Shirakawa-go and Gokayama from around 1800 until the early 1900s. The old buildings are said to have stood for over 300 years.
However, from around 1940, the construction of dams led to some settlements being submerged.
Additionally, lots of people left for the cities, some houses were lost to fire, and many of gassho style houses were re-sold.
There were around 300 gassho style houses in 1924, but by 1961, the figure had plummeted to just 190.
Against this backdrop of rapidly disappearing heritage, residents of Ogi Town started a movement to save the houses from within the village. In 1971, the three principles of “Do not sell”, “Do not rent”, and “Do not destroy” were agreed on.
The size of the houses and the scale of the roofing required means that it takes rather rather a lot of hands to help out.
Below we come across villagers working together to re-roof one of the beautiful buildings.
The village, once we get closer, is truly stunning. A little time capsule of gorgeous architecture and traditional community.
Lots more to come of this special place. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.