At the highest peak of Mt. Haku in Gifu prefecture, lies the town of Shirakawa-go, which takes pride of some of the oldest, traditional steep, thatched roof farmhouses in Japan.
Declared as UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995, a good start to admire these “gassho-zukuri” farmhouses is not to go to Ogimachi Village directly, but to head straight to Shiroyama Viewpoint. The viewpoint’s higher elevation offers the most perfect, pamphlet worthy shot of the village down below.
“Gassho-zukuri” style refers to the house roof resembling hands in prayer. The roofs are constructed without any nails and can withstand harsh winter weather, since the area is considered as one of the snowiest place in Japan.
Most of the houses at Ogimachi were used to be privately owned, but now converted to museum after the family names. Some of the prominent names you will see on the area map are; Wada-ke House, Kanda-ke House, Nagase-ke House and Kanda-ke House.
At first glance, the houses might seem small or weak, but these are carefully constructed inside, allocating place for resting, work and storage. Many of the old farmhouses are now converted to ryokans for overnight staying visitors who wanted to experience farm life, while some where converted to museums and restaurants to cater for tourist.
One noticeable feature of the village is Myozenji Temple. The usual pagoda, tiled roof style were replaced by thatched roof, blending in to the over-all aesthetic appeal of the village.
On the left-end side of the village stands Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine, where Doboruku Festival museum is located. The museum highlights the village annual October festival and the sake produced by the shrine.
A suspension bridge hanging over Shokawa River connects Ogimachi Village to the main bus terminal and the Gassho-zukuri Minkaen (open air museum). Similar to Hida No Sato of Takayama, the museum open space exhibits farmhouses and mountain farming life.
Though some may argue that the best time to visit Shirakawa-go is during the winter season, when the picturesque farmhouses are submerged in snow, I always prefer to see them in just the usual state, where clothes are left to dry outside and with the luscious green, mountain background.
Warning to smokers out there, for obvious reasons it is prohibited on most parts. A day tour or half-day even is enough to appreciate this UNESCO World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go.