Experience ‘Satoyama’: A Return to Tradition & Balance

Experience ‘Satoyama’: A Return to Tradition & Balance


Located in a mountainous region of Toyama and Gifu Prefectures, the villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama represent small enclaves nestled in a heavily forested landscape. Though the region has not completely escaped modernisation, it remains largely undeveloped and the villages of Ogimachi, Suganuma and Ainokura retain much of their traditional character.

World Heritage status has brought the area global attention, in recognition of ‘a traditional way of life perfectly adapted to the environment and people’s social and economic circumstance’. More plainly stated, the villages were deemed have global importance due to their ongoing traditional lifestyles – including the ingenious design of the ‘gassho-zukuri’ farmhouses – which embody a successful and harmonious relationship between people and environment upon which they depend.


Declaration of this touches upon a Japanese concept known as ‘satoyama’ – a term you will hear often in Japan. Regularly used in tourism campaigns, satoyama is a broad concept with the flexibility to mean different things to different people; but at its core, it speaks of harmony, balance and sustainability through a return to traditional practices.

In a purely academic sense, satoyama has a prescribed meaning. It refers to mixed-use landscapes including farming fields, woodland, irrigation systems and the villages they support. In that regard, the villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are fine examples of satoyama.

For Japanese, such a definition recalls picturesque villages set amongst idyllic vistas and unspoiled nature. It is the stuff of Studio Ghibli movies and a highly affective motivation for Japanese to venture back from the cities, into Japan’s rural heartland.

The villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are some of the best-preserved examples of satoyama – something recognised by its residents who pushed for its conservation by law. In the rapid development of post-war Japan, local villagers saw the threat to their traditional way of life and thus, in the early-1970s, started a movement based on the principles of ‘Do not sell’, ‘Do not rent’ and ‘Do not destroy’. A consensus was reached with all residents and the Association to Protect the Natural Environment of Shirakawa-go, Ogimachi Village was established.


Efforts by local people to protect their way of life were rewarded in 1976 with protection of Ogimachi as a place of ‘Nationally Important Traditional Buildings’, a process which ultimately led to the inscription – along with Suganuma and Ainokura – on the World Heritage List in 1995.


Thanks to the active involvement of the community and the protections they won, the villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama retain much of their traditional character and practices, and are without doubt the most famous repositories of satoyama in Japan. While the term is fluid and in truth moulded to the need to those using it, satoyama holds a strong emotional pull for Japanese and for international visitors is an ideal worth exploring while in Central Japan.


Embark on a journey of discovery and enchantment in Shirakawa-go and Gokayama with our curated tours. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a returning enthusiast, our tours are meticulously designed to unveil the hidden gems and deep-rooted traditions of these picturesque villages. With expert guides, exclusive insights, and comfortable transport, each tour promises an unforgettable experience. Ready to see Shirakawa-go and Gokayama through a new lens? Explore our selection of tours and find the perfect adventure to enrich your exploration of these cultural havens.

From Kanazawa:
Embark on a unique cultural journey with our ‘1 Day Tour from Kanazawa: Shirakawa-go, Gokayama, and Wood Carving Village’ — our only tour that takes you to both the serene Gokayama region and the enchanting beauty of Shirakawa-go. Explore the UNESCO-listed villages of Shirakawa-go, marvel at the traditional craftsmanship in Gokayama, and experience the local wood carving heritage. Book your tour now for an exclusive passage into the heart of Japan’s storied landscapes and hidden artisanal villages.

From Takayama:
Embark on our ‘1-Day Tour from Takayama: Explore Scenic Old Japan in Takayama and Shirakawa-go’ and immerse yourself in the enchanting beauty of Shirakawa-go. While this tour focuses on the marvels of Shirakawa-go and Takayama’s historic charm, providing a deep dive into their rich culture and history, note that it doesn’t include Gokayama. However, you’ll still experience a tapestry of scenic views and cultural treasures. Book now to explore the heart of Japan’s scenic beauty and cultural heritage with us.

Private Tour:
Looking for a more private adventure? Embark on our exclusive private tours from Takayama and Kanazawa. Delve into the rich tapestry of Japan’s culture and history, from the tranquil landscapes of traditional villages to the historic streets of Kanazawa and the scenic beauty of Shirakawa-go. Our tours blend guided exploration with personal discovery, allowing you to intimately experience Japan’s most cherished destinations. Book your private journey now and uncover the heart of Japan in unparalleled style and comfort.



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.