Saturday, September 12, 2015

Shirakawa-go Traditional Houses in the Gassho Style

Shirakawa-go (village) is special for three points as follows: First, there are many old Japanese style houses which are very difficult to see any other place, what's more, these houses are used by village people in their actual lives.

Second, the style of the houses "Gassho Zukuri" is unique. "Gassho" means "palms placed together", "Zukuri" means "style" or "structure". Gassho Zukuri is a feature of the houses is the steep roof (of 45 degree to 60 degree), and the structure is called gassho zukuri because the houses resemble palms placed together and fingers pointing upward in prayer. No nails or other metal materials are used. (quoted from Japan National Tourism Oraganization)

Third, the houses (including Gokayama area, near Shirakawa-go) are registered by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. This status is the only one in Japan for old houses.

As for me, I like the shape of Gassho zukuri very much since I was a child. I have many reasons as mentioned above, I decided to go to Shirakawa-go. This village is just what I'd expect.

Access and Entrance

Many tourists may choose the way to Shirakawa-go, from Tokyo or Osaka to Nagoya by Shinkansen bullet train, then to Shirakawa-go by bus. It takes about three hours from Nagoya to Shirakawa-go.

FYI:Access to Shirakawa-go - Shirakawa village office

I like train trips, so I got in a train directly connected between Osaka and Takayama (nearest train station of Shirakawa-go). It takes 50 minutes from Takayama to Shirakawa-go. This way costs more than the way from Nagoya to Shirakwa-go by bus, however, I enjoyed this better way.

Many shightseeing spots in Japan have poor guides for foreigners. As for Shirakawa-go, tourist maps are available in seven languages at Tourist Information Center, which is located in front of the Shirakawa-go bus stop.

When you walk over a bridge near the bus stop...

The scenery totally changes from modern to old, with many people. (this day was Friday.)


I had reserved this inn "Furusato" (home village). It isn't equipped with air conditioners. The TV is only in the dining room. Guests rooms are divided not by walls but by shoji (partitions / doors made by thin wood pain and paper), therefore everyone can hear you and vice versa.

Such "inconvenience" didn't make me disappointed. The climate in Shirakawa-go in September was comfortable (in Osaka and Tokyo, still hot and humid), other guests who stayed this inn the same night were polite and quiet.

On the other hand, rest rooms are modern and convenient. I feel this attitude - going together "maintain old good things" and "bring modern things" at other spots of Shirakawa-go. It seems to be the theme of this village.

The landlord recommended that you should use an external spa facility because the bath of this inn is small. She gave me a discount ticket of the facility.

The accommodation charge was 8900yen including dinner and breakfast, I think it is reasonable.

The men in these pics are the sons of the Japanese Emperor. (center is the crown prince, right is his younger brother) The landlord said they stayed at this inn when they were university students. I know that the Japanese Emperor family is relatively modest and non-gorgeous but was surprised at these pictures which showed such people stayed at this common touch inn.

A guest room for me.

Soba noodle

Soba noodle for lunch at "Nomura". It was good - never "a typical dull restaurant at a sightseeing place"

Flowers and Gassho-style houses

The Wada House

The Wada family were the leaders of this village. Nowadays, Wada family members live in this house. (you can see the Satellite antenna on the roof in an above pic) This house is designated as "Important Cultural Property" by the Japanese Government because this house is well preserved even for being constructed over 300 years ago. In addition, the size of this house is the biggest in this village. This is well worth seeing.

FYI: The Wada House - Shirakawa village office

This sign says, "Beyond this point, Wada-family's living space. Please do not open the door"

A silkworm factory floor.


Path to the hill which you can see the overview of this village from. Buses available to the top of this hill, but a healthy adult can walk to the top of the hill for only 10-15 minutes.



"Shirakawa-Go-no-Yu", the bath which the landlord of "Furusato" recommended. It is in the gender-segregated. New and comfort.

