Learn about Shirakawa-go, Japan by reading
A Village Out of the Past: Shirakawa-go, Japan by Sandy
Zimmerman, Travel Writer. It features a mini, but thorough tour of
the destination, plus all you'll need to know to plan your trip
including getting there, objective information on places to stay and
eat, and things to do. At the end of the article, we've provided a
summary of the contact information for your easy reference. Enjoy!
A Village Out of the Past: Shirakawa-go, Japan
by Sandy Zimmerman, travel
writer and WTA member
The famous slanting roofs
can be found throughout the village.
There is a quaint little village hidden at the foot of Mt.
Hakusan that has preserved its historic architecture. So authentic, so beautiful
to see, the Shirakawa-go Village ("The Village of the White River"), in
northwest Gifu prefecture, has been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
It is one of only six world heritage sites in Japan.
Immediately upon arriving at Shirakawa-go, we noticed the unique
architectural style of Gassho pampas grass roofs constructed with high thatched
gabled roofs resembling hands joined in prayer. The steeply sloping roofs allow
rain and snow to slide off and are flexible enough to move with strong winds.
Huge Japanese oak trees bent at the base by the weight of the snow were used for
beams. Structurally the roofs are not connected to the first floor, but tied
together with ropes and built without any nails or pins. Usually the family
lives on the first floor while the second and third floors are used to cultivate
silkworms. The houses are re-roofed every 30-40 years by the yui labor exchange
system. From 100-200 villages volunteer their services to climb the ladders up
to the high roofs. Each house must be completed in one day because this is the
people’s residence or business. You can see the villagers working on two-three
houses each spring. According to tradition, professional carpenters build the
first floor while the villagers build the roof.
Villagers in typical dress
Our walking tour brought us into another world to see 112 of
these buildings. The Wada House, the largest of the Gassho houses, was built
during the mid-Edo period and is still occupied by members of the Wada family.
First we spent time in their downstairs museum to see the Buddhist altar,
historic displays, living areas, main hall, and exhibits. Then we were allowed
to climb up the stairs to the roof to see the beams. The second floor was used
for silkworm cultivating, its height made it possible to bring in light from
both ends of the eaves. They kept the large room warm with a hearth. The lineage
of the Wada family dates to 1573. They became wealthy by manufacturing gunpowder
and the head of the family served as the "Yauemon", leader of the village, in
Eating lunch inside one of these Gassho houses was a thrill! We
removed our shoes to walk on the tatami mats, slipped through sliding doors, and
entered a room where cushions were placed at a low table for Japanese-style
dining sitting on the floor. The Bunsuke Restaurant’s traditional complete lunch
included a whole mountain trout, whole rainbow trout, miso soup, tea, and
assorted Japanese delicacies. One trout was served with soy, sugar, and saki
sauce while the other was plain. The multi- course meal was delicious! The
Japanese eat the whole fish including the head and eyes. While we were dining, I
especially enjoyed the view from their extra large picture window overlooking a
waterfall, brook, and rock garden. This is the perfect place to explore and to
enjoy nature. The Bunsuke Restaurant is in a house that is also a traditional
Japanese inn (Ryokan and Minshuku). In fact, if you want a very different
vacation, choose from any of Shirakawa-go’s seven Japanese inns - the price
includes one night’s accommodations and two meals - breakfast and dinner
(7,500-15,000 Yen, from around $64 American depending upon the exchange rate).
Dining in the traditional Japanese-fashion, on the floor at the inn.
Photo courtesy of Sandy Zimmerman
Visit Shirakawa-go during the Doburoku Festival, in October, and
you will have an added treat! The Shishimai (lion dance) has been a part of
their long history. Seven local groups are active in keeping the traditions
alive. The large "Mukade Shishi"(lion- like centipede) becomes alive with four
dancers hidden under the costume so you see eight legs dancing. Another
interesting lion dance tells us of a legend of two boys winning a battle against
a lion, using a Japanese sword and halberd. During the summer, visit the House
of Doburoku Matsuri Festival Museum to see a doll exhibition depicting the
Just 2 hours from Nagoya, you can join a tour to
Shirakawa-go. Just take the Shinkansen Bullet Train or bus.
Nagoya is serviced by several airlines direct
non-stop flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Shirakawa-go and Gifu Prefecture,
Nagoya Convention and Visitors Bureau,
Notice: This information is current as of May 2007. It is
recommended that you contact the numbers, and/or visit the websites above to
determine any changes to the information.