Shirakawa-go is located at the Ogi-machi in the Ono District in Gifu Prefecture. About 100 Gassho houses are remained in the village, and even in nowadays, some of the locals are still living in the Gassho.
Processing the most original and beautiful scenery in Japan, Shirakawa-go was chosen to be the Important Preservation District in 1976. What’s more, it has been enlisted as one of the UNESCO world heritages together with Gokayama in Toyama Prefecture in 1995. Not only due to the architecture and the landscape in the area, but also the spirit of the locals was highly appreciated, which directed them to the above titles.
Nowadays, the number of tourists visiting Shirakawa-go has been increasing every year due to the fame of the district and the more opened transportation network.
Shirakawa-go, ‘the Japan’s hometown’, is a place where you can admire the natural landscape and experience the rural culture and livelihood.
Gassho-zukuri are houses built with steep rafter roof tops, which is an unique Japanese architectural style. While seeing from the outside, the shape of the roof resembles the hands of a prayer, so it is called ‘Gassho’ in Japanese. In fact, Gassho-zukuri can also be seen in other districts in Japan. However, the Gassho in Shirakawa is the most special type as they were built in a triangle shape like an opened book. The reason for this is to prevent the weight of snow from crushing the rooftop in winter. Moreover, the houses are built facing the north-south direction. This is to alleviate the wind resistance and to adjust the intensity of solar radiation to the rooftop. So that the people living inside the Gassho can feel cool in summer and warm in winter.
What makes Gassho different from other Japanese folk houses is that the loft of a Gassho is used as a workplace. The sericultural industry was the main income of the locals from late Edo period to early Showa era. In order to effectively utilize the space of the loft, it was often divided into two to four floors as the feedlot of the silkworms. In the past, the rooftop can be used up to 50 to 80 years. However, due to environmental changes nowadays, the rooftop needs to be changed once every 30 years. The biggest weakness of Gassho-zukuri is that it is very flammable, therefore, activities that consists of flame are strictly prohibited in the village. In order to prevent the possible outbreak of a conflagration, a large scale fire drill is held at the beginning of November every year. The drainage of water is also a special scenery that is very much worth-seeing.
We treasure the heart of “yui” a lot in Shirakawa-go.
“Yui” stands for supporting each other in Japanese. The reason why Shirakawa village can exist until nowadays is due to the local spirit of backing up each other. As our village is surrounded by mountains, snow will be accumulated in winter and thus blocking our ways in and out of the village. We could not survive if we did not help each other with our livelihood. Facing such a strict natural condition, our “yui” spirit became strong enough to sustain the existence of Shirakawa-go.
Even in the modern times, our heart of “yui” is still carrying on. For example, the whole village would participate in changing the rooftop of a Gassho. We want to pass on this message to the next generation so that the village can stay in the future. It is not an exaggerated saying that the heart of “yui” is what holds our village together from falling apart.
We hope that by knowing the heart of “yui” in Shirakawa-go, people can understand the importance of giving out their helping hand and to strengthen the bonding of each other.