The giant-sized three- and four- story farmhouses of Ogimachi village in Shirakawago have the vibe of something out of a Japanese folktale perhaps, Momotaro Peach Boy, or a whimsical Ghibli Studios anime such as My Neighbor Totoro.
The nine-metre-tall steeply pitched thatch roofs gassho-zukuri “praying hands” style were built to shelter multi-generational families of farmers and their servants from the deep snows of this part of Japan, as well as to provide mixed-use space for raising silkworms and, of all things, manufacturing gunpowder to earn scarce cash.
The forested valley along the Shogawa River is remote. The area was only settled in the 12th century. The first road was built in 1925. Even today, Shirakawago is somewhat out of the way, about an hour’s bus ride from popular tourist towns Takayama or Kanazawa. Still, since receiving UNESCO World Heritage status in 1995, many more tourists make the trip by bus or car. My school group was lucky to get there ahead of the tour buses on a recent weekday morning in October, and for a couple of hours we pretty much had the run of the place.