takayama & around

The Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go & Gokayama (UNESCO) Traditional houses in picturesque villages

Explore the historic villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama

Gifu and Toyama prefectures house these historic villages with their immaculately preserved steep-roofed dwellings, taking you back to a different era of Japan.

Highlights

  • Wandering around the traditional villages set to a natural backdrop of seasonal color
  • Stepping into one of the gassho-style houses
  • Viewing the village from above from the observatory in Ogimachi

Experience a Japanese fairytale

The remote mountain villages with their gassho-style houses in Shirakawa-go and Gokayama on the Hida Highlands were registered as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites in 1995. The scenery of the mountain villages with their traditional houses standing side-by-side is like a fairytale.

Purposeful and practical architecture

Houses built in the gassho style are defined as having a roof in the shape of a triangle, like hands folded in prayer. In the multilayer structures, the third and fourth floors are particularly characteristic as they demonstrate the foresight of the farmers. With this type of architecture, farmers could raise silkworms even in the harsh winters. Silkworms would be kept up in these attics where the heat from the first floor rises. The roof has an impressive slope of 60 degrees to allow the heavy snow (sometimes as much as four meters) to slide off more easily.

Views of the village

Head to the observatory at the site of Ogimachi Castle and view the whole of Shirakawa-go Ogimachi village, a cluster of 59 houses, from above. This upland vantage point is perfect for a panoramic view of the gassho-style village in the verdure of spring, the tinted leaves of autumn or the snows of winter. You can enter Wada House and Nagase House in Ogimachi village to see how people lived long ago. If you are here in early November, you might catch the particularly wet annual tradition of jets of water spouting from firehoses simultaneously in preparation for fighting any winter fires.

Tour the houses

When planning your trip to Gokayama , consider visiting Ainokura Village where 24 houses stand in front of a background of mountains, or Suganuma Village with its nine houses—two of which were built during the Edo period (1603-1867). Designated as Important Cultural Assets, consider a trip to the three main houses of Murakami House—where the head of the family relates the history of Gokayama to visitors as they sit around the open hearth—Haba House, that retains the most well-preserved gassho structure with very little renovation, and Iwase House—which is the largest gassho-style house in Gokayama with five floors and an interior constructed of zelkova wood.

How to Get There

Access Shirakawa-go by taking the 50-minute express bus from Takayama Station—the bus requires advance reservations. It takes around two hours 20 minutes to Takayama Station from Nagoya Station by the JR Hida Express Train. Alternatively, you can take the 150-minute Kaetsunou bus to Ogimachi from Takaoka Station.

Access Gokayama in around one hour 45 minutes by Kaetsunou bus— get off at the Ainokuraguchi bus stop. It takes about 40 minutes to JR Takaoka station from Toyama Airport by shuttle bus.

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