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Goin’ Japanesque!

Try the Incredible Experience of a Night’s Stay at the Gokayama World Heritage Site

Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama represent the only two places in all of Japan where you can see the traditional A-frame architecture style called gasshō-zukuri. We’ve got some info for you today that is sure to help you out when planning a trip to Gokayama, which is registered with the Historic Villages of Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo:


About Gokayama


Located in the southwestern part of Toyama Prefecture, this settlement became a World Heritage Site alongside Shirakawa-gō of Gifu Prefecture in 1995. In the village, you’ll find traditional structures that date back over 400 years, and thanks to work by national and local organizations, the invaluable history and tradition here continue to be preserved. Even at present, around 80 people live in the village and treat it as their home.


What is Gasshō-zukuri?


Referring to a style of architecture that involves very steep thatched roofs, gasshō-zukuri gets its name from its construction (tsukuri), which resembles the palm of two hands (shō) pressed together (gatsu). Developed through trial-and-error to match the heavy snowfalls native to the local climate, these roofs are made to withstand as much snow as possible.


Even the attic areas are spacious enough to live in, and people once also used these spaces for silk farming. To combine living space with workplace in a building is the sort of rational approach you could even call an “invention” of the time. Furthermore, these homes are far sturdier than they look, which is not difficult to understand seeing how it has stood the test of time for over 400 years without deteriorating.

Related: Shirakawago, the World Heritage Site: Let’s Visit Residences of Japan’s Historic Village!


Kago no Watashi (Basket Ferry)


A doll being ferried across the river in a basket,

This is another interesting sight you’ll find at Gokayama: a basket that was used to ferry people across the river. Long ago, the area around Gokayama was used as a sort of penal colony as well as a place of exile, and this section of the land faced Gokayama Village across the water. If a bridge were built, exiles and prisoners sent to the area would be able to escape across it, so a bridge was never built. Sadly, the basket is no longer in actual use as a way to cross over to the other side. However, there’s a strong historical allure to the locale, so be sure to go check it out!


Kokiriko-bushi: A Folk Song


Gokayama is famous for more than just its gasshō-zukuri architecture: it is also renowned as a veritable treasury of Japanese folk music, and almost thirty different folk songs remain here to this day, coming to us through local oral tradition. The two most representative are arguably “Kokoriko-bushi” and “Mugiya-bushi.” The former is held to be the oldest remaining Japanese folk song of the dengaku tradition, which refers to rituals and observances connected to prayers for bountiful harvests.


A Kokoriko-bushi performance involves dancing while playing an instrument called a sasara, which is made out of many thin bamboo plates stacked together. Its enchanting sound lingers with you long after the performance finishes, and the instrument itself is thought to be the original form of the one used in Nankin Tamasudare street performance.


Accommodation Experience

The magical scenery of illuminated gasshō-zukuri

At Gokayama, you’ll be able to actually stay in the World Heritage Site area, an experience far removed from the realm of everyday hotels and ryokan.


Come dinnertime at your accommodation, you’ll sit around the traditional irori hearth to enjoy your meal. There’s something especially tasty about dining while you bask in the gentle warmth of a charcoal fire and good conversation.

The white rice is cooked to fluffy perfection using the water from local sources and delicacies from the bounty of the mountains are exceptionally delicious as well.

Salt-grilled charr around an irori hearth

There’s no doubt that staying here and experiencing a night in the village soothes both body and mind.

Whether in seeing the star-filled night sky or breathing in the tranquil air of a mountain morning, you’ll achieve a remarkable calm when you stay here in Gokayama. Spending the night at a World Heritage site is a truly wonderful and rare opportunity, so be sure to try it at least once in your life! Information: Map

Our recommendations for local tourism destinations:
Shirakawago, the World Heritage Site: Let’s Visit Residences of Japan’s Historic Village!
Top 4 Sightseeing Spots of Kanazawa Recommended by Japanese
Omaki Onsen: Secluded Hot Springs Only Accessible By Boat

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