Outside view from the rest space of the bath.

Inn Dinner

The main dish was "Hida-beef", famous tasty beef of this area. Worth a try.

In my room, I drunk a bottle of sake which was made at the local brewery. Staying at a genuine Gassho-style house, it was my dream from my childhood.

Next Morning

Sunny day.


Next visit to the hill.

Gassho-style barns. I was surprised that Gassho style also applied to such small barns.


At noon, I went back to Takayama station by bus.

I love ramen. I appreciated this ramen of restaurant "Kyo-ri" with fascinating soy-source flavor of soup.

No crowd was in this road from the station to the popular spot Sanmachi street...

When you walk into the street, you find such a crowd. Many tourists were there. (this day was Saturday.) I admit that this street has classical beauty, however, congestion made the value worse. In Shirakawa-go, many people also gathered, however it is a village, it has many streets and spaces. Sanmachi main street is only one, so many people concentrated on one narrow street.

You can go through Sanmachi street in only ten or less minutes by foot. At the end of the street, there is the Takayama Municipal Government Memorial Hall, which used to be the city office in the past. At this spot, you may enjoy the classical beauty of this area with a smaller crowd than in Sanmachi street.

I went back to Osaka on the return train of the outward one. Throughout two days, I really enjoyed the old Japanese houses and streets, with many tourists.


Anonymous said...

I am a Chinese from Sichuan and I personally really love the Shirakawa-go city that you posted here, I never been there but I would like to see that city someday if I have the chance to go to Japan again. I think the traditional Japanese houses are adorable to look at and the food that posted here looks tasty and I admit that I feel hungry when I see the food that posted here.

Your posting about the city that posted here reminds me a lot of one of my favorite cities in China, Fenghuang which is located at the Hunan region. Fenghuang is the one of the best preserved ancient cities in China, there are many traditional Chinese buildings could be found at Fenghuang.

When I see your posting about the Shirakawa-go city, I am so impressed by it. I could see the city not only looks clean and beautiful but also many of the traditional buildings and culture there are very well-preserved, unlike many of the traditional buildings and culture at any cities at China which tend to be not very well-preserved. Not only that, many Chinese cities are also not really as clean as any Japanese cities, the Chinese still have poor hygiene standard.

(Sigh) I wish the Chinese also do more to preserve the traditional buildings and the traditional culture because many of the traditional buildings and the traditional culture in China are under the threat of being destroyed by the government. I think the Chinese should do more to protect the culture and the traditional buildings from being destroyed by the current government. China has nice culture and nice buildings, but many of the culture and nice traditional buildings in China are mostly damaged by the current Chinese government. I think your posting about the Shirakawa-go would give the Chinese a wake call to preserve the culture and maintain the traditional buildings at any Chinese cities. Not only that, I also wish that the Chinese could have better hygiene standard and stop practicing their bad hygiene habits like spitting on the ground, littering, etc.

You know what, the current Chinese government destroyed many of the traditional buildings only for the sake of "modernization" which is so wrong and unacceptable. The current Chinese government destroyed many of the traditional buildings and culture within China because the Chinese government has an unhealthy obsession with modernization. Not only that, the Cultural Revolution side effects are also still prevalent within the modern day China, there are still many of the traditional buildings and culture at China which are severely damaged because of the Cultural Revolution.

Anonymous said...

(Addition from my above comments)

I also would like to tell you about which Japanese cities are my most favorites and which Japanese cities that I have been to.

My favorite Japanese cities are:

1. Kyoto
Never been there but I would like to go there someday if I have the chance to go to Japan again. I love the traditional Japanese buildings at Kyoto that I saw on the TV and internet. My uncle who has been there told me that Kyoto is a very culturally rich city, there are so many traditional Japanese cultural aspects could be found at Kyoto.

