Splendour of an Enchanted Wonderland— Shirakawa-go
Splendour of an Enchanted Wonderland— Shirakawa-go

Shirakawa-go in rural Japan is a place that comes straight out of a fairy tale especially when the entire valley is covered in snow during winter with soft lights glowing from the windows. The romantic atmosphere draws tourists from all over the world.

Surrounded by the pine trees in the mountain, Shirakawa-go is scattered with traditional farmhouses called gassho-zukuri. They are built with their gable walls facing north and south to minimize wind resistance. This also allows the roofs facing east and west to get the most sunlight which helps melt the snow and dry the roofs in winter. To prevent them from caving in due to accumulated snow, the thatched roofs are built at a 60 degrees angle. Some of these farmhouses have been around for two to three centuries, and yet not a single nail was used in their construction.

A gassho-zukuri is a wooden house with a steep thatched roof that resembles two hands clasped together in prayer. The 90 cm thick thatched roofs have to be replaced every 30 to 40 years. It is a big project which requires the labour of 150 to 200 people to complete in a day. Whenever there is a need to re-thatch a roof, the villagers would come together to do the work. The locals call such a traditional cooperation system yui, meaning “tie” or “bind” in Japanese. Re-thatching binds not just the straw to the roof, but also the villagers together. It is the sense of community that keeps the village going for over 200, even 300 years.

The furnishings of a gassho-zukuri farmhouse are also long-established. At the heart of the farmhouse is an irori which is a traditional Japanese hearth used for heating the house and cooking food. The heat keeps the creepy crawlies away while the water vapour from the boiling pot ensures the air in the house remains moist. An adjustable hook for hanging the pot and a lever usually in the shape of a fish with a square pit in the floor make up the hearth. Just like the fish-like roof decorations used in ancient China to guard buildings against fire, the fish-shaped lever also serves to prevent fire since fish is closely associated with water. Fish are also symbols of prosperity.

Shirakawa-go is not just a place with heavy snowfall. Due to the humidity in the air, the snow sticks together and can be formed and shaped with ease, which make building snowmen a breeze even to novices. During the peak of the winter season, special illuminated events on selected Saturday and Sunday evenings from mid-January to early February are organized. The gassho-zukuri farmhouses are lit up, captivating tourists as they admire the idyllic landscape from the Shiroyama Viewpoint, which offers a panoramic view of the settlement.

Laozi says,

Humans follow the laws of Earth
Earth follows the laws of Heaven
Heaven follows the laws of Tao
Tao follows the laws of nature

www.Taoism.net and Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained, published by SkyLight Paths in 2006

From the orientation to the structure and design, gassho-zukuri follows the laws of Earth, and is therefore perfectly adapted to the environment. Being perfectly adapted allows it withstand the passage of time. The long history and unique architectural character of the farmhouses has made the settlement a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site on Dec 9 1995.

Figure 1 An irori with a jizaikagi (自在鉤), which is a hook consisting of an iron rod within a bamboo tube, and a fish-shaped yokogi (橫木). (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)
Figure 1 An irori with a jizaikagi (自在鉤), which is a hook consisting of an iron rod within a bamboo tube, and a fish-shaped yokogi (橫木). (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)

 

Figure 2 An irori with a jizaikagi (自在鉤), which is a hook consisting of an iron rod within a bamboo tube, and a fish-shaped yokogi (橫木). (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)
Figure 2 An irori with a jizaikagi (自在鉤), which is a hook consisting of an iron rod within a bamboo tube, and a fish-shaped yokogi (橫木). (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)

 

Figure 3 An irori is used for heating the house during the cold winter. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)
Figure 3 An irori is used for heating the house during the cold winter. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)

 

Figure 4 Breakfast in a gassho-zukuri farm house is a feast for the eyes. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)
Figure 4 Breakfast in a gassho-zukuri farm house is a feast for the eyes. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)

 

Figure 5 Straw ropes are used to tie the beams. (Miyuki Chua)
Figure 5 Straw ropes are used to tie the beams. (Miyuki Chua)

 

Figure 6 A view from the Shiroyama Viewpoint. (Miyuki Chua)
Figure 6 A view from the Shiroyama Viewpoint. (Miyuki Chua)

 

Figure 7 Shirakawa-go is scattered with traditional farmhouses called gassho-zukuri.(Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)
Figure 7 Shirakawa-go is scattered with traditional farmhouses called gassho-zukuri.(Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)

 

Figure 8 Enjoying a cup of Japanese green tea in the morning (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)
Figure 8 Enjoying a cup of Japanese green tea in the morning (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)

 

Figure 9 Shirakawa-go is scattered with traditional farmhouses called gassho-zukuri.(Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)
Figure 9 Shirakawa-go is scattered with traditional farmhouses called gassho-zukuri.(Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)

 

Figure 10 Snow scene in Shirakawa-go. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)
Figure 10 Snow scene in Shirakawa-go. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)

 

Figure 11 A gassho-zukuri is a wooden house with a steep thatched roof that resembles two hands clasped together in prayer. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)
Figure 11 A gassho-zukuri is a wooden house with a steep thatched roof that resembles two hands clasped together in prayer. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)

 

Figure 12 Taking a morning walk in the snow is a wonderful experience. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)
Figure 12 Taking a morning walk in the snow is a wonderful experience. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)

 

Figure 13 Due to the humidity in the air, the snow sticks together and can be formed and shaped with ease, which make building snowmen a breeze even to novices. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)
Figure 13 Due to the humidity in the air, the snow sticks together and can be formed and shaped with ease, which make building snowmen a breeze even to novices. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)

 

Figure 14 Taadaa... snowman in action (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)
Figure 14 Taadaa… snowman in action (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)

 

Figure 15 Our snowman says hello. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)
Figure 15 Our snowman says hello. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)

 

Figure 16 From the orientation to the structure and design, gassho-zukuri follows the laws of Earth, and is therefore perfectly adapted to the environment. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)
Figure 16 From the orientation to the structure and design, gassho-zukuri follows the laws of Earth, and is therefore perfectly adapted to the environment. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)

 

Figure 17 Water wheel outside one of the farmhouses. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)
Figure 17 Water wheel outside one of the farmhouses. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)

 

Figure 18 Bus terminal at the entrance of Shirakawa-go. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)
Figure 18 Bus terminal at the entrance of Shirakawa-go. (Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times)

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Epoch Times. Have you had a different experience visiting this region? Share it with us in the comments section!

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