I recently went on a road trip to Gifu Prefecture, and was able to see and do a lot related to my postcards! I’ll be posting the full set of 6 cards in the upcoming posts, starting with Gifu’s first postcard, depicting the famous Shirakawa-go!
Shirakawa-go is an extremely famous area in the Gokayama region of Northern Gifu. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring Gassho-zukuri style farmhouses, some of which are over 250 years old! Gassho-zukuri are traditional style thatched-roof farm houses whose roofs resemble hands together in prayer like a Buddhist monk, hence the name. These thatched roofs are rare and becoming rarer in Japan, as people forget how to make and care for them. To thatch a roof is also a community-wide effort, and as many cities, towns, and villages around Japan are losing their younger generations to big cities like Tokyo, and the remaining residents become older, thatching a roof becomes more and more difficult. So there are very few places around Japan that still feature this style of house that people still live in.
Shirakawa-go is famous with tourists both Japanese and foreign. You can stay in some of these farmhouses, and this is popular especially in winter, when the town is covered in a light blanket of snow and the houses are lit up at night. Even in summer though, the area is very beautiful!
Just imagine the snow there…
Paths, streams and rice fields among the houses
I lost the sun in this picture
Looking out over the town from a viewpoint
Shirakawa-go is reached easiest from the nearby city of Takayama, also famous for its festival and the subject of a postcard I’ll be posting about soon. However if you don’t have time to go all the way up to Shirakawa-go, but still want to see Gassho-zukuri houses, there are several places in the prefecture you can see them, including at the Hida Folk Village in Takayama City, and at the Otaki Caves near Gujo City. You can read more about the area here at Japan-Guide. I also posted a blog post about my trip to Gifu on my personal blog, which you can read here if you’re interested!
2015.01.20: NHK World’s exploration of World Heritage Sites includes this video on Shirakawa and surrounding villages. Not only does it show some interesting details of the Gassho-zukuri style houses, but also highlights the community way of life, especially when everyone gets together to thatch a new roof. I found it very entertaining and enlightening, and encourage a watch!