24 Oct 2013 Japan: The Magic of Shirakawa Gō
I once wrote a poem about the Shirakawa Gō (traditional) Village, that started like this; ‘In far away, almost forgotten land, among mountains and valleys, as if someone tried to hide it, from the world like a precious gem, there is a place, that tells us the story, of once upon a time – nostalgic, old Japan.’ Shirakawa Gō is a perfect place in which you lose your connection with the outside world; reunite with the nature, while breathing the fresh air of the mountains and walking among the small houses on both sides of you, built in a traditional way, giving you the opportunity to explore the once upon a time, Japan.
Shirakawa Gō is located in the northwestern part of Gifu Prefecture, Japan. It is known for its Gassho-zukuri houses, made of wooden beams combined to an A form roof that resembles two hands of a praying man. In case you are interested to stay in the village for the night, it is better to make the reservations in advance and chose to stay in a traditional house. I had the opportunity to visit the village during the early spring time, when most of the village’s area was still covered with snow, and the temperatures were below zero Celsius. If you visit the village during the winter time, you are about to experience a winter fairytale, seeing the traditional houses being covered with snow, sparkling-a truly unforgettable magic. The traditional houses contain proper heating and bathes, and the rooms contain futons (traditional Japanese bedding) instead of regular beds. Two meals are being served during the day; breakfast and dinner; the dishes include vegetables, fresh water fish, miso and other variety of traditional healthy Japanese food. Staying in a traditional house, you have the opportunity to meet other guests and hear their stories about what made them to visit the village while sharing your impressions.
During the day, if you are lucky enough, you can observe the ‘changing the roof’ process of the traditional house, which very well resembles the ‘knitting a quilt’ process. This work makes the village’s people join hands in one mission, and such tradition has been passed down from generation to generation. There are many souvenir stores that sell the village’s goods, mostly being located along the main road; it is a great opportunity to make sure that this trip will be remembered forever. Along the souvenir houses, there are several house-museums that tell us the stories of the village which can be visited with additional payment. During a break time, a warm meal together with a hot tea, especially handmade ‘Matcha tea’ (powder green tea) is very much recommended. If the weather is too cold for you, it is better to visit the public bath located within the village, and continue your trip with a warmer feeling.
The Shirakawa Gō traditional village is located next to the Shirakawa village itself, where people’s lifestyle is modern. While walking the streets of the modern village, I’ve been amazed of how interesting it is to keep the modern and the traditional life so close to each other, like a small time machine in the mountains. On the way from the traditional village to the modern one, there is an exquisite coffee place, with various sorts of coffee from all around the world; I had a great chance to chat with the owner who told me about the village’s stories.
From the Shirakawa Gō viewpoint, while overlooking at the entire village, you might think that someone accidentally spread the houses like brown beads, from a precious necklace on a white sacred veil. Please try to imagine that the person who did it is yourself, and you are the one that writes the magical story of the traditional village, of once upon a time – nostalgic, old Japan.
About the Author: Victoria Kupchin. Born in Moscow, USSR in 1982, at the age of 9 immigrated to Israel. B.A. in Comparative Literature and East Asian Studies, from Tel-Aviv University (graduated in 2005). M.A. in East Asian studies (Japanese) from Hebrew University.