Feeling A Slower Flow of Time at Shirakawago, the World Heritage Site
Scenery with “Gassho style” houses is very typical and unique to Japan. In Shirakawago, a world heritage site, there still remain many old Gassho style houses which are still inhabited. One of our team staff visited there recently to actually see the houses and feel the atmosphere of the site.
Gassho Style Houses
“Gassho style” mainly refers to the steeply angled thatched roofs of those old houses. The shape of the roofs is meant to prevent the houses from collapsing against the weight of piled snow and to secure good drainage. The name “Gassho” originally means an act of putting hands together when praying to god. The triangularly shaped roofs were likened to the shape of hands, and hence the name.
The houses, some of which are aged as old as 300 years, were nestled in the silent valley of Shirakawago, where I could hear the sound of birds and insects much louder and clearer than usual in urban areas. The atmosphere and the scenery were so genuinely Japanese.
Tour Inside the House Makes an Unforgettable Memory
One of the great things about this world heritage site is that some of the houses are open to public for viewing the inside. It provides a great opportunity to learn about Japanese culture by taking a close look at the house structure and the traditional tools and other articles in those houses. The scent of the tatami mats and irori (traditional Japanese sunken hearth) made me feel like I was back in the old time. The place also made me think how wonderful it would be to drink some sake sitting at the hearth.
Up the steep stairs on the 2nd floor was an exhibition room. The squeaking floors and the gaps between the floor boards, through which you can get glimpses of the downstairs and the upstairs, naturally made my movements slower. I felt the flow of time there was much slower than other places. Perhaps because the house was filled with such silence and calmness, all other visitors also remained silent as they were looking around inside the house.
Inside the house there were numerous traditional tools that even many Japanese people should have never seen before. It was fun to imagine which tool was used in what way for what purpose. But please just remember that you are not allowed to touch any of them because they are all solely for exhibition purpose.
Silent Night of Shirakawago
When I got outside, it was already dark. But it was only about 6 PM. Coming from an urban area like Tokyo, where I always stay in bright lights day or night, the darkness at Shikawago felt almost scary to me. But it was precious for me that I was able to stay away from my everyday urban life for a while and experience how the time passes naturally in a remote village.
Some Gassho style houses in Shirakawago not only offer tours inside the houses but also provide accommodation. If I ever have a chance to visit there again, I will definitely stay overnight and drink sake surrounding the irori hearth together with other visitors.
Shirakawago is a soul-soothing countryside village in Japan, which is without doubt worth a status of a world heritage. There are many things you cannot enjoy elsewhere but here. So make sure to visit here at least for once and bring back a lifelong unforgettable memory. Information: Map