Last year I had the chance to visit the village of Shirogawa-go. Shirogawa-go is one among a few of small villages located in the Gifu Prefecture in Central Japan. The villages have been registered as a Unesco World Heritage Site because of their unique style houses. Named ” gassho-zukuri” these houses are built of wooden beams combined to form a steep thatched roof that resembles two hands together.
Compared to thatched houses in Germany, they are much steeper, apparently to resist better the heavy snowfall in winter. The used straw seems to be thinner, thus the layers much thicker than in Europe. Located in a mountainous area, farmers concentrated on using mulberry trees for sericulture (silkworms and raw silk thread) as well as paper production made from the fibres of the paper mulberry. The requirement of large enclosed spaces for silkworm beds and storage of mulberry leaves was an important factor in the development of the Gassho-Style houses. Today, with silk and paper production not longer existent Shirogawa-go struggles to maintain its unique appearance. Modern buildings are increasingly disturbing the flair of this old village. Some farmhouses are converted into museums, others left to decay. Embedded in small rice paddy fields Shirogawa-go nevertheless keeps the charm on would associate with the japanese countryside.The construction of the thatched roofs with pillars carefully bound together remains a magnificent example of Japanese craftsmanship.