The prefecture of Gifu in central Honshu offers a lot of enchanting places that one must include in his or her itinerary when planning to visit Japan. One of the must-visit places in Gifu is the village of Shirakawa.
Declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Shirakawa-go is indeed beautiful in all seasons. Although, the village is deemed most enchanting during winter.
Shirakawa-go lies along the riverbanks of Sho River at the foot of Mount Haku in Northern Gifu. This enchanting village is a testament to a long tradition of using gassho-zukuri roofs (i.e. the roofs resemble two folded hands in prayer), built using several layers of grass thatch. Although this distinctive roof also looks like a letter V turned upside down like a book upheld on its covers. One of the rationales behind the ingenious design of gassho-zukuri roofs is to cope with the snow build-up since Shirakawa-go receives a snowfall reaching a depth of up to two meters. The windows, on the other hand, are located near the opening, close to the roof so that wind and sunlight may reach the attic where silkworms used to be cultivated.
The Shirakawa village captured the attention of a German architect named Bruno Taut in 1935. Taut stayed in Japan for several years during the 1930s and praised the gassho-zukuri houses for the use of its rational and logical approach in architecture. However, in 1957, during the construction of the Miboro Dam, four settlements in Shirakawa-go along the Sho River were submerged resulting in the displacement and relocation of the settlers to urban areas and the conversion of some houses as restaurants while other houses were destroyed by fire.
However, thanks to the growing number of opposition against developing the area, the largest surviving settlement of Ogimachi outside the dam development area was preserved in 1971. By 1976, the village was declared as an Important Traditional Structure Conservation Area by the Agency for Cultural Affairs and in 1995 the village became the sixth UNESCO World Heritage Site.