Traces of a vanished world in the heart of rural Toyama
For something truly unique, step into a pocket of living history with a trip to UNESCO-recognized Gokayama.
- The carefully preserved buildings of Ainokura and Suganuma
- Spending the night at one of Ainokura's gassho-zukuri inns
- Light up events in Suganuma (Fridays and Saturdays in March)
How to Get There
Gokayama can be accessed through a combination of trains and buses.
For those already in Toyama , the Takaoka and Shin-Takaoka stations serve as the central hub for the area. From Shin-Takaoka Station, take the World Heritage Bus for a one-hour direct trip to Gokayama. From Takaoka Station, take the Johama Train Line to Johana Station (50 minutes) and catch a 25-minute bus to Gokayama.
A glimpse of old Japan
With their carefully preserved gassho-zukuri buildings, Gokayama's rural villages overflow with old world charm and elegant simplicity. In summer, they offer a relaxing retreat from the big city bustle, while in winter you may feel as if you've walked into an old ukiyo-e print, whose snowy rooftops frame scenes of rustic beauty.
Say a little prayer
Ainokura and Suganuma are the modern names of the historical villages Taira and Kamitaira. Their famed “praying hands” buildings—so named for the thatched roofs resembling hands joined in prayer—range in age from one hundred to four hundred years old.
These days, you can only see gassho-style villages in Toyama and neighboring Gifu Prefecture, whose Shirakawa-go shares Gokayama's UNESCO listing. Ainokura and Suganuma present rare and precious opportunities to experience a different side of Japanese culture.
Nature intertwined with culture
The appeal of Gokayama centers on the area's seamless blend of nature and culture. Unlike many other UNESCO sites in Japan, the traditional buildings here don't have to compete with modern urban environments. Instead, their rural setting preserves the natural harmony between the countryside and grass-thatched structures that almost seem to have sprouted from the earth.
The setting evokes a simpler time preserved in the sturdy buildings and peaceful walks of Gokayama now all but vanished into the cultural memory of Japan.
Don't judge a gassho-zukuri by its cover
Appreciating gassho-zukuri goes beyond admiring their external appearance. Some of the buildings house quaint eating establishments and lodgings, reflecting their historical role as traditional minka dwellings. Consider staying a night in Gokayama to immerse yourself in the ancient charm.
While walking the streets may be akin to exploring an open-air museum, staying at a traditional minka and sampling local delicacies within their walls further enhances the old-world experience.
Feel the warmth
Even if you don't stay in one of these buildings overnight, make sure you take the opportunity to look inside. When seen from within, the gassho-zukuri structures reveal a range of clever subtleties, such as the open lofts that served as spaces for silkworm cultivation. More than that, there is a palpable feeling of warmth to the old wood interiors that is best experienced firsthand.
When to Go
Ainokura and Suganuma are open year-round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
On Fridays and Saturdays in March, Suganuma hosts a light up event at night. There are similar events in January and February.
Ainokura hosts light up events at various times throughout the year.