Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Village of Shirakawa

For our first day trip, I took my parents 90 minutes southeast into Gifu prefecture to the historic village of Shirakawa. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was a place I had been wanting to see. With a bus going directly there just about every hour, I thought this would be a perfect little day trip for us to enjoy. 

Our bus took up winding around mountain roads and through what seemed like a dozen mountain tunnels. We arrived to Shirakawa around 12:30 and I quickly got the lay of the land in this small village from the English map. This tiny village of 137 square miles is known for it's unique houses that are built in the gassho-zukuri style. This literally means clasped hands, because the roofs resemble hands put together in prayer. Others among us might call them A-frames. They were historic buildings of farmers, artisans, and merchants, though these social and class distinctions no longer exist in Japan. The village is preserved and is still home to 1,700 people. The roofs are covered in thick bundles of straw, thicker than I would have imagined. They'd have to be because the village usually gets covered in snow in the winter, remnants of which we saw on our visit. Though there was snow on the ground, the temperature was a comfy 55 degrees. 

We explored the village on foot, drank mountain water, and we enjoyed a little rest inside a restaurant where I ate soba for the first time. 

Tourism has helped this small village to survive and many homeowners have turned their houses into gift shops, cafes, and museums. Those this is delightful for the public at large, it comes at a cost of sacrificing the simplicity and tranquility of this part of the Japanese countryside. It was a lovely visit and I'm glad we got to respectfully enjoy it.