This farm town is in Shirakawago of the remote mountains of Hida – Gifu prefecture. It is a quiet mountain village with steep thatched roof farmhouses, rice fields and a river running through it. It just looks a picture from a fairy tale book.
The village was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995. Shirakawa-go is famous for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old.
There are more than 100 gassho-zukuri farmhouses in this village. The architectural style is designed to withstand heavy snow that falls in the region during winter. And they’re originally built without the use of nails.
The town and people were cut off from the world for a long time due to its remoteness in the highlands and Japan’s past economic upheavals. It was usually very difficult to travel to the region. And till around late 1950’s Japan discussed preservation of the village because it offers outstanding examples of the traditional way of life that continued existed since the 11th century. Today the Gassho-style houses retain their true authenticity.
Upon arrival to Ogimachi town, the largest of the three Shirakawa-go villages, we went up to the Shiroyama observation deck to obtain a panoramic view of the farmhouses. It was a grand showcase with the farm houses in clusters, an early spring sight with mint green buds showing up on the trees, dark muddy rice fields plowed and ready to be sown with rice plants and snow-capped mountain in the far back of our panoramic view. The view is an inspiration. We made many photos of ourselves with this backdrop.
Next, we returned to the town and stopped by the Wada family farm house. The Wada family was one of the wealthiest families and leaders of Ogimachi village. Their business was silk production. Their former home is the largest gassho-zukuri in the town. Today the house is open to the public as a museum. We went in and walked around the house. We could see how people lived in those steep cached room farm houses.
By noon, it was time for our lunch of traditional rustic Japanese mountain food at the Irori restaurant. The restaurant is served in a 100-year-old house. It has an “irori” which means Japanese hearth in the middle of the restaurant. In old days, the villagers cooked their meals at the hearth. And for lunch had the famous Boku Yo miso set. Our food was prepared with local ingredients and cooking method handed down from the Hida people. We had wild edible plants from the mountains, fish that was caught in the river nearby, grilled tofu in miso paste, pickled vegetables and soup. The rustic taste was a new experience for most of us.
Following lunch, we head to the open air museum that lies across the river. It exhibits different kinds of thatched roof houses that are relocated from various areas in Shirakawago. The open air museum had a nice scenery with a clear running water creek, a water mill and waterfall, mountain ridges and old houses in your view. One could just sit on one of the benches in open air museum and gaze at a lovely view of the houses with the mountain in the backdrop.