2. Nara
Very beautiful and culturally rich city, I love the traditional Japanese buildings there too. I have never been there too, but I also would like to go to Nara someday. My uncle told me that Nara is just as beautiful as Kyoto but compared to Kyoto, Nara is more solemn and serious than Kyoto.

3. Sapporo
Very beautiful seaside scenery, wonderful winter experience, and tasty seafoods. Sapporo also kind of reminds of Harbin, especially during winter although Harbin is less developed compared Sapporo. My uncle who has been to Sapporo during spring (I went to Sapporo during winter) told me that Sapporo during spring also has really nice looking scenery and the weather during spring was really good. My uncle also told me that Sapporo also has nice beer (I didn't drink beer when I was at Sapporo because I have allergic problem with beer or any alcoholic beverages).

4. Osaka
Lively city with lively nightlife, smaller than Tokyo but I still love it nonetheless. I find the people from Osaka to be somewhat more cheerful compared to the people from Tokyo (I find Tokyo people to be a bit uptight). The palace that I saw at Osaka is my most favorite spot of Osaka and I think Osaka's traditional Japanese buildings are also very beautiful to look at.

Japanese cities that I have been to and my personal opinion about them:

1. Tokyo
Very modern city, not really my most favorite Japanese city although I still find it enjoyable nonetheless. People are very accommodating and helpful, very stylish and polite (although they are rather uptight sometimes). Food is tasty (I love the Tempura Soba, Katsudon, Sushi, Bento, Gyoza, Nikuman, and the street side snacks that I ate at Tokyo). Very technologically advanced (I love the toilet technology and the car parking technology that I saw Tokyo). Very clean and orderly city, I wish Beijing and Shanghai could be just as clean and as orderly as Tokyo.

But unfortunately I find Tokyo to be rather too expensive for my liking, the electricity poles hanging around the streets of Tokyo looks rather disturbing to me (although there are also Chinese cities that have ugly looking electricity poles), the modern buildings there are rather bland to look at, and I also find Tokyo to be rather too crowded for my liking (although Beijing and Shanghai have worse crowd problem than Tokyo).

2. Osaka
(See my previous comment about Osaka)

3. Sapporo
(See my previous comment about Sapporo)

4. Fukuoka
Very good food, I consider Fukuoka to be the best city in Japan for food. The ramen that I tried at Fukuoka is just so memorable.

5. Yokohama
Smaller city compared to Tokyo, the Chinatown there was quite interesting. Very good authentic Chinese food (although some of the Chinee dishes I tried there were altered for the Japanese taste). There are many cheap things could be found at Yokohama, I bought some souvenirs there.

Anonymous said...

(Additional comments)

And then I also would like to express how much I really feel Cultural Revolution and its impact today.

There are almost no Chinese traditions and cultural aspects left in Mainland China, most of them were destroyed by Mao and the Red Guards. I feel really sad when I find out that Chinese traditions and cultural aspects are no longer exist within China of today. I don't want to live in the middle of the culture-less society where people have no touch with their own traditions and culture.

Even if there are any attempts of cultural revival in China, most of them are done in the very kitschy and meaningless ways. I mean, there are still many Chinese who have really poor understanding knowledge about their own cultural aspects and traditions which is saddening. Doing cultural revival is not an easy thing because one should truly understand the meaning behind every cultural aspects and traditions in order to revive them fully. Not only truly understand the meaning behind every cultural aspects and traditions, one should also do more research and study carefully about each cultural aspects and traditions to find out how the way they are supposed to be practiced and their meanings.

And that is why when I see how the way the Japanese preserve their culture and keep their traditions alive, I feel so happy for them. I wish that the Chinese also do more proper job to revive back all the cultural aspects and traditions that they have lost since many years ago. Of course it would take enormous efforts to do cultural revival, but if the Chinese could be more devoted to do so, then Chinese culture finally could be saved/rescued from the happened that happened years ago.

