From Takayama, it’s a one-hour bus ride to the Shirakawa-go region and the traditional storybook village of Ogimachi.
Ogimachi lies cradled by the mountains in the Shokawa River Valley and is characterized by its enchanting wooden farmhouses capped with thick, steep, sloping, thatched roofs made from susuki grass.
The style of these large farmhouses, built to accommodate extended families, is known as ‘Gassho-zukuri, meaning: ‘prayer hands’ because their steeply angled roofs resemble hands with the fingertips joined in prayer. There’s a practical reason for this design – namely to cope with the heavy snowfall. The shape of the roof allows the snow to fall more easily to the ground.
The homes are multistory and have an open hearth at their center which multitasks for cooking, heating, and drying the grass roof from within. Since there are no chimneys, the smoke from the hearth seeps into the thatch keeping insects away.
Families traditionally planted mulberry trees and raised silkworms and although today Ogimachi is known as an outdoor museum, there are still several hundred people living in the farmhouses in a paradisiacal setting among rice paddies and small plots of land planted with vegetables, beside gently flowing streams and ponds. We were fortunate to visit when the village was festooned in autumn shades of gold, red, orange, and bronze.
In the late afternoon, the weather turned icy and the first snow of the season began to fall turning this picture postcard village into a winter wonderland. We took refuge in a cozy local restaurant where the menu was in Japanese, and no one spoke a word of English, but I tactfully pointed to the dishes of diners around us that looked appetizing, and bemused diners and waitresses alike went out of their way to assist us.
If you are planning a trip to the Japanese countryside, don’t miss the Alps and the picturesque village of Ogimachi. I also recommend hiking up the path that takes one above the village for a gorgeous, panoramic view of the surrounding mountains, the village, and the valley.
Buses run regularly between Takayama and Shirakawa-go/Ogimachi, and in Japan all the buses are immaculate, on time, heated, and air conditioned.