Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are regions in the Ono district of Japan known for their traditional mountain villages which were registered as cultural heritage sites in 1995.
The villages are famous for having their houses built in the “gassho-style” which means having triangular shaped roofs meant to represent hands folded in prayer. The roofs are also practical as their steep slopes allow the frequent heavy snow during the winter months to easily slide off.
These traditionally built, picturesque houses blend in perfectly with their surrounding scenery of mountains and trees, leading to Shirakawa-go and Gokayama being frequently mentioned on lists describing the world’s most charming villages. Shirakawa-go is the easier of the two to reach with many coming here as a day trip from Takayama to visit its largest village and main attraction, Ogimachi. There is an observatory at Ogimachi Castle from where people can enjoy fantastic panoramic views of the 59 houses of Ogimachi village. Visitors can also get a closer look at how people lived here in the past with two of the houses; “Wada House” and “Nagase House” being open to the public. Something of particular interest is the water-discharge exercise which takes place on the last Sunday in October every year.
Gokayama is a little more difficult to get to, involving a change of buses in Ogimachi but is still well worth the effort. Here popular spots include “Ainokura Village” where a cluster of 24 traditional houses stand against a beautiful backdrop of mountains and “Suganuma Village” which has only 9 houses but includes 2 that were built during the Edo period which was a time of great significance in Japan lasting from 1615 – 1868. Also in Gokayama are three culturally significant houses; “Murakami House” where visitors are able to sit around an open hearth and hear stories about the history of Gokayama; “Haba House” which is the best preserved of the traditional gassho houses; and “Iwase House” which is the largest of the gassho houses in Gokayama with 5 different floors.
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