I think that Japanese culture could give me the chance to study all the good things about my own cultural aspects that we have lost years ago. The Japanese of today I see are very cultured and refined people, thanks to their strong effort and hard work to preserve their culture and traditions. No matter what happened to them, I could see how admirable the Japanese are to fully preserve their culture and tradition. I wish the Chinese also could display their strong effort and hard work like the Japanese did to fully preserve their culture. If the Chinese could display the same effort and hard work to fully revive the culture at China, I would be pleased to see that Chinese culture could be finally saved/rescued from the damages that happened years ago.

I would like to say thank you to your fellow countrymen for preserving the cultural aspects of the Han, Tang, and Song dynasty periods. If it weren't for your countrymen, I don't think the Chinese could ever see how was their culture like during those period and I don't think the Chinese could ever study carefully about their own culture.

Anonymous said...

(Additional comments)

Another thing that I hate the most is that many of the traditional Chinese buildings in China are destroyed by the Communist Party of China. The destruction of the traditional Chinese buildings were also started ever since the communist took over China and the destruction went worse during the Cultural Revolution. Then, the destruction of the traditional Chinese buildings in China also still exists today which is very frustrating.

Take this building for example, this building is called 崇文門 in Chinese, 崇文門 is a city wall at Beijing. The 崇文門 was still exist before the communist period, then the city wall got destroyed by the Communist Party of China in order to build the roads in Beijing. This is the picture of 崇文門 city wall:

The 崇文門 building is not the tip of the iceberg, other traditional Chinese buildings at other parts of China are also destroyed by the Communist Party of China. Even here in my hometown at Sichuan province, there are noticeable numbers of traditional buildings being destroyed and I feel so sad for it. The 蜀 style buildings at Sichuan also were destroyed by the Communist Party of China only for the sake of "development" and revolution. I don't want to see this thing happening again, when I see the pictures of the 蜀 style buildings of Sichuan in the 1930s-1940s I feel so nostalgic and astonished.

Then, the worst thing is, many of the traditional Chinese buildings are rebuilt again in the very kitschy way without any cultural touch to them. Meaning that many of the destroyed buildings in China are rebuilt again only for the sake of attraction and money-making which is so saddening. And then, many of the traditional Chinese buildings in China suffered from "disneyfication," "disneyfication" means that the traditional buildings in China are rebuilt again in the meaningless way only for the sake of gaining profits.

Anonymous said...

I feel very grateful to all of the Sinosphere countries (Sinosphere countries are the countries whose cultural aspects are rather close to China) like Japan, Korea, and Vietnam for keeping all the cultural aspects that the Chinese lost since years ago. If it weren't for all the Sinopshere countries, Chinese civilization would have long died, and the Chinese would never have the chance to see how is their culture truly like. I think that the cultural aspects from the Sinosphere countries could teach the Chinese about the good things of their culture and the Chinese could also look up to all the other Sinosphere countries to carefully study and gained understanding about their culture.

Not just Sinosphere countries, but I also feel grateful to the other places outside China with significant amount of Chinese population like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Macau, and any other countries for keeping the Chinese cultural aspects. If it weren't for them, Chinese culture and civilization would have long died.

Next, I also would like to say how grateful I am to the historians, culture experts, and antique collectors for keeping all the Chinese cultural relics and artifacts. If it weren't for them, the Chinese could never cherish their ancestors hard work and contribution to China and the Chinese. That is why I feel so happy when I see every single Chinese cultural relics and artifacts are displayed on the museums, I could finally appreciate my own ancestors' hard work and contribution to Chinese culture and civilization as a whole.

Yoshiteru said...

Thank you. I'm happy to read that you enjoyed this post.

I agree with your comment about Japanese cities. My impression about the cities is almost the same.

As for the preservation of old culture and buildings, Japan had many problems. During Japan's postwar developing era (the 50s to the 70s), many beautiful nature spots and some historic places were ruined by factory / office buildings construction. Some tragic pollution incidents bore many victims. (google "Minamata disease")

I wish your country's surviving great historic places / buildings (I think many of them are the world's treasures) preserve forever. I also would like to admire historians, culture experts, and antique collectors for keeping old cultures.

