Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama

Gifu and Toyama prefectures
N36 23 60 E136 52 60
Date of Inscription: 1995
Criteria: (iv)(v)
Property : 68 ha
Buffer zone: 58,873.1 ha
Ref: 734
News Links/Travelogues: Japan; JP – Historic Villages Of Shirakawa-Go And Gokayama

Located in a mountainous region that was cut off from the rest of the world for a long period of time, these villages with their Gassho-style houses subsisted on the cultivation of mulberry trees and the rearing of silkworms. The large houses with their steeply pitched thatched roofs are the only examples of their kind in Japan. Despite economic upheavals, the villages of Ogimachi, Ainokura and Suganuma are outstanding examples of a traditional way of life perfectly adapted to the environment and people’s social and economic circumstances.

Brief Synthesis

The Gassho-style houses found in the Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are rare examples of their kind in Japan. Located in a river valley surrounded by the rugged high-mountain Chubu region of central Japan, these three villages were remote and isolated, and access to the area was difficult for a long period of time. The inscribed property comprises the villages of “Ogimachi” in the Shirakawa-go region, and “Ainokura” and “Suganuma” in the Gokayama region, all situated along the Sho River in Gifu and Toyama Prefectures. In response to the geographical and social background, a specific housing type evolved: rare examples of Gassho-style houses, a unique farmhouse style that makes use of highly rational structural systems evolved to adapt to the natural environment and site-specific social and economic circumstances in particular the cultivation of mulberry trees and the rearing of silkworms. The large houses have steeply-pitched thatched roofs and have been preserved in groups, many with their original outbuildings which permit the associated landscapes to remain intact.

Criterion (iv): The Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are outstanding examples of traditional human settlements that are perfectly adapted to their environment and their social and economic raison d’être.

Criterion (v): It is of considerable significance that the social structure of these villages, of which their layouts are the material manifestation, has survived despite the drastic economic changes in Japan since 1950. As a result they preserve both the spiritual and the material evidence of their long history.

Suggested Base:

Kanazawa is an historic city in Ishikawa prefecture, Japan. Kanazawa is one of the long overlooked jewels of Japanese tourism — although not by the Japanese, who visit in droves. Its relatively remote location, until recently off the beaten (shinkansen) track, has perhaps unfairly contributed to the historically lower number of foreign tourists. However for those travellers who want to see perhaps the best-preserved major Edo-period city in the country (along with Takayama), it is hard to beat. Kyoto’s offerings of temples and shrines are all very well, but Japanese history and culture is not just about them. The samurai, the merchants, the geisha, and the lords have all left their mark on Kanazawa in a compact, easily navigable central area. Kanazawa is part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a City of Crafts and Folk Art. With the opening of the new Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo in March 2015, the number of foreign tourists has increased significantly. [read more]

Toyama City is the capital of Toyama prefecture, Japan. One of the highlights of a trip to Toyama is a riverboat ride around the center of the city. Boats leave at regular intervals from a stand next to Toyama Castle. Many festivals can be enjoyed in Toyama and the surrounding region year round. Toyama festival is held in August and includes a fireworks display and various local activities. The Yosakoi dance festival, held over a weekend, occurs at the end of July/begnning of August, and some of the best spots for viewing displays of this modern Japanese dance style include around Toyama castle, Kencho-mae Park, and the Sogawa shopping arcade. Attracting large crowds at the beginning of September, Owara dance festival is held in Yatsuo town, a few stops from Toyama JR station. Running for three days, lanterns line the streets of this picturesque town and dancers and musicians parade through the streets demonstrating this traditional dance style. [read more]

Nagoya is the capital and largest city of Aichi prefecture, in the Chubu region of Honshu. The hub of the Aichi region, Nagoya is Japan’s fourth-largest city after Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka and one of the nation’s major economic centers. In terms of manufacturing, as home to auto-making giants Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi Motors, Nagoya is to Japan what Detroit is to the United States — which, along with having been completely flattened during World War II, also explains why it’s not one of Japan’s top tourist draws and most tourists just zip through on the bullet train on their way between Tokyo and Kyoto. But if you do decide to stick around, there are plenty of car-related attractions, a restored castle, an ancient shrine and surprisingly happening nightlife. Now a modern metropolis, Nagoya gets its name from an old manor called Nagono which was built in the area in the 12th century. [read more]

6 replies »

  1. If you are from Kanazawa, head out early in the morning for a 1 hour bus ride to Shirakawa-go. There are a number of departures from daily but if you want to maximize your time in the village, you might want to take the earliest bus. I spent roughly 5 hours in Shirakawa-go before I took a connecting bus to my next destination: Takayama.

    As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shirakawa-go does not really have a particular must-see attraction. The attraction is the village itself, replete with thatched roof houses built without using a single nail.

    Where to eat in Shirakawa-go: Irori is my restaurant of choice. Located a few steps away from the bus station, you can feast in delicious Hoba Miso which is a specialty within the Gifu Prefecture.

    You can choose to stay overnight in one of those thatched roof houses or take the bus later in the day to your next destination, Takayama.


  2. I went to Shirokawa-go and stayed a night in one of those houses before. its a very beautiful place. in winter time, the village will have very heavy snow fall thats why the roofs are built with big slope to avoid snow accumulation on top of roofs cause it will collapse the houses.


  3. The roofs in particular help residents deal with the region’s harsh weather. If the roof is steep, the snow will fall off easily. Beyond winter, these roofs offered plenty of work space for silk cultivation. At one time silk cultivation was the main industry in our village. Creating a large space also helped house a large number of families together for the industry’s labor force. Thus, this architecture mirrors the culture of our village.


  4. Exploring the village will surely give you a surreal feel of the old and rural Japanese experience. A quick walk up the hilly portion of village brings you to a spot that perfectly captures the whole village. While the day offers a beautiful and panoramic view of the village, it is also worth witnessing the area during the night when the houses light up.


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