The historic Villages of Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama in Japan

Saturday, 4 July 2015 - 01:00 pm (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Palaces, Castles, Manors, Parks, UNESCO World Heritage
Reading Time:  3 minutes

Gokayama - Ainokura © Minque

Gokayama – Ainokura © Minque

The Historic Villages of Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama are one of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The site is located in the Shogawa river valley stretching across the border of Gifu and Toyama Prefectures in central Japan on Honshu island. Shirakawa-gō is located in the village of Shirakawa in Gifu Prefecture. The Gokayama area is divided between the former villages of Kamitaira and Taira in Nanto, Toyama Prefecture.

These villages are well known for their houses constructed in the architectural style known as gasshō-zukuri. The Gasshō-zukuri, “prayer-hands construction” style is characterized by a thatched and steeply slanting roof resembling two hands joined in prayer. The design is exceptionally strong and, in combination with the unique properties of the thatching, allow the houses to withstand and shed the weight of the region’s heavy snowfalls in winter.

Shirakawa-gō - Ogimachi © Bergmann/cc-by-sa-3.0 Shirakawa-gō - Gasshō-zukuri - Jin Homura Art Museum © 663highland/cc-by-sa-3.0 Gokayama - Suganuma © Morigen Gokayama - Ainokura © Minque
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Shirakawa-gō - Gasshō-zukuri - Jin Homura Art Museum © 663highland/cc-by-sa-3.0
The houses are large, with three to four storeys encompassed between the low eaves, and historically intended to house large extended families and a highly efficient space for a variety of industries. The densely forested mountains of the region still occupy 96% of all land in the area, and prior to the introduction of heavy earth-moving machinery, the narrow bands of flat lands running the length of the river valley limited the area available for agriculture and homestead development.

The upper storeys of the gasshō houses were usually set aside for sericulture, while the areas below the first (ground) floor were often used for the production of nitre, one of the raw materials needed for the production of gunpowder.

Read more on unesco.org – Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, Shirakawa-gō and Wikipedia Historic Villages of Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama. Phots by Wikimedia Commons.

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