白川郷 – The Historic Village of Shirakawa-gō

Posted: July 20, 2015 in Photography
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A trip eight years in the making.

A full day’s travel later Ehime to Gifu taking somewhere in the region of 8 or 9 hours): my first meal since I left Shikoku that morning. Takayama is definitely on the tourist-y side, so I went with the only restaurant that wasn’t advertising its meals in English.

Ominous.

Japan’s kabocha obsession continues unabated. (And people wonder why I got a pumpkin tattoo to represent my time there.)

And not before time…

…I FINALLY MADE IT TO SHIRAKAWAGŌ!

(And, as an added bonus, could finally forgive my good friend and former neighbour Lindsay for shooting it down over and over again, then going without me and telling me it was amazing, haha.)

白川郷 (Shirakawa-gō – the “White River Old-District”) is a UNESCO World Heritage site in Gifu Prefecture. This traditional village is famous for its houses constructed in the architectural style known as 合掌造り (gasshō-zukuri – “clasped-hands style”); characterized by thatched and steeply slanting roofs resembling two hands joined in prayer.

After walking up the nearby mountain to the observatory, I was delighted to discover that someone had actually been hired to stand there the entire day and take photos of (and for) visitors to the village. I did, however, feel a pang of sympathy for him after he was forced to utter, “Shirakawa…goooooooo!” for the hundredth time, accompanying every single click of the shutter.

Typical of Edo Period farmhouses, the design provides exceptional strength and, in combination with the unique properties of the thatching, allows the houses to withstand and shed the weight of the region’s heavy snowfalls in winter.

The houses are much larger than I’d realised, with three to four stories encompassed between the low eaves. A few of them have also been converted into museums, which you can view for a small fee.

This was the gasshō-zukuri of the Nagase family, built in 1890 by Taminosuke; the fifth head of the family.

The ground floor was the living spaces and family shrine.

The mezzanine was reserved for the (less than spacious) employees’ bedrooms.

The second and third floors are preserved as examples of working rooms for raising silkworms, as well as being filled with other agricultural tools.

The (colossal) size of the interiors vs the exteriors is definitely in violation of some kind of law of spatial dynamics.

Some koi hanging out in the trenches.

I had exceptionally good luck with the weather that day, though spending most of it outdoors in the blazing sunshine further contributed to my increasingly egregious farmer’s tan.

I never did figure out what the creepy scarecrows were all about.

Where possible, I tried to resist buying every souvenir in sight, but this one was too good to pass up.

The inimitable sound of the shakuhachi flute (you’ll recognise it even if you didn’t know what it was) soon drew me to the Doburoku Festival Museum. The Doburoku Matsuri is a festival where the residents of the village pray to the mountain god for safety and a good harvest, offering 濁酒 (doburoku – unrefined sake) at the shrine to express their gratitude. Whilst the productions of home-brewed alcohol is actually banned in Japan, the people of Shirakawagō are given special permission to produce doburoku in limited quantities for this festival. The drink itself is a thick, sweet liquid that looks like rice porridge and is so much more alcoholic than I realised that – after two cups on an empty stomach – I was decidedly less than sober.

Next door to the museum: the Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine.

An adorable but horribly unfriendly papillon.

Knowing that I’d be travelling all the way back down to Nagoya that evening, I’d taken one of the earliest buses to Shirakawagō to make sure I had enough time to explore the whole village before I left. Rather like St Andrews, however, said village is about three streets wide, and – by around midday – I’d done just about everything there was to do…

…which seemed as good an excuse as any to spend my remaining hours at the local onsen: 白川郷の湯 (Shirakawagō no Yu).

The hot spring itself is housed within a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), but visitors can pay entry to use the onsen, which overlooks the eponymous Shirakawa (white river).

If my head weren’t in the way, you could see the adorable miniature thatched house in the corner there.

And what better way to finish the day than with some ice cream.

I had a double scoop of red peach and, yes, doburoku. (As it turns out, the ice cream was also alcoholic.)

Goodbye, Shirakawagō – you were entirely worth the wait.

Several hours of buses and trains later – night-time in Nagoya: with Tokyo – and my next set of reunions – on the horizon.

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Comments
  1. Markus McD says:

    Phenomenal photos!
    I enjoy seeing the different manholes, and that koi picture with their silhouettes – wicked!
    Ps. how do they even serve ice cream to look that awesome?!

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