Ancient a-frame Gassho-zukuri homes – Villages of Shirakawa-go


View of Ogimachi Village from Shiroyama Viewpoint

The Shiroyama Viewpoint was our first stop after the Toyama Farmhouse. The view of the village of Ogimachi was stunning from this lookout (imagine it covered in snow?) There are a number of “gassho-zukuri” traditional farmhouses, some 250 years old or more, quite picturesque in the afternoon light.   It is  a sight to see so many  a -frame houses  in the “praying hands” style of architecture; thatched roofs lined up together to form this quaint village. Gassho-zukuri means ‘praying hands’, the angle of the thatched roof likened to hands clasped in prayer.

Wada House – village leaders from Edo period 

Wada house is 300 years old and one of the largest gassho-zukuri a-frame home in Ogimachi. Named for the Wadi family, a wealthy family and village leaders of Ogimachi in the Edo period(1603–1868). Wada House still owned by the family is now open to the public as a museum.  Wada house is the large house in the foreground of the village view  from Shiroyama Viewpoint.
Admission to Wada house:  300 yen. Open: 9.00 to 17.00.

View of bridge and main road into Ogimachi Village

Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO world heritage site . It lies between Takayama and Kanazawa  (our next stop). Shirakawa is about 50 minutes by bus from Takayama. The Toyama Farmhouse  15 minutes away.

Gassho-zakuri homes – a-frame houses

A number of the a-frame houses or “gassho-zakuri” homes moved from nearby villages to Ogimachi and Gokayama villages for preservation. The villages  flooded when construction of the Miboro dam took place.   I was wrong about the 18 inch roof thickness in my last post about the Toyama Farmhouse. The roof of a ‘gassho-zakuri’  home is actually 36 inches in thickness.
Below -Interesting sculpture carved into the inside of a very large old weathered tree trunk, next door to the”gassho-zakuri”  house above. This is a rear view of the house.The sculpture is on the left in the photo, on the other sided of  the green shrubbery, undercover of a galvanized roof.
Ogimachi Village 
The viewpoint is north of the village  and can be accessed via a walking trail in 15-20 minutes from the village center. There is also a shuttle bus which  departs from in front of the tourist information office in the  village . During bad weather or periods of heavy snow the walking trail is closed. The tourist information office in the village center will give you any information you need to know. The village is a delight to explore on foot and at one’s leisure. It  was a late lunch, our guide recommended a local stall and we enjoyed hot tasty potato curry crochets to keep us going. This left plenty of time to explore the village (or so we thought).
Gassho-zukuri – Souvenir Shop Village center
A huge a-frame, traditional ‘Gassho-zukuri’ home is one of the main souvenir shops in the village and quite amazing. You can’t mistake it, plenty of surprises in store in this wonderful old farmhouse in the village. We actually walked our little feet off around the village, different views of gassho-zukuri homes and the Shogawa River rewarded us. The waters of the Shogawa River are an unreal color with variations from aqua to a jade green, beautiful, crystal clear and very cold. We had wanted to walk across the Deai-bashi suspension bridge, viewed it  many times but always in the distance, and then ran out of time.
Newer a-frame traditional “Gassho-Zukuri” style homes
A small area in the village appeared to have newer homes with neat yards and stone fences, they didn’t seem as old as  many of the gassho-zukuri style homes in the fields. The village is a mix of the very old and not so old houses in the “praying hands” style of architecture.
Unique style and construction – no nails? 
The style of these Gassho-zukuri, a-frame houses is quite unique with the steep roofs angled at 60 degrees to prevent snow build up and allow shedding of the snow. It also allows rain to run off quickly. The construction method for the roof has stood the test of time, no nails, only a thick hand-made twine to bind the rafters together.  You are able to see rafter bindings in Wada house and the Toyama Farmhouse.
Rafter Binding-Gassho-zukuri farmhouse Ogimachi Village-Photo courtesy  Bernard Gagnon

Gassho-zukuri homes – roof r e-thatching  – a village ‘Yui’

Re-thatching of a ‘Gassho-Zukuri’ house is a major undertaking and usually involves both villages. Called a ‘Yui’, it requires 150-200 people to carry out the re-thatching of a ‘Praying Hands’ home in one day. A Government initiative assists with the cost of re-thatching the houses, a very expensive enterprise. The Villages have a local preservation society which decides on the home or building to repair, and organizes a ‘Yui’ within the villages.
“Yui” or one day thatching of a Gassho-zukuri home, Ogimachi Village, Shirakawa-go, photo  courtesy  of Bernard Gagnon  
Ryokans and Minshukus – accommodation in the villages

Some of the “gassho-zukuri” a-frame homes are  now restaurants, minshukus or ryokans.  A ryokan is a traditional Japanese Inn, originating in the Edo period to give travelers comfortable accommodation and meals. They feature tatami matted floors,communal baths and a public area where visitors may wear Yukate (a kimono for casual wear) ,and talk with the owner or other guests at the inn.  A minshuka is  more like a bed and breakfast with a room  in a private  home and shared bathroom facilities.

Next about  Doburoku Matsuri Festival at the  Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine of Shirakawago.

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  1. nice and very beautiful village….. I believe you will enjoy more than this in Nepal…

  2. wow.. this is such an amazing place. I do love Japan such a beautiful place and super nice traditions and culture. When i was little i really really want to go to Japan and see the cherry blossom tree. LOL.. anyway thanks for posting this blog 🙂 nice post form you.

    • Hi, I agree Japan has so much culture and tradition to offer and so many interesting places to visit. The cherry blossoms are beautiful,hope you get to visit. Thanks for you comment. Lyn

  3. Amazing village, I love Japan such a beautiful place and its own culture, love japan from Nepal

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