Discover The Tradition & Beauty Of Shirakawa-go
Located approximately one hour from Takayama, Ogimachi is the largest of the three villages that make-up the World Heritage-listed ‘Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama’. Afforded World Heritage status in 1995, Ogimachi is an extremely popular destination visited by thousands of tourists on a daily basis. Along with the villages of Suganuma and Ainoukura, the three World Heritage-listed hamlets are collectively and more simply referred to as Shirakawa-go.
Nestled in the Shogawa River Valley in a remote area of the high mountains of Toyama and Gifu Prefectures, the villages of Shirakawa-go retain their historic character and many traditional ways of life – most pronounced in their ‘gassho-zukuri’ thatched-roofed farmhouses. Taking their name from the distinctive high-pitch of their roofs – reminiscent of hands held together in prayer or ‘gassho’ – many of the farmhouses are over 250 years old. Built to withstand the heavy snowfall experienced each winter, the design demonstrates ingenuity in adapting to the landscape.
Not only did the pitch of the roof resist heavy snowfall, it created large indoor work areas in the attic of each building that could be used in winter for the cultivation of silk and other industries. Today, the farmhouses and the villages that they makeup have been afforded numerous protections and gained global fame. Many continue their function as family homes and workshops for traditional industry, while others have been converted to museums, restaurants and cafes, and guesthouses.
Separated by rice fields and the raised dirt walkways between them, the farmhouses seem to float in the landscape and constitute the human villages bordering the heavily forested mountains and hillsides.
The ingenuity of the design and development of a traditional way of life adapted to the environment, created a harmony between man and nature which is recognised by the World Heritage-listing of the villages. It represents global recognition of a concept the Japanese call ‘satoyama’ – the ability to live in harmony and sustainably with their environment – as manifest in the farmhouses and traditional way of life of these villages.
World Heritage listing means that the largest village, Ogimachi, is now extremely popular with many large tours arriving throughout the day. While the crowds can be off-putting at first, visitors who wander away from the most central locations, or take the time to get to the less accessible villages of Ainokura or Suganuma, will find themselves with plenty of space to enjoy without interruption. Indeed, those who venture to Ainokura and Sugunama will find the villages notably quiet, mostly visited by Japanese tourists and less blighted by the intrusion of large tour groups.
15 THINGS TO DO & SEE IN SHIRAKAWA-GO
For many if not most Japanese, the word ‘satoyama’ conjures imagery of idyllic rural villages and a slower, healthier way of life in which people live in harmony with the environment. Literally translating as ‘mountain village’, satoyama has no better demonstration than in the villages making-up Shirakawa-go and Gokayama. Awarded World Heritage status for just that reason – as examples of human ingenuity and the ability of man to live in harmony with our environment – the villages are hugely popular destinations that can be enjoy as day-trips from Takayama, Toyama or Kanazawa, or overnight visits by staying in one of the farmhouses. Our ’15 Things To Do In Shirakawa-go & Where To Stay’ page has lots of suggestions of the best things to do and see when there along with accommodation listings in the area.