A day bus trip from Takayama to Shirakawa-go brought me to the UNESCO World Heritage village of Shirakawa-go. Weathered brown wood cottages topped by steeply angled, thick thatched roofs have been well preserved, probably because it was so isolated in years past. Gassho-zukuri, the architectural style, means “praying hands.” Some of the existing houses were built over 300 years ago. You may have seen the mysterious looking photos of the houses covered in deep snow, lit up and glowing at night.

The angle of the roofs were designed to protect against the deep snows of northern Honshu.  A photo at the site shows about one hundred people all over one roof replacing the thatch. In the attics, silkworms were raised. They live on mulberry trees, cultivated in the area.

It was a delight to walk around the town, especially since it’s still lived-in, with laundry hanging, garden plots in yards, cloth scarecrows loitering around the rows, late season vegetables ripening.

Temple bell

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Published by rkrontheroad

Writer, photographer, traveler

39 thoughts on “Shirakawa-go

  1. What a pretty village! It look so peaceful. The shop is neat too. Oh, and those colourful chillies hanging from the roof … this must be a great place to wander around. Wonderful photo’s Ruth – love them all!


  2. A few years ago, I watched a video that explained that many of these types of houses were constructed without using any nails or metal screws. They utilize an ages old technique of mortice and tenon at specific angles. It’s quite an elegant way of construction.

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  3. Looking at the photos, I feel like I can close my eyes and enter the village and be transported to a different time/space/attitude-of-being. Yes, it looks peaceful and serene. Thanks for sharing. I learn so much from your blog!

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  4. Oh, how wonderful! I would have loved to have visited here! The houses look so ‘right’ in their setting, the autumn leaves and hanging chillies provide lovely splashes of colour, and everywhere else is beautifully green 🙂 Fabulous post!

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  5. I was trying to decide if there’ glass in any of the windows, or just moveable panels? Perhaps the age of these structures precedes glass windows. The buildings certainly are impressive. However, the suspended bridge made me pause. Do you have to cross it to access the village? If so, I might’ve only visited from a distance!

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    1. The bridge is wider and more sturdy than it might appear in the photo. I am wary of high places and this bridge didn’t phase me, but it does connect a parking area with the town. My little flat had old-style metal moveable panels covering the windows (that would rattle in the wind!), but had been upgraded with glass windows as well. I suspect that may be the case in Shirakawa-go since it is inhabited all year round.

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  6. Exquisite photos of old world Japan! I so enjoyed browsing through them. This old wooden architecture is so grand – I remember seeing the thatched roof in the Royal palace in Kyoto. So thick it must have kept the cold from seeping in.

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