Shirakawa-go and Gokayama Ancient Villages – World Cultural Heritage in Japan

The ancient village of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Japan. Consists of three mountain villages in the remote Shogawa River valley, stretching across the border of Gifu and Toyama prefectures in central Japan. Shirakawa-gō is located in Shirakawa in Gifu Prefecture. Gokayama is subdivided into the villages of Kamitaira and Taira in Nanto, in Toyama Prefecture.

English name: Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama
Location: Gifu and Toyama Prefectures
Year of recognition: 1995
Criteria: (iv)(v)
Acreage: 68 ha with buffer zone 58,873.1 ha

The valley is located in a mountainous region with considerable snowfall, and these villages are famous for their farmhouses, built in an architectural style known as Gassho-zukuri, designed to allow snow to fall easily. from their roof.

1. Ogimachi Village

Documents from 1876 show that the village of Ogimachi had 99 households at the time, and was the largest of the 23 villages located within Shirakawa-Muri. The central part of the village lies on a high ground on the east side of the Sho River.

Most farmhouses are separated from each other by small plots of farmland. A network of small streets 2 to 4 meters wide connects these houses and dates back to the Edo period. A road more than 6 meters wide running north-south through the center of the village was built in 1890.

The houses are built on sloping ground near the foot of the mountain on small steps, supported by stone walls. Most plots for rice or grain production are very small, with larger plots north and south of the village. A Shinto shrine lies to the south, in addition to two Shinto Pure Land Buddhist temples.

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shirakawa-go and gokayama ancient village - world cultural heritage in japan

There are 59 Gasshō farmhouses most of which were built between the late Edo period and the late Meiji period (early 19th to early 20th centuries). All of the Gasshō spiers are built parallel to the Sho River creating a unified and attractive landscape.

2. Ainokura Village

Ainokura village is located on a terraced plateau above the Sho River but narrows to the west. The village is located at an altitude of 400 meters and is surrounded by mountains and forests. An old narrow road running from northeast to southwest through the center of the village, becoming the main mountain access route was built in 1887. However, a new and wider road was built in 1958.

In 1887, the village had 47 households, making it the fourth largest of the 25 villages in the Taira-mura area. Most of the houses are located on flat steps with stone walls and small spaces around. Ainokura village has the strongest farming tradition among all the villages in Taira-mura.

The village has 67 buildings and 5 additional structures located in the reserve. Among these were the original 20 Gasshō farmhouses that have since grown to 23, and most of them have a history from the late Edo period to the late Meiji period (early 19th to early 20th centuries), but the oldest house is from the 17th century.

A Shinto shrine located on high ground near the center of the village and today is surrounded by Japanese cedar trees. In addition, the village also has a Shinto Pure Land Buddhist temple.

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3. Suganuma Village

Suganuma is the smallest of the three villages on the World Heritage list. The village is located at an altitude of about 330 meters on a terraced plateau, with slopes to the south. The forests here keep the avalanche out of the village and are also within the heritage boundary. The cutting of trees here is prohibited. Apart from a large irrigated rice field at the bottom of the village, all other rice fields or arable plots surround the farmhouses. Irrigation was introduced in 1945, and the land was previously used to grow mulberries as food for silkworms.

The village has 28 buildings and 2 other structures preserved, of which 9 Gasshō houses are still standing, of which 2 were built in the late Edo period (early 19th century), Six of the houses were built during the Meiji period (from 1868 to 1912), and the last one was built in 1926.

Warehouses are built of wood or earthen walls and are built away from houses to reduce the risk of fire. The Shinto shrine dedicated to the village deity today sits on a slightly elevated site, but has been relocated twice since the 1930s.

Map of historical villages Shirakawa-go and Gokayama

Ogimachi Village

Ainokura Village

Suganuma Village

Video about Shirakawa-go Ancient Village and Gokayama

UNESCO World Cultural/Natural Heritage Sites

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