I think that the Shogawa river valley is one of the most naturally beautiful places in Japan. Running across the prefectures of Gifu and Toyama the valley contains many houses constructed in the gassho-zukuri style. These houses are concentrated in the villages of Ogimachi, Ainokura, and Suganuma.
For most of valley's history, even in modern times, these villages have been isolated and life in them still resembles that of the old traditional farming communities in Japan. Located near the Sea of Japan and surrounded by the rugged Tateyama mountain range, it was known for harsh winters and limited access. It has only been recently that modern roads have been built opening up the valley.
The term gassho refers to hands folded in prayer and it is a fitting way to describe the gassho-zukuri style of houses. With steep roofs resembling hands folded in prayer, the homes were build to shed the heavy snow of the winters there. Without nails, the homes were built several stories high and the thick thatch roofs provided warmth and space for commerce during the long winters.
The tall upper stories provided a means for growing silkworms as well as the manufacture of other goods like washi paper and gunpowder. Over the mountains was the city of Kanazawa, a center for the production of Kimono made with the silk from the outlying villages like those in the Shokawa valley.
These villages hold a special memory for me. I had dropped out of photography for decades but in 2004 I visited Shirakawa and started snapping away with my little point and shoot camera. I realized that afternoon that I still had this photographic bug and have always wanted to return to this area, to stay overnight and photograph the villages in softer light with better equipment. These are the images from my most recent visit.
© Travels with Charlie