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Shokawa Valley

This remote mountain region situated between Takayama and Kanazawa in the Hida district is famous for its unique large, thatched ’A’-framed houses called ’gassho-zukuri’.

The term gassho-zukuri, meaning literally "praying hands," derives from the shape of the roof which is thought to resemble two hands clasped in Buddhist prayer. The steep gradient is designed to prevent snow building-up on the roof, which would make the thatch go sodden and rotten. The roof structure also minimises the amount of the sun’s heat absorbed in summer, keeping the inside relatively cool.

Another major feature of the houses is that no pegs or nails are used in their construction. In a region with heavy snows and strong winds it is an advantage for the structure to flex and sway. Much thought has also gone into the positioning of the farmhouses. Virtually all the gassho-zukuri houses face north-south because the prevailing winds, especially in the case of Shirakawa-go, blow north along the Sho-gawa valley. The wind resistance of the houses is kept to a minimum by positioning the gable, which has the smallest surface area, into the wind.

The two main areas of interest are Shirakawa-go (or Shirakawa village) to the south and the cluster of houses in the north known as Gokayama. Here can be found aspects of rural Japan that have been all but lost elsewhere in Japan. Much of the valley has been preserved by and for tourism and so there are plenty of museums, temples and shrines in the region to visit.

There is the possibility of staying the night in a gassho-zukuri that has been converted into an inn but book well in advance. (Takayama tourist office is best for non-Japanese speakers).



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