Hi! Patrick here at Smith’s Koenji School of English. Lately, all I’ve been hearing from my students are how much they miss travelling and visiting other places. I’m very thankful for the little breaks Japan affords us. The opportunity came, so my wife and I took advantage of our break. We decided to take a staycation in Shirakawago, a quaint historic UNESCO world Heritage hamlet in the Ryohaku mountains in the northern Gifu prefecture.
Unique to this region of Japan since the 8th century, Gassho-Zukuri houses are recognized for their slanted, thatched gable roofs. This roof shape resembles a pair of praying hands, which is how the architectural style got its name. Gassho means to join one’s hands in prayer, while Zukuri denotes a type of architecture. I’ve been told that as it snows heavily in the winter in this region, their steeply-sloped roofs help the snow slip off easily preventing the house from being crushed. Moreover, the structural space inside is typically divided into three or four levels. I found out that these were traditionally used as work spaces, for raising silkworms and making washi paper. It’s fascinating to note that no nails are used in the building of these structures. Moreover, the roofs face west and east to get all the sunlight it can to help melt the snow and dry the roofs quickly in winter. I must admit that an overnight stay at one of these farmhouses called minshuku (family run, Japanese style lodgings) is a must. I felt like I had gone back in time.
The village of Shirakawago looks like a page from a fairy-tale; a quaint village which time has forgotten. The locals were more than welcoming, and the little village exuded with charm and character. I thought it was picture-perfect and picturesque from almost every angle with beautiful mountain streams and lush greenery surrounding it. A staycation in Shirakawago was just what the Doctor ordered.
The trip back and forth wasn’t that bad either. We took the Shinkansen to Kanazawa from Shinjuku. We visited Kanazawa castle while spending a night there. We then boarded a bus to Shirakawago. On the way back, we took a bus to Takayama. We walked through Old Town Takayama and Yoshijima Samurai Heritage House on our brief stopover. We then boarded a bus back to Shinjuku. It was a memorable experience and a welcome respite. We can’t wait to share our staycation in Shirakawago experience with our students.