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Far off to the Japanese Alps

Anmona Handique Mahanta

Glimpse of a Gassho-zukuri house at Ogimachi village, Shirakawago (Photo: AHM)

Nestled in the Japanese Alps, we happened to walk in a beautiful little village in Japan surrounded by a serene landscape and preserved in its most traditional way of life. And today, I would like to share with you all my experience about this quaint tiny place which I happened to visit last year. I feel it is worth sharing and also a place to visit at least once in life if you ever happen to visit Japan.

This is about a place called Shirakawago located in the remote mountains of Gifu Prefectures (In Japan, prefecture means State) and renowned for beautifully preserved traditional Japanese landscape. It was in the year 1995; the place has got the recognition as a World heritage Site due to its unique traditional Gassho-Zukuri houses where houses are more than 250-300-year-old. Gassho-Zukuri houses are constructed with triangular thatched roof with the steepest slopes that resembles the shape of hands of Buddhist Monks while they clasp hands during prayers. The reason behind the steep slopes was on architecture back then to withstand the large chunk of snow on the roofs during the heavy winter snowfall. The roofs are constructed without using a single nail and the perfect atmosphere to raise silkworms for silk cultivation work. Some say it’s a Japanese countryside fairy tale no matter whatever might be the season of the year, say- the Cherry blossom spring time or the freezing snowy capped winter times. This is because the entire village houses are illuminated with its light-up event that makes it way enthralling a night.

So out of all villages in Shirakawago, we visited the Ogimachi village being the largest and principal villages of the region in the month of December where at day-time the temperature stayed beyond -5 degree Celsius and at night it went beyond -15 degree Celsius. It is known that there is a total of 100 such Gassho-Zukuri houses in the village. Now, how we commuted to that village? Generally, to Shirakawago there are both bus and train services to commute and in our case being in the Nagoya City, we did some part of our journey in train while some part through bus and being close to the place, it took somewhat around 2.5 hours in the entire journey. First, from Nagoya we went to a place called Takayama in the Gifu region and halted there as it was easy to commute to the village from this place. The next day from Takayama we took Japanese Nohi Bus service to reach our destination to the marvelous village. In both routes, from their breathtaking views I still reminisce the heavenly beauty of the landscapes where after some part of the journey for the first time in my life I saw the amazing snow-capped mountains and roads. In short, I would say it was just a snowy corridor. And I would also like to add to this, that during summer those snow-capped landscapes just turn into lush green farm fields mainly paddy and I am eagerly waiting to experience the same if I get a chance to stay for more in this country. We also got to view small tea gardens cultivated at the front yard in the houses of the local people, flower gardens, some cabbage cultivation's and a journey that I will forever cherish throughout my life. While if one has to commute through Tokyo, can either take a bus to Takayama but that would take 5-6 hours in bus although comparatively cheaper than trains. While in trains it would take less time of-course, but it is slightly expensive.

It is known that some of the villagers have transformed a part of their houses to shops, home-stays and small traditional restaurants where villagers who are mostly farmers also earn their livelihood through them. Sadly, we could not manage the time to experience the spellbound Japanese hospitality of the house owners by making home-stays with them. These are typical home-stays with traditional Japanese set up called Ryokan. While entering the village it is strictly mandatory to follow the rule of not taking any outside food inside the village except water. The food in the home-stays are all locally made with fishes from rivers, home-grown vegetables and mainly the region is famous for the variety of Hida-beef (a kind of Japanese beef). The other street shops mostly sold souvenirs that are beautifully handcrafted with neat and stunning packaging work by the villagers themselves.

Souvenir of Gassho-Zukuri Memorabilia (Photo: AHM)

Some of the common souvenirs are – good luck charm token called sarubobbo, Gassho-zukuri memorabilia, Japanese wine(sake) and a lot more. Tourist like to visit those shops as they display very attractive handicraft items and other sort of usable items that can be only found in that place being their specialty. The restaurants mostly served traditional Japanese food items and some fast food on street shops were also that sold the localities like Mitarashii dango(Salted rice balls), coffee, potato croquettes and strangely at such a temperature of -5 degree Celsius some also sold Ice-creams.

Relishing Mitarashi Dango (Salted Japanese Rice balls)

However, apart from the traditional houses to make a stay in the village there are some houses which are opened as hotels and guest houses but are abnormally expensive. In some it is 13000 yen per night while in some it goes beyond 1 lakh yen per night. Therefore, the entire Ogimachi village can be explored on foot and to explore it fully one should take at least a day. There are also washrooms available in close proximities inside the village itself where tourist can find no problem exploring. They were cleaned during regular intervals by the village stuffs with all warm seats and maintained neat and tidy. For public viewing there are three houses kept open where Wada-house is the largest of all preserved as a Heritage Museum in the village followed by Kanda house and Nagasa house. I would wish to tell you all about the historic Wada House later through my columns as many things are there inside the house that is worth knowing.

View of the entire village from top cliff of a mountain (Photo: AHM)

Inside the village there are also some peak points that one can go by trekking and can view the entire village from the top where it looks more fascinating with a spectacular landscape. We feel just blessed that we managed to reach that point but sadly, all thanks to corona the winter light-up event has been cancelled else we would have also experienced the old saying of a Japanese countryside fairy tale. Hence a visit to Shirakawago is a must if you ever happen to visit Japan as there are so much familiarity with Assam that many times we felt so connected to this place. And for the first time, I have also come up with a small video of just 7 minutes that can give you a real feeling of a snowy capped countryside place of Japan. Here is the link!


[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily

reflect the opinions of the Publisher.]


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