The Shirakawa-go and Gokayama Historic Village

In the remote mountains that span from Gifu to Toyama Prefectures, the villages of Shirakawa-go (白川郷, Shirakawagō) and Gokayama (五箇山) line the Shogawa River Valley.

UNESCO historic Village. | Edmund

The villages are part of Japan’s UNESCO world heritage site since 1995 for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are at least 250 years old.

The historical villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are favorite places to visit in Japan. The peaceful and quaint area takes you back in time and so befitting are the unique traditional Japanese architecture with their gassho-zukuri style farmhouses.

Shirakawagō. | Richard Cassan

The characteristic feature of the traditional homes are thatched triangular roofs. Gassho- zukuri, or “constructed like hands in prayer,” is characterized by vast roofs.  They were constructed with steep, thatched roofs that resembled Buddhist monks’ hands pressed together in prayer. The architectural design developed through the years to withstand heavy amounts of snow that beset the region each winter.  The gassho-zukuri roofs were timber-framed–made without nails–to allow for a much larger attic space used, for example, to cultivate silkworms.

Shogawa River Valley. | Richard Ellis

Ogimachi is Shirakawa-go’s largest village and the most popular place to visit while Gokayama is a little further away. Gokayama draws less visitors, its villages are smaller and is more tranquil as it is further away from modern buildings. The popular villages in Gokayama are Suganuma and Ainokura.

Shirakawa-gō has many visitors during the winter months as thick snow line the traditional houses that are also brightly lit. Spring brings cherry blossoms, summer boasts of lush green rice fields and all the earthy colors paint the surroundings during fall. The natural beauty and tranquil life at Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama makes it an ideal place to visit all year round.

Gassho-zukuri roof. | Andrew Smith

Shirakawa-go, on the west coast of Honshu along the Shokawa River near Kanazawa and Takayama, can be reached via the Hokuriku Shinkansen. While Gokayama is a little more difficult to reach and requires a change of buses in Ogimachi.