After our brief visit to Ainokura we travelled to Shirakawa-go, the largest village with gassho-zukuri houses. We first stopped at the Shiroyama Tenshukaku view point to glance over the village with its old style houses with those large triangular roofs.
It is a very pretty sight, all year round. Probably even more so in autumn when the leaves turn red. On this late March day there was still some snow in the mountains, but not much on the grounds anymore. Most trees were bare, but a few started to grow blossoms (but they were still closed). It felt warmer than in Ainokura, but then Ainokura is further up in the mountains and sits on the shady slope of a mountain.
We had an early lunch break here, in a small restaurant at the souvenir shop. We ate hoba miso, which are vegetables mixed with miso paste and roasted on a magnolia leaf above a charcoal brazier on the table.
We’ve also enjoyed some pickled vegetables, tofu and grilled fish with rice.
Filled with hot food and lots of roasted rice tea, we left the shop and took the bus to the main parking place in the village.
Next to the parking lots for the buses are a few shops, restaurants and a museum. But we did not spend any time there. Instead we crossed a foot bridge over the stream to reach the main area.
Shirakawa-go is widely-known as one of the most scenic places in Japan. There are approximately 180 thatched farmhouses, sheds, and barns, and most of them were built about 200-300 years ago.
The gassho roof has a slope of about 60 degrees, so that the snow can slide off easily. The enormous roof is supported by stout, oak beams which are curved at the base. These beams are made from trees that grow on the mountain side and develop the curve naturally. No nails are used – just rope.
The distinctive feature of these Gassho houses is the use of triangular frames for the gables in place of beams and posts, in order to maximise the use of space under the volume of the roof. This space was traditionally utilised to rear silkworms. Like all ancient construction, no nails are used and the Susuki thatch is fastened to the frames with rope. The thatch is can last up to 30 to 40 years, despite heavy snow in winter!
When a roof has to be thatched the community works together. The neighbours all help out each other. This ‘Yui’ tradition is essential to protect this world heritage. If you look closely on the following picture, you can see that the second house from the right is being re-thatched.
If you want, you can actually stay overnight in this beautiful village – there are a number of guest houses to choose form. However, if you want to stay in a Minshuku (Japanese style farm house) then you’ll need to know that they only allow guests to stay a maximum of 1 night in each house. If you would like to stay 2 or more nights you will need stay each night in different houses. Here is more info about guest houses in Shirakawa-go.