Anonymous said...

I am happy to read your reply, as usual.

Thank you for being honest about everything, I really appreciate that. I know that Japan has its own cultural ills, but the most admirable thing is that Japanese at least still have the effort to avoid the same ills happening again. I wish the Chinese also could have the effort to avoid the same ills happening again.

Yes, I also wish that all of the existing traditional buildings in China could be well-preserved for the next generations. I would love to see them to be well-exist forever, so the next generations could cherish their culture and heritage.

And btw, I would like to hear you opinion about 5 Chinese cities that you have been to. I know that you have been to China (judging from your posts that I have read), so I would love to hear your opinion about China as well. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

If you meet anyone who talk ill about the Chinese, show them these embroidery pictures:

Then, show them these porcelain pictures:

Anonymous said...

If you meet anyone who talk ill about the Japanese, show them these embroidery pictures:

Then show them these porcelain pictures:

Yoshiteru said...

Thank you for your comment.

Yes, I have been to China. In 2002, I visited Chengdu, Jiuzhaigou, Huanglong. That was my first and last trip to China.

Chengdu was not only lively (like other cities in China) but also having atmosphere of a substance from its rich historical heritages. I enjoyed the mystic atmosphere of Mount Qingcheng (青城山)and felt the greatness of Chinese people at Dujiangyan Irrigation System(都江堰). I also visited the tombs of heroes in The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (成都武侯祠), it reminded me of my high school days because I was absorbed in reading the Romance at the age.

Jiuzhaigou was one of the most impressive nature scenes - I think that the phrase "beyond the description" is suitable for this place. I love beautiful water nature spots, so I have traveled so many water spots, I never hesitate to say that the best is Jiuzhaigou. Huanglong was also beautiful and fascinating. I was also moved by the temples of Tibetans on the road to the top of Huanglong. They were fantastic and solemn.

As above, my image of China from my own experience is "beautiful nature" and "great history".

I'm grateful to you for introducing Chinese and Japanese embroideries and porcelains. I have appreciated all of them. As I wrote in my previous comment on the other post, I believe that such greatness of arts proves the greatness of human beings. It is beyond the categories like "Chinese" or "Japanese".

Anonymous said...

Well, I am very happy to read your comment about China. This is my opinion about Japan, Japan to me a nice clean polite country that could make the world awe with her people's good national character. Japan is my favourite country, I love Japan despite of the bad political relationship that China has with Japan. In my eyes, Japan is the country that China should look up to in order to progress because Japanese people could teach a lot Chinese people about good manners, hard working character, respect, personal hygiene, cleanness, and cultural preservation.

If China could have a good relationship with Japan in the future, I would feel even happier.

Anonymous said...

And I also would like to tell you how much I respect the Japanese, the Japanese are the people that I grew to like each day. I used to have a very complicated feelings about Japan, but after I met you, I finally grew to love Japan more. And I also had a good impression about my interaction with the Japanese when I went to Japan, they are very kind and polite people (pretty much like British people in that sense). If anyone could be just as kind and as polite as the Japanese, I would be so happy for my own country, China. I wish the Chinese could be more sincere and kind towards each other, so China would not collapse in the near future.

Yoshiteru said...

I'm happy to read your positive comments about Japan. As you wrote, I also think that the personal hygiene sense of Japanese is strong. Apparently the education after Japan's modernization made us this way.

About working hard, it is also a big problem in Japan. One of the most-discussed topics among Japanese recently is that a woman who worked for a famous ad agency committed suicide in her 20s after over 100 hours of overtime work every month. The number of suicides from overwork in 2012 was 1,257. (quote from NHK web, sorry in Japanese
cf. my entry "Why do Japanese business people work till late?"