Shirakawa-go and Gokayama (World Heritage)

According to programingplease, the two villages in the center of Honshu represent the traditional construction of Japanese farmhouses of the Middle Ages. The pointed gables are characteristic of the very large wooden houses. They offered space for more than 50 people.

Shirakawa-go and Gokayama: Facts

Official title: Historic villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama
Cultural monument: Farmhouses built entirely of wood in a traditional village structure with a three-sided, thatched and steep (slope of 60 degrees) gable roof; built in the so-called Gassho-zukuri style (“folded hands style”), among other things. in Ogimachi (634 residents), Ainokura (90 residents) and Suganuma (40 residents)
Continent: Asia
Country: Japan, central Honshu
Location: Ogimachi in Shirakawa-go, Gokayama: Ainokura in Taira Mura, Sugamuna in Kamitaira Mura, northwest of Tokyo
Appointment: 1995
Meaning: In an impassable mountain region that was cut off from the outside world for a long time, traditional Gassho-zukuri-style farmhouses are a living testimony to the Middle Ages

Shirakawa-go and Gokayama: History

1615-1868 in the Edo period breeding of silkworms; Paper and powder production in the region
Late 19th century over 18,000 farmhouses in 93 villages in the region
1939 the German architect Bruno Taut draws attention to the Gassho-zukuri style with his book “The Rediscovery of Japanese Beauty”

Roofs for prayer

When you hear the keyword “traditional Japanese house”, one usually thinks of the graceful “tea house” type made of wood, paper, clay and straw – or also: noisy, draughty and hard to keep warm. Deep in the »Japanese Alps«, in the steeply cut valley of the Sho River, one comes across spacious, stable houses with huge grass roofs of the »Gassho zukuri« type. “Gassho” means hands joined in prayer and “Tsukuri” means the construction. It is said that the descendants of the few survivors of the Taira clan, which were destroyed in battles by the Minamoto clan at the end of the 12th century, settle here. Nothing seems more appropriate to illustrate the inaccessibility of this area.

The way the houses are built is the answer to extreme environmental conditions, and the lack of building land forced several generations – up to 50 people – under one roof: on average, the buildings are around twelve meters high and wide and 20 meters deep.

They responded to the excessive forces of nature with a flexible structure: Neither nails nor dowels were used. Beams and pillars are mortised together, rafters and purlins – horizontal bracing of the rafters – connected by straw ropes or young shoots of witch hazel. Because of the mostly fierce north winds, almost all houses have their narrow sides facing south.

In the remoteness of the region, in which the traditional grass-covered houses with their very steep roof – 60 degrees incline – are located, the average annual rainfall is 2300 millimeters compared to Munich with 900 millimeters impressive. When it doesn’t rain, it snows, especially in January and February when a snow depth of up to four meters is not uncommon. The snow melts from mid-March to the end of March, and immediately afterwards the valley blooms. The most elaborate event of the year takes place at the beginning of April: the “redesign of the houses”.

A Gassho-zukuri house, whose steep roof offers little heatable surface in summer for the high sun in the valley and ensures that the precipitation runs off quickly, has to be re-covered every 30 to 40 years. This work, which takes two days, requires 8,000 bundles of Miscanthus grass. After removing the old, moss-covered roof, fresh, gold-colored bundles of grass “sewn with straw” using greased wooden needles are laid. The rapid covering of the roof is only possible through teamwork.

A look inside shows that there are up to five upper floors in the roof area, which are mainly used for sericulture; they take up more than half of the total height. You spontaneously feel like you’re on board an old sailing ship: wooden beams, cordage, steep ladders and planks on the floors. The ground floor, on the other hand, is divided into a work area made of pounded earth and an elevated living area covered with rice straw mats.

The partition walls, mostly light sliding doors between load-bearing pillars, hold back little. Every room is simple and impersonal; Private apartments were not available. Windows do not mediate between outside and inside – they are hardly there – but outside walls. Depending on the weather, these can open almost the entire ground floor to the outside as heavy sliding doors and let light and air into the house. So it merges with the surrounding nature.

In the living area, in the center of the house, there is an open fireplace, the only one in the house. It is the place where all family members come together. The old seldom leave him; their job is to keep an eye on the fire and the toddlers. The smoke penetrates every crack. He drives away vermin. The rising warmth tightens the ropes that hold the roof structure together, cherishes and cares for the silkworms living on the upper floor and dries clothes.

Shirakawa-go and Gokayama