Day 10: Shirakawa-go
Wednesday, March 26th, 2008
We left Nagoya right after breakfast, driving north on the Tokay-Hokuriku Expressway in a clear sunny day. The drive was very nice and we reached our destination, the village of Shirakawa-go, just in time for a late lunch.
Shirakawa-go is located in the remote mountains that span from Gifu to Toyama Prefectures. Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995, the village is famous for the traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old.
Gassho-zukuri means "constructed like hands in prayer", as the farmhouses' steep thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer. The architectural style developed over many generations and is designed to withstand the large amounts of heavy snow that falls in the region during winter. The roofs, made without nails, provided a large attic space used for cultivating silkworms.
While walking around the village, we noticed some commotion around one of the houses. Every roof needs to be re-thatched every few years, and the entire community works on this complex ordeal, while the kids were playing barefoot in the melting snow.
I had heard so much about this place and I had seen so many amazing pictures that I asked Yasuko if it would have been possible to include this destination in our trip to Japan. Unfortunately, I didn't take into account the fact that the village is really at its best either when covered with snow, in the mid of the winter, or when the rice paddles are luscious with green colors, in the mid of the summer. I would definitely not recommend visiting the area in the spring, like we did.
At the end of our walk around the village, we climbed a steep road the brings to a very popular view point. From there, we slowly walked back to the car and drove to the town of Takayama, where we had planned to spend the night.