We took a bus excursion from Takayama to a couple of the Hida villages in the Shokawa valley.
The houses – named Gassho-zukuri houses (gassho coming from the word for “praying hands”) – have steep thatched roofs. The roofs in the first village we visited had a 60 degree pitch, while those in Shirakawa-go were 45 degrees making for a larger base. The climate demands strong, steep roofs able to withstand heavy snow and shed rain quickly so that the thatching doesn’t rot. Typical snowfall in the valley is two to three meters a year, and winter can last for six months.
The houses are generally three or four floors and traditionally accommodate extended families (much like the farmhouses in Bavaria, Austria and Switzerland). The living accommodation is all on the first floor with a hearth in the center and no chimney – the smoke rises and blackens all the timbers above! The hearth is used for cooking and heating. The upper floors housed silkworms. Traditionally, the men farmed the land and the women worked with the silk worms and silk in the home. The houses are all situated with the gable ends facing north-south, and the openings allow for ventilation from the prevailing winds in the valley.