After visiting Shirakawa-go, we had one more stop to make before returning to Kanazawa. After a short drive through narrow mountain roads, some 30km away we parked in front of a shop with a little restaurant attached to it in Gokayama. Unfortunately, it was a bit cloudy outside, a very different weather we experienced in Shirakawa-go, but at least their town was covered in a fresh layer of Spring snow. We spent about an hour exploring it on foot, getting lost among the beautiful houses in the village-like setting surrounded by the mountains.
Gokayama is a picturesque rural town located in the Nanto city of Toyama Prefecture, Japan. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its historic thatched-roof houses, traditional lifestyle, and serene natural surroundings. In this essay, we will explore the history, architectural importance, and tourist destination status of Gokayama.
Gokayama has a rich and fascinating history dating back to the 16th century when the region was settled by Japanese farmers. The town was strategically located at the foot of the Japanese Alps, which provided natural resources like wood, rice, and water for the local farmers. The region’s isolation from the rest of Japan also allowed the people of Gokayama to maintain their unique culture and traditions.
One of the most significant architectural features of Gokayama is its historic thatched-roof houses. These houses are called Gassho-zukuri, which means “prayer hands construction” in Japanese. The name refers to the shape of the steeply sloping thatched roofs, which resemble two hands joined in prayer. The thatched roofs were traditionally made from local materials like grass and wood, and were designed to withstand heavy snowfall during the winter months. The Gassho-zukuri houses are also built without the use of nails, relying instead on the intricate interlocking of the wooden beams and joints.
The Gassho-zukuri houses of Gokayama are considered an important example of traditional Japanese architecture and are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The town has more than 100 of these unique houses, some of which date back to the Edo period (1603-1868). The Gassho-zukuri houses were originally used for farming and silk production, but today many of them have been converted into museums, restaurants, and guesthouses for tourists.
Today, Gokayama is a popular tourist destination for people looking to experience traditional Japanese culture and architecture. The town’s serene natural surroundings, including the Shogawa River and the Japanese Alps, provide a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Visitors can stay in one of the many Gassho-zukuri guesthouses, where they can experience traditional Japanese hospitality and cuisine. The town also has several museums, including the Gokayama Folklore Museum, which showcases the region’s history and culture.
In conclusion, Gokayama is a fascinating town with a rich history, important architectural significance, and a popular tourist destination. Its unique blend of traditional Japanese culture and serene natural beauty make it a must-visit location for anyone interested in Japanese history and architecture. The Gassho-zukuri houses, with their steeply sloping thatched roofs and intricate construction, are an iconic example of traditional Japanese architecture, and the town’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site is a testament to their importance. Gokayama offers visitors a chance to experience traditional Japanese culture, from the local cuisine to the hospitality of the Gassho-zukuri guesthouses. Whether you are interested in history, or architecture, or simply looking for a peaceful retreat, Gokayama is a destination that should not be missed.
After we finished our sightseeing, we took a short break inside of local shop which doubles as a restaurant and grabbed something warm to eat and drink, before heading back on the road and onto Kanazawa where we were staying in the hotel for another night.
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PS. I put together a little silent photo slideshow below. I converted all photographs here into Black & White an effect which suits this place quite well:
Here are 10 lesser-known facts about Gokayama:
- Gokayama is actually comprised of two small villages: Ainokura and Suganuma.
- The Gassho-zukuri houses are not just beautiful, they are also functional – the steep roofs are designed to prevent heavy snow from accumulating and collapsing the structure.
- The village is located at an altitude of 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) above sea level.
- Gokayama was not connected to the outside world by road until the 1960s, making it a very isolated community for much of its history.
- The village has a population of only a few hundred people.
- The houses in Gokayama are built facing north-south to maximize exposure to the sun.
- The town has a unique traditional dance called the “Kaiwai Dance,” which is performed in celebration of the harvest.
- The area around Gokayama is known for producing high-quality rice, which is used to make the local specialty dish, “gohei mochi.”
- The Shogawa River, which runs through the town, is home to several species of fish, including the rare Hida salmon.
- The village is surrounded by lush forests that provide a habitat for a variety of wildlife, including bears, deer, and foxes.